Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Conservation in India...

... and the Need to Think Beyond ‘Tiger vs. Tribal’

Biotropica, Volume 39 Issue 5 Page 575-577, September 2007

Pankaj Sekhsaria
Kalpavriksh, Apartments 5, Sri Dutta Krupa, 908 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune 411004, India e-mail:

Should Indian tribal communities be granted their historically denied rights in forest areas, and if they are, what impact will this have on India's forests and beleaguered wildlife populations?

In recent years those arguing for tribal rights and those seeking to conserve wildlife and forests have been grappling incessantly with these and similar questions: articulating, arguing, counter-arguing, fighting, debating, and then articulating their opinions all over again. This has resulted in an extremely polarized debate with clear positions on either side of the divide. The history of this debate is long and complex: an important milestone being the start of British control in the region. A significant aspect of 19th century British policy in India was bringing forests under state control and the curtailment and even annulment in many cases of the customary right of communities over these forests. This started a process of alienation that continued through the decades, through independence and goes on even today.

This, in short, is the situation that a new legislation, recently approved by the Indian parliament, seeks to address.


The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, hereafter the Act, came into being in January 2007. It seeks, primarily, to correct the historical injustices committed in denying traditional rights over forest lands to tribal communities across the length and breadth of the country. If implemented correctly the Act has the potential to provide livelihood security and secure land tenure to a multitude of people from the most marginalized and vulnerable sections of Indian society (Gopalkrishnan 2007, Kothari 2007, Prasad 2007). It can only be considered a welcome and desirable step.

But there might a downside that a section of wildlife conservationists and the forest bureaucracy are extremely worried about. One of the biggest concerns is that the Act will undo the many conservation successes that India has seen in the last four decades, particularly after the promulgation of the Wildlife Protection Act in 1972. Conservation initiatives in India have led to the creation of a large network of protected areas, numbering nearly 600 wildlife sanctuaries and national parks and covering an area of about 4.5 percent of the country's landmass. A number of biosphere reserves have been created in diverse ecosystems, and other areas have been notified as Ecologically Sensitive Zones.

Opponents argue that, at best, the Act will undo the gains of the last four decades and will accelerate the destruction of the already fast declining forest cover, and at worst it could become another convenient cover for vested interests (including land and timber mafias in collaboration with political forces) to capture large resources of land, forests, and timber (Mazoomdar 2006a, b; Bhargav 2007).

This complex issue has no clear resolution, but there are alternative and less polarized positions. It has been articulated that fear of the heightened destruction of India's remaining forests, expressed by those opposing the Act, is overstated. Additionally, some of the demands being made in the name of tribal rights (like regularization of all encroachments till 2005) were not desirable, and would in fact play into the hands of vested interests. The bill, I have argued ‘appears to want solutions to all the historical and present problems of tribals and forest dwellers through one single move. This won't be possible unless there is a significant course correction in the present paradigm of development that willingly sacrifices the lands and livelihood of millions in its name or guns down tribals for opposing huge projects…’ (Sekhsaria 2006a).


This issue was also the subject of an opinion piece titled ‘Balance needed in the tribal bill discussion’ that I sent to one of India's leading English newspapers that had itself taken a clear position of opposing the provisions of the proposed act for fear of its negative impacts on India's remaining forests. The piece appeared with little editing but for the headline, which read ‘It needn't be tigers vs tribals’ (Sekhsaria 2006b).

This title change is significant in that I had neither perceived nor articulated the issue in this light. It had not been my intention to position the tiger so directly against the tribal in this manner. The tiger, in any case, had only one passing mention in the entire piece of over 1000 words. Undoubtedly, there is a journalistic need to create the impression of conflict to sell newspapers, but perhaps this headline better reflected the positions of those articulating the debate (this writer included) and less about the real situation on the ground.

There is no denying that India's forests, wildlife, and the entire natural resource base is under severe stress. There are, as we all know, reasons that are visible and proximate—the poor tribal cutting a tree to cook his daily meal, or killing a tiger or some other wild animal for additional income. Our failure lies, perhaps, in mistaking the symptoms with the underlying cause: equating the malaise with its manifestations. The questions that I want to ask therefore are these: Is the tiger really positioned so obviously against the tribal? Are conservation and tribal people mutually exclusive? Isn't reality far more complex and multi-layered?

India is a country of more than a billion people of which tribals account for only about 10 percent. The tribal identity itself is heterogeneous and dynamic: value systems and traditions are in flux, and so are peoples' aspirations. Many within tribal communities have even become wealthy and powerful. The overall picture, however, and one that few will deny, is of a section of Indian society that is the most vulnerable and marginalized, and the section that has been most sacrificed in the great nation-building project called India. These and other similar communities have been displaced, often brutally, from their ancestral forests, fields, and livelihoods to make way for one big project after another—for dams, mines, urban expansion, and infrastructure projects. When they have resisted, and there are innumerable cases of this, they have been physically assaulted and sometimes killed by forces of the state that are meant to protect them (Kalshian 2005, Gadgil & Guha 2007).

In such a huge country, then, with so many points of view and importantly, so many stakes on resources, it seems strange that many conservationists attribute the problems of forests, conservation, and even the tiger to impoverished and marginalized tribals almost to the complete exclusion of all else.


While tribal policy and rights often gets discussed for their negative impacts on conservation, little if ever, is discussed on these lines in other contexts. Conservation in India appears to have a blind spot when it comes to tribal rights. There is little discussion of the implications of a number of other significant developments in the country. There is little talk about the impact on wildlife or the forests of India's 9 percent GDP growth. Thousands of hectares of productive lands are being designated as Special Economic Zones (SEZs). Traditional tribal lands, many of which are thickly forested and home to a range of large wildlife, are allocated to mining interests that seek to attract billions of US dollars. The fascination for huge dams continues to drown pristine forests in the biodiversity hotspots of the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas, and across the landscape infrastructure projects continue to cut through forested areas, and migratory corridors. Tourism projects are being proposed in the name of wildlife conservation in lands where traditional communities are being displaced.

A few of years ago tribal people were blamed for large-scale encroachment and tree felling deep inside the Simlipal Tiger Reserve in Eastern Indian state of Orissa. Yet these same people had been recently displaced by mining projects in neighboring Jharkhand (Anonymous 2004; B. Mohanty, pers. comm.). Displaced people must go somewhere and do something to ensure their survival and that of their families. It may be that they were impacting the tiger and its habitat in Simlipal, but that is only the most visible and obvious development. Does the fundamental responsibility lie with the tribals, or with the processes that destroy their homelands and force them to move? Is this simply a tiger vs. tribal situation?

