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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Anti-Sethu lobby seeks compensation

South Asia : Hindustan Times.com: Anti-Sethu lobby demands compensation from India , PK Balachandran, Colombo, July 22, 200519:41 IST

The vocal anti-Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP) lobby in Sri Lanka is demanding compensation from India for those in the island who will be affected by the project, now that the project is on and is unlikely to be abandoned.

Dr Susai Ananthan, Senior Lecturer in Geography at the University of Jaffna and a fisheries expert, told Hindustan Times that he recognised that the project would spur economic growth in the South Eastern coast of Tamil Nadu. But he pointed out that no such development was on the cards in the North Western coast of Sri Lanka, given the traditional step-motherly treatment meted out to the Tamil-speaking areas by successive Sri Lankan Governments.

Dr Ananthan said that the latest reports on the SSCP suggested that the alignment of the canal had been shifted nearer the India-Sri Lanka maritime boundary. He feared that the chances of the North Western Sri Lankan waters being adversely affected by the digging and the shipping traffic to follow, had increased.

"Earlier, I thought that the project would not harm Sri Lanka, but after the alignment was shifted eastwards, I felt it would. The damage can be quite significant. There has been a total change in the perception here," he said.

Asked about the view expressed by the head of his Department, Prof Balasundaram Pillai, that the SSCP could lead to the development of ancient, but now moribund, North Sri Lankan ports of Talaimannar, Kankesanthurai and Point Pedro, Ananthan said that there was no chance of growth so long as Tamils were not in-charge of North East Sri Lanka.

"This will be the case so long as the Sri Lankan government is in charge. Governments in Colombo will not encourage growth in the Tamil-speaking North. We can hope to see development here only when power passes into the hands of Tamils under an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA). Till then, our fishermen will have to put up with the adverse impact of the canal. Sri Lanka should therefore ask India to provide adequate compensation to these fishermen in lieu of abandoning the project," Ananthan said.

Loss of Katchchativu feared

The Jaffna expert also feared that as a result of the expanding needs of the SSCP, India might sooner or later ask Sri Lanka to give Katchchativu island on perpetual lease.

A top Indian academic and Sri Lanka expert, Prof V Suryanarayan of Calicut University in Kerala, has, in fact, been suggesting this for the past decade or more.

The Jaffna don recalled that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had also publicly demanded that India "retrieve" Katchchativu from Sri Lanka as a solution to the problem of Indian fishermen straying into Sri Lankan waters and poaching there.

India has been claiming that its fishermen can exercise their "traditional right" to fish around Katchchativu, besides drying their nets there. But Sri Lanka has been disputing such an interpretation of the Indo-Sri Lanka maritime boundary agreement.

Writing in Daily Mirror and The Island on Wednesday, Dr Lareef Zubair, a Sri Lankan oceanographer at Colombia University's Earth Institute, urged the Sri Lankan Government to demand compensation from India, in addition to lobbying hard for its abandonment, both bilaterally and internationally.

The Indian Government must assure fair and expeditious remediation, if the plans go awry, and compensation for the affected, along with mutual agreement on arbitration, must be negotiated, Zubair wrote.

The US-based long standing Sri Lankan campaigner against the SSCP, warned that the South East Indian and North West Sri Lankan coastlines would become vulnerable to tsunamis and earth slips as a result of the digging in the shallow Palk Strait.

Like some Sri Lankan and Indian commentators, Zubair also saw a military and strategic dimension in the project. This aspect had been highlighted recently at a conference held at Calicut University in Kerala, reports of which were published in Sri Lankan papers.

Zubair said that a militarised Palk Strait could be subjected to missile attacks during war or by terrorists. There was also a possibility of a nuclear disaster because the Kalpakkam nuclear reactor was not far away, he warned.

Governor encourages anti-SSCP stir

Meanwhile, instigated by the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and subtly encouraged by the Governor of the North Eastern Province, the fishermen of Mannar have agitated against the SSCP.

The Wanni district TNA MP, Vinonoharathalingam, participated in a demonstration earlier this week. Banners calling upon the Indian government to stop the project were held by the demonstrators.

Suggesting that the Government of Sri Lanka was backing the fishermen, the Governor of the North Eastern Province, Tyronne Fernando, made an unusual visit to Mannar recently, to hear out the fishermen on the SSCP. He urged them to give their objections in writing so that the government could take up the matter with India. He also held talks with the influential Bishop of Catholic-dominated Mannar district, Rev Royappu Joseph, on the project.

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