Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sethusamudram: A new angle?

Dr. S. Kalyanaraman, a development economist, has announced that a Marine Economic Zone (MEZ) can bring more prosperity and social development to the southern districts of Tamil Nadu than the controversial Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project (SSCP) and the proposed Special Economic Zone (SEZ) attached to the Tuticorin Port. On the face of it the suggestion demands serious consideration.

Dr. Kalyanaraman was an executive of the Asian Development Bank for 17 years till 1995, handling a portfolio of 60m US D. After graduating from Annamalai University in economics and statistics he joined the Indian Railway Accounts Service. Later he obtained his doctorate from the University of Philippines. His thesis was on the development administration in six Asian countries.

According to Dr. Kalyanakrishnan, the MEZ would benefit two million traditional fishermen in the districts of Nagapattinam, Thiruvarur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Thuthukudi and Kanyakumari. This area now accounts for over 25% of India’s marine products exports.

Dr. Kalyanaraman points out that the proposed SEZ would result in the displacement of people and converting fertile agricultural lands to industrial complexes. If this is true, it would mean replacing one successful economic operation with another at the cost of the trauma and problems of dislodgement of sizable chunk of the population.

The Gulf of Mannar – Palk Straits area is considered to be one of the richest in the world for marine biodiversity. It is home to some of the endangered species like dolphins, dugongs and sea cucumbers and also famous for its algae, sea grass and coral reefs. It was declared as a Marine National Park in 1986 and, in 1989, as a Biosphere Reserve. The Government of India contends that the Sethusamudram shipping channel project would not cause any damage to the ecology.

The Tuticorin Port Trust’s SEZ project is a different matter. If, as Dr. Kalyanaraman says, a Marine Economic Zone is more beneficial to the people of the area and to the nation than a Special Economic Zone, it should be given due contemplation. Whether SSCP and MEZ can coexist is also a moot point.


Also see:

Ram Sethu controversy

Ram Sethu: Where is the conflict?

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