A more recent case is that of the Polavaram Dam in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The dam that is to be built at a cost of over three billion US dollars will submerge more than 40,000 ha of agricultural lands and affect the lives and livelihoods of nearly 200,000 people in about 290 settlements and villages. The dam will also submerge about 55 km2 of forest land including some 17 km2 of Papikonda Wildlife Sanctuary. This matter of the dam clearance was taken to the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), a high-powered body created by India's Supreme Court to deal with matters related to forests. One of the conditions for the final approval suggested by the CEC in its report to the Supreme Court is that nearly 500 km2CEC 2006). Spread over 1000 km2 this would then become one of the largest national parks in the country. India's Wildlife Protection Act prohibits people from living within national park and extinguishes all their traditional rights relating to the use of the forest and its resources. Although the number of people directly affected by this notification will, in this case, not likely be very large, it is the principle that is more relevant: additional displacement is being created as a condition to ensure the main displacement will take place. While there is no respite for the 200,000 who will be directly displaced because of submergence, additional displacement is being created in the name of wildlife conservation. The report of the CEC can only be considered a powerful reinforcement of the conflicts and contradictions that have come to underline wildlife conservation in the country. of forests adjoining the Papikonda Wildlife Sanctuary be added to the sanctuary, and this be then declared a national park (

Can wildlife conservation of this kind ever hope to gain the support of the local communities? We have to bear in mind that while only 4–5 percent of India's landmass is protected for wildlife as part of the country's protected area network, upward of three million people live within, or are directly dependent upon, these areas (Kothari et al. 1995). Can conservation really work by denying their rights and livelihoods?

A quick overview of the situation in India today will serve to provide a more balanced perspective of causes of environmental degradation. In Orissa, there is mining in the tiger- and elephant-rich forests of Niyamgiri (Devarajan 2004, Sethi 2007), and a huge port project at Dhamra in the middle of the world's most important Olive Ridley Turtle nesting grounds (Sekhsaria 2004). In Jharkhand, coal mining in the North Karanpura Valley will affect critical wildlife migratory corridors (Vagholikar et al. 2003). In Karnataka, the Mhadei Dam is being constructed amidst evergreen forests of the Western Ghats biodiversity hotspot. In Arunachal Pradesh in Eastern Himalayas, a series of dams on the Subansiri River will submerge some of the best standing forests in that part of the country (Menon et al. 2003).

Other significant impacts of development are rarely reported or recognized. In Gujarat in Western India Forest Department figures reveal, for instance, that nearly 150 wild animals including leopards, hyena, and nilgai (Indian bluebull) were killed in road accidents between 1998 and 2004 in the Vadodara Forest Circle that covers about 3000 km2 (David 2004). An animal killed by a tribal could perhaps be eaten or sold, but what is the value gained from one that is flattened between fast rubber and rock hard bitumen?


Let me elaborate this irony further with the role of the judiciary in India today. The Supreme Court of India has played a very active role in the last decade in protecting India's forests and wildlife. Its role has been much applauded and appreciated in this context. A completely different picture becomes apparent when conservation is put up against the dominant notion of progress and development as symbolized by large development projects. For example, a proposal to increase the height of the Mullaperiyar dam in southern India has been opposed on grounds of, among other things, the negative impact on wildlife, as parts of the Periyar Tiger Reserve will be submerged. The verdict of the Supreme Court was to allow the height increase based on the following logic: ‘The increase of water level will not affect the flora and fauna. In fact, the reports placed on record show that there will be improvement in the environment. It is on record that the fauna, particularly elephant herds and tigers will be happier when the water level slowly rises to touch the forest line. In nature, all birds and animals love water spread and exhibit their exuberant pleasure with heavy rains filling the reservoir resulting in a lot of greenery and ecological environment around’ (Murali 2006, Supreme Court 2006).

It is obvious that the issues, questions, and debates about tribals and conservation are subsumed by the overwhelming belief in the priority of a particular type of a development paradigm. This paradigm drives India's institutionalized prioritization of industrialization that sidelines tribal rights and conservation responsibilities such that the tiger has no hope, and neither does the tribal.


Anonymous. 2004. Simlipal Tiger Reserve being cleared by tribals from Jharkhand for settlement. The Samaj, 04 October 2004.
Bhargav, P. 2007. Four hectares of forests: Correcting history or destroying collective future. SANDEE Newsl. 14: 9–10.
CEC. 2006. Report of the Central Empowered Committee to the Supreme Court dated 15 November 2006.
David, R. 2004. Highways: Graveyards for wildlife. Times News Network, 20 July 2004.
Devarajan, P. 2004. A struggle to save Niyamgiri forests. The Hindu Business Line, 8 August 2004.
Gadgil, M., andR.Guha. 2007. Ecological conflicts and the environment movement in India. InEnvironmental issues in India: A reader, pp. 385–428. Pearson Longman, M.Rangarajan (Ed).
New Delhi, India
Gopalkrishnan, S. 2007. Survival with dignity: Made possible. SANDEE Newsl. 14: 10–11.
Kalshian, R. 2005. El Dorado under siege. The Hindu Survey of the Environment 2005: 105–107.
Kothari, A., N.Singh, andS.Suri. 1995. Conservation in India: A new direction. Econ. Polit. Wkly.XXX (43): 2755–2766.
Kothari, A. 2007. For lasting rights. Frontline 23(26): 14–18.
Mazoomdar, J. 2006a. It's a jungle out there. Indian Express, 19 June 2006.
Mazoomdar, J. 2006b. Tribal bill not ready, so conservation must wait. Indian Express, 14 August 2006.
Menon, M., K.Kohli, andN.Vagholikar. 2003. Damming the future. The Hindu Survey of the Environment 2003: 133–137.
Murali, D. 2006. Elephant herds and tigers will be happy. The Hindu Business Line, 13 March 2006.
Prasad, A. 2007. Survival at stake. Frontline 23(26): 4–10.
Sekhsaria, P. 2004. Caught in a corporate web. The Hindu, 28 March 2004.
Sekhsaria, P. 2006a. Balance needed in the tribal bill discussion. Protected Area Update 62: 2–3.
Sekhsaria, P. 2006b. It needn't be tigers vs tribals. Indian Express, 11 September 2006.
Sethi, N. 2007. Under pressure institute eats own works. The Times of India, 25 April 2007.
Supreme Court of India. 2006. Judgement dated 27 February 2006. Judgement Information System.
Vagholikar, N., K.Moghe, andR.Dutta. 2003. Undermining India—impacts of mining on ecologically sensitive areas.
Kalpavriksh, Pune

