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A Bridge to progress?

Arefa Tehsin

And thou , vast ocean! On whose awful face, time's iron feet can print no ruin-trace - Robert Montgomery

Perhaps time cannot leave its ruin-trace on the vast ocean, but it seems that the almighty man can. Should we applause the human progress or jeer at nature's abuse, many of us encounter this predicament. Sethusamudram or the sea with the bridge - an idea that has been lurking around for the past 144 years, has ultimately taken form.

Finally after much ado, this glorious yet hazardous project was launched followed by long debates weighing its viability and perils. It has left the shippers and businessmen thrilled, nature lovers and fisher-folks distressed and the fishes and corals as bright and colourful as ever, oblivious of their near and impending demise. Even Sri Lanka, which is far from recovering by the brunt of a natural disaster, had to concede to this ambitious project the sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; "I cannot quite make it out", said Annie Dillard. Tsunami, which struck the Indian Ocean but left the whole world moved, was just a small reminder from the mighty ocean to stay in harmony with it. Hailed as the Suez Canal of India, forgetting that Suez Canal was built on land and not sea filled with corals and marine life, Sethusamudram is setting its foot on the already angry sea.

Yes, many canals have been built this way, but what has been profitably done does not establish that it has been rightly done. You need not be a scientist to comprehend that if you dig the seabed and deposit the dredged material elsewhere, both the areas would be severely affected. Alexander Pope had put it aptly - "From nature's chain whatever link you strike, tenth or ten thousandth breaks the chain alike". Fishermen, corals, seabed, mangroves, marine mammals unique and rich marine biological reserve....these things do not have the same appeal as enormous economical aspects, massive gains, huge containers, expansion, advancement and growth.

Yes..., thousands of jobs will be created, but millions of jobs will be lost, sinking scores of families into the depths of poverty. Coral reefs - the most matured eco-systems of the world, breeding grounds for scores of marine life forms, barriers of erosion and wave action - are very sensitive. The distance from the marine sanctuary is 20 km. A 20 km distance in the sea is practically nothing! It did not take much time and effort for the waves caused by the earthquake to travel hundreds and hundreds of miles.

It is argued that in the Tuticorin Port built three decades ago, two or three coral reefs started resurfacing after the dredging. But to what extent, and how can it be considered to be a norm. What is built over centuries cannot be repaired in years. Here in Sri Lanka along the southern coast, coral reefs are vanishing due to normal water sports like scuba diving. as a result scuba divers are sternly advised not to place their foot on coral reefs while diving. That much sensitive are the corals.

NGOs, oceanographers, environmentalists, geologists, and fishermen are taken into consideration and not lifted from the roots like the fateful seabed and dumped at a place, which has not even been decided as yet. The time period of the first human inhabitation on Sri Lankan soil around the primitive era coincides with the age of the bridge from Rameshwaram to the Sri Lankan coastline. Does it suggest that Lord Rama indeed crossed this bridge and came to save his wife Sita?file:///home/mahaweli/sethu/docs/tehsin.html The remnants of the bridge built by Hanuman with his army of monkeys are going to be excavated and lost forever. Yes...we do hold our heads high and feel swelled with pride that we are moving ahead shoulder to shoulder with our times. But development can be done in harmony with nature if we wish to. Opposition to the project should be taken positively and various representatives from environmental groups and fishermen should be invited to participate in discussions.

It might take some effort but the gap between conveyed and delivered can be made minimal. And last but not the least friends, "lets not blow it, good planets are hard to find..."