A Note on Sethusamudram Canal Project
Prof. S.Muthukumaran

Sethusamudram; Canal Project is in the news. In order to understand the issues, there is a need to understand the nature of sea level changes.

Sea Level Changes:

In the preceding 10,000 years it is known that the sea level has been continuously changing. There are two widely accepted theories. Both assert that about 10,000 years ago the sea level was about 30 m below the present level. According to one theory, it has continuously increased and reached the present level during the last 5,000 years. The other theory states that the sea level was about 5 m above the present level some 5,000 years ago and it slowly decreased to the present level.

According to Tamil tradition this part of the sea is known as Thodukadal meaning a dug sea. Therefore, it is possible at one time it might have been dug to make a water way. Another traditional statement is that Ramar built a bridge across this sea. If that is true then this bridge must been executed when the sea level was high. It the second scientific theory of sea level changes is accepted then the bridge might have been executed about 6000 to 7000 years ago. At present it is below sea level and hence is not useful as abridge. The sea level is such that this part of the sea cannot be used for navigation also

Sethusamudram Canal Project:

The advantages are explained by the project authorities and are well known. Therefore, these are not discussed here. The issues related to the objections are as follows:

* Heritage site * Environmental degradation * Economic Issues * Sociological Issues Heritage

It is well known that the coast is constantly changing. Two hundred and odd years ago, the Chepauk building was constructed on the sea coast. The coast is now 200 meters from the building. Such changes take place locally due to both natural causes and human activities. Ramar bridge is now under the sea. Several structures are under the sea both at Mahabalipuram and at Poompuhart. i.e., sea coast and level have changed over a period of time

The temples and the small dams constructed across the rivers of Tamil Nadu are renovated and improved at periodical intervals according to the changing needs of the people. If Karikalan comes now, he may not be able to recognize the Grand Anicut he constructed 2000 years ago None of the Nayanmars can recognize the temples they visited and praised 1500 years ago. Therefore changes are inevitable and objections against changes are without substance.

Environmental Issues:

Every human activity alters the environment. Even walking on a fixed path by several people over a period of time will destroy the vegetation along that path. But there is no point in preventing people from walking. The questions therefore, are whether a particular activity is useful? Whether it will damage a wide area or region? i.e., alter or degrade a wide region permanently? This can be stated only by experts and not by lay men. Lay men speak from their experience over a short period of their life time. Experts speak from rich experience gained and recorded over a long period by those who have special knowledge and experience in the particular branch of knowledge. We have to respect the recommendations of experts and not talk ill of them and their views. This project has been investigated for over 100 years and is not finalized in haste. Therefore, we have to go by expert opinion and if new evidences are there, they have to be examined by the experts. In any project there will be unforeseen issues and the technical experts may solve them as the problems arise. Right thing will be to accept the opinions of experts.

Economic Issues:

The arguments about the economic viability require a deeper consideration. Some are arguing that the transportation cost will go up if the ships take the canal route! This is based upon certain hypothetical values. The fact is that the canal route is shorter. Therefore ways and means can be found to reduce the piloting costs. The real costs will be known only when the canal is put into operation. Even if it becomes uneconomical for bigger ships it will be economical for smaller ships and piloting costs may also come down if there is more traffic. Therefore, the hypothetical calculated cost cannot be accepted as final. The shortness of the route will ultimately cut the costs and time. There cannot be any doubt about increase in activity in the region due to the availability of a short route.

Sociological Issues:

It is said that the fishermen will not be able to fish when the ships pass this region. Deepening the sea will lead to the fishes moving away from the region. It is known different types of fishes live in different depths of the sea. Therefore, it is likely that the type of fish in the region may change. It is also likely that the fishermen may have to go deeper into the sea to fish. As regards the ships passing this region, it should be possible to regulate the movements of the ships and the fishing boats.

In this connection, it is to be stated that every change has caused fear among the concerned persons. But time has belied those fears. It was thought that computerization will lead to loss of hob opportunities. But actually, it has lead to reduction of drudgery, increased job satisfaction, increased wages and job opportunities. Thus the Sethusamudram canal may alter the fishing timing and regions; but may lead to better and varied catches; newer opportunities for jobs. Some fishermen with their knowledge of the riddles of the sea may become pilots and earn more than what they are now earning by fishing!


It is said that the LTTE activity may increase. This does not appeal to reason. As a matter of fact because of the increased commercial activity, LTTE may find it difficult to operate in this region. One should not also ignore the fact that it may be possible to walk from Srilanka to Kodiakkarai during very low tides.

Concluding Remarks:

In whatever way one may look at it, the objections raised and fears expressed can be dealt with by experts and leaders. They can explain to the common man the benefits and allay their fears.