Monday, October 29, 2007

Train No. 6010

This is a tale that took place on February 17, 2003, and PANKAJ SEKHSARIA soon discovered that it was no unpleaseant experience ... .
FOR those who don't know, train No. 6010 is the Chennai-Mumbai Mail that leaves Chennai every day at 2155 hrs. It touches Kosigi station at about 10 next morning, reaches Pune exactly 25 hours after it leaves Chennai and gets into Mumbai the following morning at five minutes past four. It's also the train with the longest running time between Chennai and Mumbai.
So what's special about Kosigi? Well, it is a small station on this route, very near the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border that I know nothing about. It is in fact a really small station, and to the best of my knowledge most of the fast trains running on this route sector don't stop here.
This is a tale that took place on February 17, 2003, when we were travelling from Chennai to Pune by Train No. 6010. It had been trundling along at a reasonable pace and made me realise that of all the trains on the Chennai-Mumbai route, this is probably the only one with the most number of official halts. The weather was pleasant, very much like one would expect on a mid-February morning. A breeze enveloped my face as the train moved on and the scenery too was not all that bad. Also the compartment had passengers travelling with reserved tickets. Even the vendors were those from the pantry car, well turned out.
Things, I thought, could not really get much better. I was hoping that the train would gather speed and more important, that it would stop at a fewer number of stations from now on. All this was just about going through my head, when I could feel the train starting to slow down. We went past a yellow board on a small station platform that read "Kosigi" in the typical "bold black" typeface of the Indian Railways. The train came to a halt, and a bunch of five men and women with big baskets on their heads clambered in.
I felt myself being "disturbingly besieged". How dare they get in. Did they have tickets? Should I call the ticket collector? What's the use anyway. They won't do anything. A flurry of thoughts raced through my head. I didn't know what to do, but this was not acceptable. They would talk loudly, dirty the place, fight with passengers ... . I could picture a horrible scenario. The railways are doomed, I told myself, and so is this country.
In the meanwhile the old lady, in a "slightly torn" green sari, and the one with the largest basket, sat on the floor exactly beside me. As she started to uncover her basket, concern and worry gripped me. Would she spread her bedsheet and lie down there? Would she take out her food and eat it, and mess up the place? How long would this group be on board? How long would one have to tolerate this?
A delightful sight
The first sheet on the basket was removed. As she removed the second one, a most delicious and delightful sight unfolded before my eyes. This lady at least was not going to lie down and sleep on the floor, nor would she eat her food and mess up the place.
She was a fruit vendor, selling one of the most wonderful and delicious of fruits — tadgola; tadgola in Hindi, nongu, I learnt later, in Tamil.
Big luscious fruits, really fresh, probably just plucked from the trees that one could see in the countryside just beyond the station. I would be dishonest if I said that my mouth did not start to water. My concerns about this group vanished. The last time I'd eaten a tadgola was five years ago. The taste, the feel ... it all came rushing back.
And before I knew it I had made the first purchase. What followed were 10 delicious minutes as I quickly peeled the fruit and stuffed my mouth with the divine stuff.
Thank god, I told myself, for these vendors who sell their wares on Indian Railways. Compare this with the staid, uniform, uninspiring stuff dished out by the Railway caterers — potato chips in packets that have more air and less in content, cold vegetable patties that were probably made the day earlier, and tea and coffee that never taste like what they are supposed to be.

I have bought and eaten a variety of foodstuffs on many a train journey. The more memorable ones include the time when I did Mumbai-Pune where I had Parsi Dairy's malai kulfi; an idli-kind of a preparation on the Bongaigaon-Guwahati route and jhal muri on any train approaching Howrah. My most memorable afternoon was, however, spent a couple of years ago in what many call India's heart of darkness — the hot, sweltering plains of the Ganga in Bihar. I was travelling back from Jalpaiguri in West Bengal to Mumbai on the Guwahati-Dadar Express, Train No. 5648.
This train, unlike 6010, had most passengers travelling unreserved and even ticketless. The train was a mess, and passengers like me had to first beg and then bully the ticketless to get a seat on what was rightfully ours.
What saved the day, literally, was the food that was served by the vendors.
I remember the long green cucumber, soft and fleshy and a delight on that hot April forenoon. There was the sweet malpua, and the two kulfi walas. It was with great difficulty that I resisted sampling their wares, telling myself that it was not hygienic. What a fool I must have been! There were two types of chaat, a mooli wala, a jaljeera wala, a kela wala ... .
Coming back to 6010 ... the tadgola lady was soon in business. Her first offer was four tadgolas for Rs. 10, which I had most willingly accepted. Most of the passengers were soon haggling with her to give them at least five, if not more, for Rs. 10.
Though it could not match the variety on the train in Bihar, 6010 too had quite a bit to offer. There was a basket full of cucumber and carrot that had started doing the rounds (an interesting chaat was also being prepared), there was a bhel-puri wala, and there were the ubiquitous groundnuts. And then there were the chickoos; sapotas as they are called in this part of the world. And these were incredible too. Of the five people who had got into our compartment at Kosigi, all except the tadgola lady had sapotas in their baskets: big, round and extremely inviting.
While the tadgola lady had gotten into the act, the other four sat in the corner, sorting out their chickoos, counting them and dividing them into their baskets. These were six chickoos for Rs. 10, and the sweetest and the best that I have ever eaten.
This was when I got talking with the lady from whom I'd bought the chickoos.
"We get our stuff from Guntakal," she said. "There are big chickoo orchards south of Guntakal."
Her daily schedule?
"We take the Mumbai Mail (6010) from Kosigi every morning to Yelawar and the same one back in the evening." She did give me some costing and profit estimates as well, but that is something that I did not understand fully.
Not that it mattered ... .

