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

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