Sethusamudram Canal dredging project
Time ripe for Lanka to sue India?
- NEERI report flawed with secondary data
- Jaffna drinking wells would be contaminated with salt
- Kadir’s warnings in Parliament in 2005 timely
- India and Sri Lanka both culpable if a nuclear
By Ravi Ladduwahetty
With the Tamil Nadu government commencing the dredging of the
Sethusamudram canal at the Adam’s Bridge on December 11,
international legal experts opine that Sri Lanka has provisions
to seek legal redress in an international court of law against
the Indian government.
The project has military, ecological and archaeological
implications on both the governments of India and Sri Lanka. As
a result, Sri Lanka is now in a position to sue India, based on
the provisions of the United Nations Law of the Sea Covenants.
Even if the Sethusamudram canal project is within the ambit of
the Indian territorial waters, the United Nations Law of the Sea
is also paramount in this instance.
Article 2(1) of the Law of the Sea Convention states
The sovereignty of a coastal state extends beyond its land
territory and international waters, and in the case of an
archipelago state, its archipelago waters, to an adjacent belt
of sea, described as the territorial sea.
Article 2(3) states
The sovereignty over the territorial sea is exercised subject to
this convention and to other rules of international law.
Therefore, the sovereignty of the territorial sea is not
Articles 204, 205 and 206 state
The State is obliged to publish reports as results of surveys
they make available to all states which are affected, India is
bound to monitor positive risks of effects of marine pollution
and India is bound to assess the potential effects of its
activities to the marine environments of other states under the
precautionary principles of customary international law.
If India is not willing to permit a group of independent and
international observers to report on the project, or is not
willing to abide by the views of such an independent panel of
experts then there is provision for Sri Lanka for legal remedy
under (a) the principles of customary international law (b)
international, regional and bilateral conventions and (c) under
the national laws of the state concerned.
Kadir in Parliament
It is moot to note that slain Foreign Minister Lakshman
Kadirgamar, responding to a query in Parliament by Ven.
Athureliye Rathana Thera in June 2005, and in a seven page
reply, ( inter- alia) said: “The Ven. Rathana has asked if the
Foreign Ministry was taking precautions to go before an
international court of law in the case of the canal construction
and Sri Lanka will take all the precautionary steps to safeguard
the well being and the interests of our people and our country.
This would be done in calibrated and graduated manner opting
first for cooperative and consultative approach. As Colombo was
engaged in such an exercise, we will consider further action and
therefore, if and when necessary.”
Continuing, the late Foreign Minister concluded: “We would use
the recognised principles of international law relating to the
duty, to have due regard that activities under the jurisdiction
or control of a state are so conducted, as not to cause damage
by pollution to other states and their environment.”
Diplomatic observers are now asking the question as to whether
it is now the right time as forewarned by Lakshman Kadirgamar to
escalate matters to the international courts of law for redress
as the consultative process has failed.
Flaws in NEERI report
The Indian assertion (by Commercial Counsellor of the Indian
High Commission in Colombo Sanjay Sudhir) as exclusively
reported in The Nation last week that they have shared the
Ahamedabad-based Indian National Environment and Ecological
Research Institute (NEERI) report with Sri Lanka, is
insufficient justification to prove that there will be no
adverse impact on the environment simply because the NEERI
report by itself is flawed and is sufficient legal justification
to put the entire NEERI report into scientific question.
For example, the NEERI report is yet to explain the
sedimentation issue, silting possibilities and underwater ocean
currents when the canal is constructed.
According to Sudharshan Rodriguez, a Chennai based conservation
analyst, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report
furnished by NEERI, has used secondary data which has gone back
So, how can a project which will pass through a biological hot
spot and is likely to have so many impacts be assessed on the
basis of secondary data is the next most logical question.
The Convenor of the Indian Coastal Action Network, Ossie
Fernandez alleges that the NEERI EIA report is also a re-hash of
the preliminary report and many activists and professionals are
querying the data sources including the bio- diversity readings.
Furthermore, there would be increased turbidity, which has never
been studied by NEERI. Neither the possibility of a repeat
tsunami through the canal water flow, due to the deep water
channel linking the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.