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Indexing inhumanity, Indian style

P. Sainath
It took minutes for the top guns to swing into action when the Sensex fell by several hundred points. But no Minister came forward to calm the nation when India hit the 94th rank in the Global Hunger Index.
It all happened around the same time. The day the Sensex crossed 19,000, India clocked in 94th in the Global Hunger Index — behind Ethiopia. Both stories did make it to the front page (in one daily at least). But, of course, the GHI ranking was mostly buried inside or not carried at all that day. The joy over the stunning rise of the media’s most loved index held on for a bit the next day. The same day, India clocked in as the leading nation in the number of women dying in childbirth. In this list, the second, third and fourth worst countries put together just about matched India’s 1.17 lakh deaths of women in childbirth. This story appeared in single column just beneath the Sensex surge.
Next came the fall of several hundred points in the Sensex. That is, barely a couple of days later. It took minutes for the top guns to swing into action. Fingers were in every dyke. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram lost no time in reassuring worried investors via the media. Other top officials were all over television, doing the same. “FM soothes the Market’s nerves” ran the ticker. The barrage — both media and official — kept up through the day. The panels of experts convened to celebrate the 19K summit were reconvened to explain why they’d tripped off the cliff. They then droned on about the merits of P-Notes, regulation and the future. What stood out, of course, was the swiftness of both government and media response to each twitch in the index.
No Minister came forward to calm the nation when India hit the 94th rank in the Global Hunger Index. That’s out of 118 countries. The daily, DNA, though, did capture the essence of the story with its report: “Ethiopians manage hunger better than us.” For indeed, they do these days. At least by the measure of the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index. Ethiopia ranks a notch above us at 93. Draw the baseline anywhere in the 1990s, and you’ll find Ethiopia worked better at reducing hunger than we did. Pakistan ranks ahead of us, too, at 88. China logs in at 47. All our South Asian neighbours do better than us on this index, except Bangladesh. And who knows when it will overtake us? None of the countries boasts an economy growing at 9 per cent a year.
You’d think it was an issue worth some attention. But it was hard to find panels debating this on television. Or any editorials in the newspapers doing the same. No Ministers or top babus soothing the nerves of the hungry. No experts with furrowed brows warning that the trends could continue, even worsen.
The GHI is by no means the only measure of what’s happening. The United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organisation put it simply in 2006. Its State of Food Insecurity in the World report confirmed yet again that we have the largest number of undernourished people in the globe. The 2004 edition of the report had shown that India had added more people to the “newly hungry” in the planet than the rest of the world together. There, too, nations much worse off had done far better. Between the years 1995-97 and 2000-02, hunger grew in India at a time when it fell in Ethiopia.
There was also another link begging to be made. Not just between the Sensex and hunger stories. Let’s revert to the latest maternal mortality figures released by the WHO and others. Some 536,000 women died in childbirth in 2005. Of these, every fifth one of them, at least, was an Indian. That is, 117,000 of them. A total that could only be matched by Nigeria, Afghanistan and Congo together. Almost 99 per cent of all these deaths worldwide occurred in developing countries. Much of this, again, is amongst the poorer sections of the population.
If we were to look at specific groups or communities, this would be even clearer. Let alone on the hunger index, India’s rank in the U.N.’s Human Development Index is anyway dismal. There, at 126, we are below Bolivia, Guatemala and Gabon. Yet even that rank does not tell the full story. If we were to isolate the rich and the better off as a group, they might enter the top 10 nations. Efforts last year to look at adivasis as a group led pretty much in the reverse direction. One study found that if we were to derive the HDI for our tribes only, they would rank in the worst off 25 nations of the world.
That’s quite easy to believe. Canada has always been among the top 10 nations of the world in HDI rankings. In fact, it occupied the top slot for some years. Yet, a survey of its native or indigenous people towards the end of the last decade placed them at rank 63. That is, all those natives living on “reservations.” Across the world, tribal people mostly have a poor HDI profile.
And so it is in India, too, where they are pretty much at the bottom. The study that found their HDI to rank amongst the bottom 25 nations of the world, also found things to be worse by the region. The tribes of Orissa, it reports, fall below even the low end of the HDI of sub-Saharan African nations. This is by no means the only study to tell us how India’s tribes are doing. There are tons of official data to show us that in great detail. But there’s no rush to debate their survival in expert panels. They mostly get covered when they resist displacement. Often with loss of life. They make up just eight per cent of the population. But account for over 45 per cent of those losing their lands to projects.
The furore now on the import of wheat is welcome. At least the media have begun to look at the issue. But surely, it is also worth discussing how we came to import wheat in the first place. And how a nation with so many in hunger ended up exporting millions of tonnes of grain this decade. That too, at prices lower than those we offer to millions of poor people in this country. New heights of misery
And no matter how the Sensex is doing, the misery index for the poor scales new heights in one sector after another. Health costs still mount. They push people into debt even faster than before. A study done for the WHO in six Indian States found that 16 per cent of households it looked at were pushed below the poverty line by heavy medical costs. Nearly 10,000 families from lower income groups were covered by the survey for the years 2002-05. Some 12 per cent had to sell their assets to meet health expenses. Over 43 per cent had to resort to loans for the same reasons.
Our answer to this has been: more of the same. More privatisation. Less and less of a public health system. In Mumbai, extortion by hospitals has become so frequent as to actually find mention in the media. But journalists do not get to make the link between the gutting of public services and the public’s misery. Much less can they track this in terms of private profiteering. That would go against the publication or channel’s stand of privatisation as a cure for all ills.
More than once this year, the Bombay High Court has warned hospitals against the cruel practice of holding back the body of a patient — demanding lakhs of rupees from the family before returning it. It still happens, though. Now even at government hospitals leased out to private managements. So a low income family is suddenly told it owes the hospital a huge sum of money. And that the body of its five-year-old girl will be released only when that sum is paid. A fine example of public-private partnership as it works today.
In fact, it would be good to devise a health index spanning the reform years. One that looks at how both rich and poor have done health-wise. How many years of life, for instance, are taken away from you by ill-health if you are one of India’s less well off citizens? In the world of the media, though, only one index matters: the Sensex. Watching which has spawned a whole little industry in itself. The numbers who pronounce on and debate it (in the media, anyway) are impressive. The oracles reading equity’s entrails for omens. Maybe we need a media relevance index. An MRI scan of mass-produced mediocrity

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Diversion of Tsunami funds in Kerala

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PRESS RELEASE 18 October 2007, Thiruvanathapuram


Plans by Kerala Tourism and the Harbour Engineering Department to construct an artificial reef in Kovalam, by using funds from the Central Government assisted Tsunami Rehabilitation Project, have come under fire from the fishing community. Reports indicate that a New Zealand based marine consultancy firm ASR ‘Amalgamates Solutions and Research’ Ltd will be paid 4 crore rupees to construct a 500 metre long artificial reef adjacent to Kovalam beach. The city based Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) is reported to be in support of the project.

Tourism department officials claim that the primary purpose of the artificial reef will be to break waves, thereby mitigating the potential impacts of another Tsunami. Therefore the Tsunami Rehabilitation money being tapped into. Tourism Department officials also claim that the reef will help promote tourism activities such as water skiing, surfing and swimming. Another plus is that the area encircled by the reef can be used as a fish breeding ground. The reef is to be constructed with geo-textile bags which will have a length of 50 metres and 5 metres in width.

‘This is a clear cut case of Tsunami funds being diverted for the benefit of the tourism lobby in the state’, said T Peter, President of the Kerala Swatantra Matsya Thozhilali Federation (KSMTF). ‘We are raising fundamental questions here; Who wants the reef and why? And are there any benefits to the fishing community’, he questioned.

On the contrary KSMTF argues that fishing communities in Kovalam are likely to lose their livelihoods as a result. Community based shore–seine fishing in the area will be curtailed and at least 500 people will lose their livelihood options. ‘The fish breeding ground will be used for ‘sport fishing’ by tourists and will be of little use to the local fishworkers’, clarified Peter.

Peter also said the role of institutions such as CESS supporting the project need to be examined. The ASR website has a CESS senior scientist and ASR Managing Director Dr. Kerry Black as co-authors in a paper. ‘This is a potential case of conflict of interest and CESS’ scientists support for the project needs to be taken with a pinch of salt’, he added.

KSMTF in a statement said that ‘there is a need for a careful, evidence based risk assessment of the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of artificial reefs’. The Federation also stated that even if the artificial reef is able to break waves, the potential impacts on neighbouring villages such as Vizhigam and Panathura need to be assessed. There are cases of such artificial barriers diverting waves to nearby areas. Steps constructed at Shangumugham beach resulted in the diversion of waves and a nearby road being washed away.

‘We oppose the mis-utilisation of Tsunami rehabilitation funds for the tourism industry. Public money should be used for public purposes and we demand that the Kerala Government withdraw the proposed reef project and instead consult with local communities to ascertain what their development needs are’, concluded Peter.
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For more information contact T Peter: + 91-9447429243. Email: ksmtf@keralafishwor

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's all a matter of faith

Sethusamudram Project: It's all a matter of faith
Jacob John & Sudarshan Rodriguez, TNN at ion/Shipping__Transport/Sethusamudram_Project_Its_all_a_m at ter_of_faith/articleshow/msid-2441199,curpg-2.cms

For opposing SSCP on legitimate and rational grounds, many environmentalists were branded ‘anti-national'. They could not understand the economics of the project and the significant benefits for shipping th at SSCP would bring about. The benefits the documents said would be for 70% of the ships in the world with draughts less than 10 m.

But the Paradip and Jawharlal Nehru Port Trust ports do not seem to believe them as they are deepening their draughts to 16 m and 15 m respectively. Nor does the reality th at 62% of the bulk cargo carried today is carried in vessels of 60,000 DWT and above! A KPMG report on India 's shipping says th at “the trend has been th at the maximum size of the bulk carriers has increased steadily from 75,000 DWT in 1970s to approxim at ely 183,000 DWT in 2005”.

The project proponents argue th at bulk cargo will only be a small part of the cargo th at uses the canal. It will be petroleum and tankers th at would use the canal. DPR, chooses however, to ignore the fact th at most very large crude carriers (VLCCs) and tankers in ballast (when empty) have draughts th at are in excess of 12 m. Even most of the coastal tanker traffic consists of wh at is called LR-I size tankers which load to about 11.1 metres draught, and hence will not be able to transit the canal (which allows only 10m draught).

R at ional arguments and scientific method do not support the conclusions drawn by the project documents. The shipping purpose as highlighted by many, including ET earlier, is very limited as it benefits just 30% of those the project documents claim it will benefit — those using coast-to-coast shipping. On the job cre at ion front, never mind th at a large part of the jobs cre at ed will be on dredging, which, in addition to be an extremely limited cre at or of jobs, is practically a monopoly of non-Indian firms.

And as a Port Authority official said, thanks to the Dredging Corpor at ion of India being so involved in the Sethusamudram project, many other ports have been forced to start hiring foreign contractors for maintenance dredging in the ports. The other benefit of the project is in the development of the ‘most backward' areas of Tamil Nadu and the unmeasurable cre at ion of jobs through the development of ancillary industries. The livelihood job losses of fishermen do not seem important enough for them to be quantified in the detailed project report (DPR).

Wh at seems appropri at e is a comment in response to an earlier article in ET on the public purpose of SSCP. A reader suggested th at projects like SSCP cannot be justified on the basis of such ‘baniya economics'.

The public purpose was so mystically large th at it was impossible for us to quantify the benefit or justify a project of such n at ional importance! It is then when you I understood! Projects like this are after all a m at ter of faith — you believe them to be so beneficial despite all d at a suggesting otherwise.

It is important to reject all the neg at ives and costs of the project like high sediment at ion r at es, low draught, limited use for coastal and non-coastal vessels and just blindly believe th at the benefits are gre at er than the costs. From now on, there is no need for expensive consultants, project reports, techno-economic feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments. It is just sufficient to believe th at a project is a good one! It's all a m at ter of faith...isn't it?

(This article is based on a larger report titled ‘Review of the Environmental and Economic Challenges of the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project' by Sudarshan Rodriguez, Jacob John , Rohan Arthur, Kartik Shanker and Aarthi Sridhar)

Sudarshan Rodriguez,
Senior Research Associ at e,
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE)
Post- Tsunami Environment Initiative
Mobile: +91 9840680127

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment
No 659, 5th ‘A” Main , Hebbal,
Bangalore 560024
Direct line: 080 - 65356130
Tel: +91 80 23533942, 23530069, 23638771
Fax: +91 80 23530070

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Protected Area Update - October 2007

Dear Friends,
Pasted here are the contents followed by the editorial from the new issue of the Protected Area Update - Vol XIII, No. 5, October 2007 (No. 69). For more details or to get a soft copy of the Update please write to me at

News and Information from protected areas in India and South Asia

Vol. XIII No. 5

October 2007 (No. 69)



A crisis of governance?