The United Nations Law of the Sea mandates that the neighbouring
states need to be consulted and sufficient safeguards and
Ecological and archaeological concerns
There are whole range of problems but the major issue is that
the canal is gong to be dug through vesicular limestone, which
is the formation of the limestone that is a consequence of the
myocene sea encroaching upon the parts of Northern Sri Lanka and
Southern India. This entails Mannar and Jaffna on the Sri Lankan
side and Tuticorin and Rameswaran on the Indian side, which
means that the groundwater on both sides of the channel would be
According to research done by Sri Lanka born Monash University’s
Professor of Systems Ecology and UNDP Consultant Prof. Ranil
Senanayake in Jaffna, fresh water fish such as Dandiya (Rasbora
Daniconius), Tittaya ( Amblypharygnodon Melenittus) and other
species such as Amblypharygnodon Melenittus migrate during the
dry weather down towards the earth to underground caverns and
chambers and surface when the rain arrives. This is also a
demonstration of the fact that there are massive underground
caves with freshwater of Jaffna will mix with the salt water of
the Palk Straits, if the dredging continues, like pushing a
This is a shallow area, which is biologically highly productive
and as a consequence of the dredging, rare species of mammals,
dugongs and specific fish and invertebrates such as the guitar
shark and cone shells will be extinct. One cone shell (Conus
Zonatus and Conus Gloria Maris ) is worth around US$ 3500
It is also salient that no maritime archaeology has been
performed on this site. Scientific evidence in a paper which has
been presented by Prof. Senanayake which demonstrated 13,000
years ago, the area round the Kalpitiya lagoon up to Mannar,
where the land was forested. Even today, the stumps of the old
trees remain underwater.
With the dredging, the photo- synthetic rate will also decline,
resulting in the collapse of the fisheries industry.
Military and defence concerns
According to Indian military analysts, the architects of the
Indian Naval doctrine P. Panikkar ad K.B. Vaidiya have said (
inter- alia) : “Even if Indian does not rule all five Oceans of
the world, we must rule the waves of the Indian Ocean.”
Secret submarine base
To this end, India has craftily timed its move on building naval
supremacy through a secret submarine basis in a mouth of the
Sethusamudram canal at a time when the Government of Sri Lanka
is weak and unable to mount a formidable challenge. A canal
project will not only provide a nuclear submarine base only but
will also enable the Indian Naval craft to carry nuclear fuel
supplied by the Kudankulam nuclear project in Tamil Nadu.
Concerned Indian citizens have written to the United Nations
Secretary General Kofi Annan as early as 1998, pointing out his
dangers to the South Indian Northern Sri Lankan geographies from
a potential maritime disaster linked to the secret Indian plans
to build a secret nuclear submarine base.
New Delhi has decided to establish a Far Eastern Maritime
Command at Port Blair at Anderman Islands independent of
operational control from Vishakapatnam.
This was India’s protracted plan to consolidate on her forward
lines and the grip on the entrance to the Malacca Straits the
second busiest sea lane in the world. At the time when the Indo-
Lanka Accord was signed in 1987, it precluded anyone but India
from using Trincomalee as a strategic port.
One of the most hushed up Indian nuclear accidents is the
particular research facility in South India that led to major
deaths and permanent closure of that installation of that
It is patently and crystal clear that all Sri Lankan high
commissioners to New Delhi have been advocating an Appeasement
Policy towards India and those recommended have been followed by
the Colombo government as no independent think thank with expert
opinion in Sri Lanka.
However, this is the bomb shell. According to top diplomatic
observers, there is a school of thought that if India forces Sri
Lanka to compromise its legal position due to the Sri Lanka
government’s political and economic weak position, then both the
Sri Lankan and Indian governments would be equally culpable the
day that a nuclear disaster occurs especially with the
Kudankulam nuclear plant is expected to produce 40 percentage of
India’s nuclear fuel and the narrow channel would be its major
The country and its discontents
By Malinda Seneviratne
‘Watch out for the false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s
clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves’ – Matthew Ch
Let us take Matthew proper. He doesn’t stop with sheep and
wolves. There is an elaboration, which, given the discontent
(and few would argue for contentment regarding this country, I
believe), is quite an appropriate preamble to a comment on the
state of things. It goes like this: ‘By their fruit you will
recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs
from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a
bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and
a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear
good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their
fruit you will recognise them (the false prophets).’ I would
take issue with cutting down trees and throwing them into the
fire, but the spirit of this piece of advice is certainly of
value and amenable to application to the case at hand.
We have had prophets and they have prophesied much. They have
sought to re-create a country based on models that have nothing
to do with who we are, where we have come from or where we want
to go. They have spat at anything that has even the faintest
whiff of ‘native’ or ‘local,’ ridiculed voices that find English
to be an insufficient and unfamiliar vehicle to carry concerns,
especially those that reference history and culture, and looked
down on anything and everything that takes issue with the
Judeo-Christian worldview. They have, moreover, used the refuge
of untenable universalisms not so much to emphasise common
humanity as to grind to dust the civilisational foundations that
made this a country and not a client state or colony.
These prophets, when their beloved project of dismantling the
country and replacing it with its apology is threatened, give
their all, in prophesying doom. ‘The country is at a
crossroads,’ they moan. Some obscure organisation for what price
we do not know says ‘failed state’ and they salivate. They treat
with suspicion the statements of elected governments, (which is
not a bad thing), but embrace without question the mouthings of
megalomaniacs. When purported neutrals openly call the
President, the Leader of the Opposition and all negotiators from
the democratic side of the divide, liars and pledge to carry
forward the agenda of the most ruthless terrorist, they
genuflect happily before the insult. They remain silent. They
silence. Or, would try to? Oh yes, they say ‘it is in the
interest of peace.’ They are subtle and smart, these wolves.