-Fall in GIB numbers in Rollapadu WLS


-Train kills two elephants near Deepor Beel WLS

-Flood waters drown Pobitora WLS

-Bodo council looking at alternative livelihood methods for conservation

-Two flyovers in Manas to protect wildlife

-World Heritage Committee’s monitoring mission not satisfied with Manas NP

-The India Rhino Vision 2020 relocation program to take off soon

-Project to showcase Karbi culture bordering Kaziranga NP

-Metal detectors for Kaziranga by year end

-Kaziranga TR boundaries notified

-Hollock Gibbon Conservation Training


-Vehicles kill two big cats in Gir

-Further steps to protect Gir

-Carcasses of four Cubs found in Gir WLS

-Project to cover open wells in, around Gir


-FD looking for person with expertise in Himalayan Fresh water fishes

-Six sanctuaries to be handed over from territorial to wildlife wing

-HP to have new state animal, bird and flower


-Kashmir wildlife benefiting s from insurgency, hunting ban

-SC allows Mughal road, lays conditions


-Police enquiry into elephant deaths in Nagarhole

-Wildlife research institute for Karnataka

-Elephant carcasses in Bandipur being left for other wild animals


-Kerala tourism to promote forests, PAs


-SC allows for completion of canal work in Karera Wildlife Sanctuary

-Cash incentive for florican conservation in Sailana and Sardarpur WLS not working

-2005 Rajiv Gandhi Award for Deputy Director, Kanha TR

-SC nod for development work in forest villages in PAs


-State for denotification of Jayakwadi WLS

-Officials with wildlife training posted in non-wildlife posts


-New species records for Mizoram PAs


-State sitting on proposal for Satkosia Tiger Reserve


-New interpretation centre at Guindy NP

-Forest Commission set up in Tamil Nadu

-Confiscated star tortoises to be released in Point Calimere WLS


-Flyovers as elephant corridors in Rajaji NP

-Elephant tramples two to death near Rajaji


-Tiger rescue centre in Sunderbans

-Eco-Development initiative bordering Senchal WLS


-New popular science publication on conservation

-Photo IDs for wild elephants

-Three PAs likely as UNESCO World heritage sites in 2009

-CMS Vatavaran 2007 held

-MigrantWatch launched

-Policy for relocation of wild animals soon

- Money from Centre yet to reach Tiger Reserves

-Assessment of trade in peacock feathers

-Details of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau

-Toll-free number to protect wildlife

-Tracking the Social and Ecological Impacts of Forest Rights Act

-CEC to continue

-Paul Getty Award to Dr. K.Ullas Karanth

-First meet of Butterfly Northeast held



-WWF Nepal’s conservation Awards


-Transboundary Mountain PAs Workshop

-1st International Wildlife Reintroduction Conference

-28th Annual Sea Turtle Symposium


-Coordinator, Wildlife Conservation for project near Kuno WLS

-Volunteers needed for Biodiversity Documentation in Eaglenest WLS

-CISED is looking for Core Faculty, Visiting Fellows and Postdoctoral -Research Associates




Will wildlife protection and protected area management be possible in the absence of properly trained, sufficiently staffed and adequately funded Forest Departments? It might sound like a question that is ridiculous. The answer too would be a straight forward one - An obvious no!

The issue, however, is precisely this. The shortage of well trained personnel and financial resources is a real problem on the ground– though it might be the most obvious thing to do, the fact of the matter is that PA managements in some cases and entire State Forest Departments in others, are short on basic staff and money to manage, protect and conserve our forests and protected areas in particular.

A few months ago (PA Update Vol XIII, No. 2 June 2007), it had been reported that the West Bengal Forest Department is facing a serious shortage of staff. Anywhere between 20 to 50% of posts were vacant in various categories including forest guards and rangers. A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India indicated, for instance, that patrolling staff in the Buxa Tiger Reserve was short by over 60%. Additionally, a large number of staff in premier parks like the Buxa and Sunderbans Tiger Reserves were found to be over-age as per the guidelines of the Wildlife Institute of India.

In Gir, in Gujarat, it took the huge crisis of lion poaching (see edit of the last issue of the PA Update) to galvanise the department into filling up the number of vacant posts and also getting staff that is young and fit.

News from Maharashtra in this issue highlights another equally important matter– officers of the State Forest Department with wildlife training are actually not being posted in wildlife management posts. The state has only 78 officers who have some training in wildlife as against the state’s requirement of 141. Quite inexplicably, only 10 of the 78 are actually posted in wildlife areas – the other 68 are in places that have nothing to do with wildlife. None of the three tiger reserves in the state have, at the helm, an officer who has wildlife related training. Why is money from the public exchequer being spent for the training when the expertise is not used where relevant?

The other related issue is of finance, rather its non-availability. Excellent examples are the high profile tiger reserves of the country as was reported recently in the national media. In spite of the huge hue and cry about poaching and the need to augment facilities including those of protection, most of the reserves are not getting the money that is due to them. It is not that money is not available – it appears to be the lack of the correct systems and an accountability that will ensure the needful is done. Either the National Tiger Conservation Authority has not released funds to states, or where it has been, it is stuck in state bureaucracies. Whatever be the reason, the net result on the ground is the same- no money to pay staff, to hire vehicles or to reimburse costs.

When, even the most high profile reserves like those in Melghat, Ranthambore, Buxa and Dudhwa have not received the money, the fate of lesser known sanctuaries and national parks can only be imagined. Is it realistic to expect that management and protection work can be carried out effectively in such a situation?

The crisis here is, clearly, one of governance. If the fundamentals of the foundation will be neglected in such a manner, the edifice, if it can be constructed at all, can only be a shaky one.


It was around the same time last year that we had sent out a similar appeal for support for the Protected Area Update. Many readers and organizations had responded positively, which itself was an indication to us that the PA Update is useful and we have a number of well wishers.

The Foundation for Ecological Security continues to be our biggest supporter and has willingly agreed to provide a majority of the funding for the PA Update for another year. Just like last year, however, we are still short by about a 30% of the budget.

There are various ways, big and small, in which we can be helped. Individual readers are urged to send in their contribution as subscription. These are small amounts but if we receive a large number the help will be great. Organisations like Forest Departments and NGOs can avail of the bulk subscription method where we can together reach out to a larger number of people as well.

We also have back issues of the Update is a simple hard bound three volume set that would be a very valuable resource base for researchers, officials, activists or anybody else interested in getting a comprehensive picture of what has happened in the country’s PA network over the last few years.

I do hope you will consider contributing. For any further details or clarifications please do write to me. We would also welcome any other ideas that you might have for us.

Pankaj Sekhsaria


Protected Area Update

Vol. XIII, No. 5, October 2007 (No. 69)

Editor: Pankaj Sekhsaria

Illustrations: Madhuvanti Anantharajan

Produced by: Kalpavriksh

Ideas, comments, news and information may please be sent to the editorial address:

KALPAVRIKSH, Apartment 5, Shri Dutta Krupa, 908 Deccan Gymkhana, Pune 411004, Maharashtra, India. Tel/Fax: 020 – 25654239.



Production of PA Update 69 has been supported by Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), Anand.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cities and natural disasters

Some hard talk about towns

Oct 4th 2007
From The Economist print edition

The death toll from the catastrophes that strike cities doesn't have to keep climbing


IT ISN'T just an urban myth: life in a city really is getting more dangerous, and the sources of peril are not just human ones like muggers and reckless motorists. A report by UN-Habitat, an agency responsible for human settlements, says the number of natural disasters affecting urban populations has risen four-fold since 1975.

Some of the reasons are obvious, others less so. As the world's population grows, people are crowding into mega-metropolises, where life's risks are horribly concentrated. The after-effects of a natural disaster can be especially dire in a vast, densely-packed area where sewers fail and disease spreads.

At a pace that no urban planner can control, slums spring up in disaster-prone areas—such as steep slopes, which are prone to floods, mudslides or particularly severe damage in an earthquake. Many of the world's cities are located on coasts or rivers where the effects of climate change and extreme weather events, from cyclones to heatwaves to droughts, are brutally and increasingly felt. Economic dislocation and human pain are also caused by events (like recent floods in the Indian city of Kolkata, see above) that are too small to grab global headlines.

But there is no reason for the sort of fatalism that regards disasters, and their disproportionate effects on the urban poor, as something that has “always been with us” and will inexorably get worse.

Intelligent planning and regulation make a huge difference to the number of people who die when disaster strikes, says Anna Tibaijuka, UN-Habitat's executive director. In 1995 an earthquake in the Japanese city of Kobe killed 6,400 people; in 1999 a quake of similar magnitude in Turkey claimed over 17,000 lives. Corrupt local bureaucracies and slapdash building pushed up the Turkish toll.

The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, which killed at least 230,000 people, would have been a tragedy whatever the level of preparedness; but even when disaster strikes on a titanic scale, there are many factors within human control—a knowledgeable population, a good early-warning system and settlements built with disasters in mind—that can help to minimise the number of casualties.

In some places, says Saroj Jha, a disaster specialist at the World Bank, tragic events have been a spur to serious national efforts to learn lessons and make buildings and infrastructure more robust. Often this has benefits that go far beyond the disaster-stricken area. He cites Turkey, India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Indonesia as countries that have learned from catastrophes. For example, after a quake in Gujarat which killed 20,000, India trained a small army of engineers, architects and builders to raise the quality of construction.

The World Bank has recently started to focus more on avoiding disasters, rather than just helping to respond to them. There is more awareness that disaster-prone projects—such as dams which could burst—are worse than a waste of money.

Given that events like earthquakes and tsunamis cannot be escaped, the bank is also doing more to help poor countries prepare for the worst. There are economic reasons for this, as well as humanitarian ones. Many vulnerable cities are big contributors to the surrounding country's GDP—so an urban disaster could wreck an entire national economy. These include Tehran (which produces 40% of national GDP), Dhaka (60%), Mexico City (40%), Seoul (50%) and Cairo (50%).

And some of these urban spaces are disasters waiting to occur. The Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka (with a population of 11.6m and rising) is built on alluvial terraces, exposed to flooding, earthquakes and rising seas. Tehran is in such an earthquake-prone area that some have suggested moving the entire city of 12m people. That will hardly happen; but better foundations could save countless lives if—or when—an earthquake strikes.

Friday, October 5, 2007


Cover Story: Rage of the Native

The anger in the countryside over dispossession of land and livelihood to big business would define the politics of tomorrow

Cover Package:

1) Seething Rage by Sanjay Kapoor and Amit Sengupta, Delhi/Kalinganagar

Political parties are poised to face this ‘structural adjustment conflict’ in the next polls. So how are they going to represent the people’s aspirations in the face of such resistance? Will land become the main contradiction in the coming elections?

2) Blinded by SEZs

As the tale unfolds, the big business beginning might not be as rosy as the end. The UPA and the Congress-NCP know that fully well. Because the farmers in Maharashtra are not going to take it lying down

3) For a few Acres more by Jeemon Jacob, Thiruvananthapuram

As agricultural land disappears in Kerala, the vast majority of small land-holders and farm-workers are hit the hardest

4) ‘Panjiri mafia’ and hungry kids by Pradeep Kapoor Azamgarh, UP

The Supreme Court had given directives that each child up to six years of age should be fed six to 10 grams of protein and 300 calories of panjiri (nutritional food) everyday. Are the Supreme Court directives to provide adequate food to children being followed by the Child Welfare and Nutrition Department of the UP government?

5) The poverty of poverty-line by Kamal Nayan Kabra, Delhi

Our poverty alleviation policies have only managed to make the poor poorer

Other Stories:

1) A bridge for Ravana by Mohan Guruswamy, Delhi

This fear of taking on religionists head on costs us much more than we allow. If Rama was real it is high time the Ramayana underwent some rewriting. Both logic and political correctness demand it

2) When the Saints go marching in…by Satya Sagar, Bangkok

With tens of thousands of monks and citizens on the streets in peaceful protests against the ruthless military junta in Burma, will the Indian government turn its eyes away from the pro-democracy movement yet again?