And so, they will no longer talk about ‘the existing power
equation’ as a basis for demarcating areas of control because
time and event proved beyond a shadow of doubt that this line
was a lie. They will not talk of grievance because they know the
archaeological record is not on their side. They may still talk
of aspirations, for that is never a contained proposition. They
will talk of the suffering of the innocents as though the
disarming of a terrorist and the protection of the people from
butchers afflicted with unprecedented bloodlust can ever be a
bloodless exercise. They talk of humanitarian concerns not
because they see some intrinsic value in human life, (they act
as though the butchery perpetrated by the state some fifteen
years ago, leaving 60,000 dead never happened), but as a means
of offering a prop to a crippled attempt at land-theft. They
will refer to de-facto state, de-facto capital, a ‘southern
consensus’ (implying border and distinguishing territories) and
in other ways, especially with the slick use of word and
metaphor, pump a fast deflating Goebelsian balloon. Out of
spite. One can’t think of any other reason. Giving the thumbs up
to a terrorist, in this context, is certainly a more honourable
What are their discontents? The principal one would be that two
key elections were lost, but as we mentioned, they are subtle.
They will not articulate it in those terms. No, the lament is
that the federalist project floundered. The country they want us
to inhabit is one where history has no value, where the weva,
the chaithyata and the ketha has no place but where culture is
made of meatballs and the show of a drag queen, and where
democracy is reduced to the simplistic equation, ‘One ethnicity,
one vote; one religion, one vote,’ so that evangelical zealots
can go about uninhibited in their country-dismantling project.
Federalism would yield the kind of cartographical disorientation
that paves the way for that invasion. Federalism had its day. It
had full state patronage and a government that not only argued
for surrender but actively sought the very subversion of the
state. There was money. There was the state-owned media with
On the other side, as the enemy of this ‘country’ was the people
who inhabited a country that had a history, believed in roots
and were not willing to concede ground to land thieves and
culture obliterators without a fight. Without coherent
leadership, with hardly any money, they stood up to be counted.
They stood up against those who (as a pastime almost), take pot
shots at those who don’t speak the Queen’s English or haven’t
gone to the finishing schools of society that confer membership
to English-speaking exclusivities. They stood up against almost
the entire media industry and the lumpen capitalists that run
the country. They elected a President, but that was a by-product
of the more important vanquishing of the federalist project. The
anti-intellectualism that is at the heart of this
country-dismantling project was seldom in doubt, but the
residents of the vilified country defeated it politically. The
vilifying country can’t believe it happened.
And so it is now a matter of saying ‘if not for those
so-and-sos, our champion would have squeaked through, our
country could have replaced their country and buried its
history.’ The umpire, however, as a colleague put it this
morning, has already ruled the federalists ‘out’. The disturbed
wickets tell the story. Those who were ruled out are refusing to
leave the field, true, but the match is over.
Is that all there is to the discontent of these false prophets,
these thorn bushes from which it would be futile to expect
grapes, these bad trees that will not bear good fruit? No, they
are tormented by the fact that despite five centuries of
coercion, five centuries of employing the most despicable
methods to obtain ethnic-cleansing a la culture-erasure, the
country proper continues to breathe and still has a heartbeat.
They ridicule and footnote the voices of that country whenever
and wherever possible. And they use tags such as ‘clean’,
‘visionary’, ‘statesman’ on those who sold out to a terrorist
and an uncultured invader disguised as facilitator.
They will, in the name of celebrating diversity, often go
overboard with both minority-glorification and majority-bashing,
but will not tolerate if they can diversity of opinion,
especially those views they cannot logically refute.
We cannot digest bad fruit. A bad tree will not yield
nourishment. It necessarily yields poisons that cause
indigestion. A wolf is not innocent whatever disguise it may
choose to wear. The false prophets are men and women whose
political project (to replace a country that has meaning,
mandate and potential with an aberration) is in disarray. They
may wear sheep’s clothing, but their voice betrays all.
In the Mahaparinibbana Sutra, Lord Buddha tells Ananda, ‘be a
refuge unto yourself, be a lamp unto yourself.’ It is good to
distinguish the true prophet from the imposter. It is better to
seek truth within, whether we are talking of self, organisation,
village, community or country. The core always lies within. The
surface, the trappings, these can always be tampered with; but
the core is never replaced unless the whole is destroyed. The
‘core’ is insufferable, the false prophets believe. They would
destroy the whole. They would destroy the country. Those are the
dimensions, briefly, of this country and its discontents.
Sabbe satta bhavanthu sukhitatta. May all
beings be happy!