3) Ms Social Engineer by A K Verma, Kanpur

She’s not the same. Her open-ended, catalytic rainbow coalition across castes and communities might push the threshold of Indian politics beyond archaic equations and twilight zones. And for all you know, she might succeed. This insightful essay enters the depths of her social engineering process and rediscovers a changed Mayawati and the dalit factor – Editor

4) Twinkle Twinkle Red Star by Prashant Jha Kathmandu

Integrating the Maoists into the mainstream and sensitively tackling issues of the marginalised, especially the Madhesis, will be the two most important challenges in the days ahead

5) Back to backyard by Pranay Sharma, Delhi

The Maoists’ decision to stay out of polls and the UN mission extending its stay in Nepal are two worries that trouble India

6) New vote, new hope by Salman Khursheed, Delhi

Will proportional representation work better than our present winner-take- all electoral formula? Chances are it will

7) Master’s slave by Akash Bisht, Delhi

The Nithari murder case shows the CBI in a poor light. After the murders of children, is the case being deliberately botched up?

8) Open the Iron Curtain by Pranay Sharma, Delhi

For Indian diplomats growing Indo-US relations are not a zero-sum game. Despite fears and scepticism, there is nothing that establishes that India has lost its sovereign foreign policy

9) War games by Srinath Raghavan, London

Joint naval exercises are a good opportunity for evaluation, not a warmongering alliance

10) Reluctant Inheritor

The coalition has cannibalised the Congress. And Rahul Gandhi knows that ‘family charisma’ might not work on the ground without pro-people social and economic policies

11) The commodification of mysticism by Mehru Jaffer, Vienna

The 800-year-old poetry of Sufi saint, Rumi, who was born in Afghanistan , lived in Turkey and wrote in Persian is being used today for geopolitical propaganda

HARDNEWS is available at:


The website is being updated more regularly and now includes more than the print version.

We welcome ideas and suggestions on the magazine and portal and regular contributions.

Contact: :Akash Bisht, Editorial Coordinator

Hardnews Magazine
145 Gautam Nagar
New Delhi 110049
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Tel: +91-1-51642241
e-mail: editors@hardnewsmed
www.hardnewsmedia. com

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

150-year dream for 150-year old ships

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar

150-year dream for 150-year old ships
23 Sep 2007

Religion and history do not mix well. I shrug my shoulders at those opposing the Sethusamunda-ram canal because it will damage the remains of the bridge th at Ram’s army used in the Ramayana. Now, i too oppose the canal, but on economic and environmental grounds. Its r at ionale is more political than economic. It will become one more public sector white elephant.

The Palk Straits, between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka , are so shallow th at only small bo at s can pass through. So, east-west coastal ships have to go around Sri Lanka . So do ships from Europe and Africa to the east coast.

Sethusamundaram will be a furrow dredged in the sea-bed of the Straits, deep enough to accommod at e ships of 20,000 DWT. The canal will save ships both distance (saving fuel) and time (saving daily charges for chartering ships). So, it should be able to charge ships for passage, like the Suez and Panama Canals . This revenue is supposed to make the project economic.

The project is a political gift for Tamil Nadu. It will hugely help Tuticorin port, which today can receive ships only from the west, and not the east. It will improve the viability of existing and planned minor ports in the st at e. Hence, Tamils call the canal a 150-year dream about to come true (it was first proposed around 1850).

Dreams are costless, but canals are not. Project documents claim th at the canal will save ships 36 hours of time and 570 nautical miles of distance. But a recent study by Jacob John in Economic and Political Weekly exposes these claims as highly exagger at ed. Up to 70% of the traffic through the canal is projected to come from Europe and Africa . And John estim at es th at the time saving from Europe to Kolk at a will be only eight hours, and the distance saving 215 nautical miles. From Africa to Kolk at a, the time taken will actually increase by 3.5 hours (being piloted through the canal is a slow process), and distance reduced will be only 70 nautical miles.

John calcul at es th at ships could lose up to $4,992 per passage if they are charged the tariff laid down in project documents. In which case ships will find it cheaper to go round Sri Lanka . If the government cuts the proposed tariff to at tract traffic, John estim at es th at the project’s r at e of return could fall to an uneconomic 2.5%. I expect th at the project will also suffer cost overruns in capital and maintenance dredging, and hence be in the red.

The canal is supposed to be ready by November 2008, not far off. So why has the project not been able to sign up potential users? The finance minister has appealed to priv at e shipping companies to particip at e in a project th at will benefit them, yet no shipping company has come forward. The economics of the canal look much too dicey.

The Suez and Panama Canals save ships thousands of miles, and th at makes them profitable. Sethusamundaram is not remotely comparable. It is designed for small ships (the project documents talk of 20,000 DWT), whereas the Panama Canal takes ships of up to 65,000 DWT and Suez takes ships up to 150,000 DWT.

The Suez and Panama canals were dug through land corridors, and once dug stayed dug - they did not face sand inund at ion from the sea. However, Sethusamundaram will be a furrow in the sea-bed, at the constant mercy of currents bearing sand.

The government’s environmental assessment has cleared the project on ecological grounds. Yet, much of th at assessment was not about sand incursion, but about fears of possible damage to coral reefs, coastal erosion, oil spills, and changes in ocean salinity and temper at ure. Besides, the ecological studies were done from the Indian side of the Palk Straits, and not the Sri Lankan side, and so are technically incomplete.

My own major fear is not so much th at the project will ruin the environment, but th at the environment will ruin the project. I fear th at ocean currents will keep dumping fresh sand in the furrow of the canal. The Palk Straits are shallow not by accident but because sand-bearing currents have made them so. Comb at ing the full force of n at ure is perilous, expensive and sometimes impossible.

The project envisages maintenance dredging of two million cubic metres per year, infinitely more than required by the Suez and Panama canals. Jacob suspects (and so do i) th at actual maintenance dredging will far exceed project projections, rendering the canal uneconomic. An extreme event (like the 2005 tsunami) could dump enough sand to close down the canal.

Finally, global shipping is shifting to ever-larger vessels. Bulk carriers and tankers often exceed 200,000 DWT, and those under 60,000 DWT are being phased out as uneconomic. Old general cargo vessels have been replaced by container ships, which started small but now exceed 35,000 DWT, and may soon touch 75,000 DWT. Such vessels cannot use the canal.

So, Sethusamundaram will be unsuitable for the large vessels of the 21st century. It is a 150-year old idea for 150-year old ships. Th at may be its epitaph.