CSR in Dredging Projects
Prof Dr GYV Victor, Member of Board – EADA (Asia & Pacific region), Secretary EADA (India) & Advisor – Dharti Dredging and Infrastructure Ltd

The awareness of environment, sustenance of the ecosystem and socioeconomic conditions enhanced rapid development of marine infrastructure, methodology and planning for execution of the projects successfully. The author in the present paper has highlighted in detail regarding project, socio-economic conditions and planning for successful execution of projects keeping abreast with Government legislations and ordinances involving the locals for their socio economics, rehabilitation and displacement of the habitants in terms of the corporate social responsibility of marine industries seeking for better solution.

Development of port and harbor, marine industry usually often produce bold headlines in the public debate and local media, however, if noticed at all, they are possibly only in the regional or the local media, which might cause fierce debates and unpredictable delays in execution of project. Very often, it is not the constructional development or planning of marine or ports industry, but socioeconomic issues of the project as most of public will not be aware of this industry with rapid modern developments to abide by the increasing government ordinances and legislations, perhaps the debates are due to the public interest or protest with their apprehension for their livelihood, rehabilitation, socioeconomics or uprooting for displacement and relocation of the habitants, for the unseen developmental process under the water level or sub strata to develop the port and harbor that may have direct or indirect impact on the environment, topography and bathymetry of the location that shall lead to depletion of the socio-economic conditions of these local population.

Further, in many developmental projects the general negative public perception and the lack of understanding regarding the developmental activities, their relationship to the environment and the economic issues are echoed among small segment of population to obstruct such developmental activities on the coast. These situation results in more troublesome process as most of the government agencies design and establish guidelines for the execution of the project amidst the echo of few concerns about the projects.

With new legislations and Government ordinances being framed for implementation to adhere to various guidelines, regulations and conventions for execution and development of port and marine projects, the industry has transformed itself to keep abreast of latest development elsewhere. Further, the awareness about environment, preservation of ecology along with the human factor leading to socioeconomic conditions provides as toll for unperturbed rapid development of marine infrastructure for execution of the projects successfully. Such projects require fine tuned guidance and politically acceptable terms of referendum, which should co-exist with the project management to be well balanced between science, politics, economy and ecology (Fig 1).

In the recent past, one of the biggest Indian marine project that was and is till widely debated and analysed is the development of the channel to avoid circumnavigation around Sri Lanka to transit between East Coast and West Coast of India and vice versa. The nation witnessed local resistance transforming into political resistance and finally the aggrieved parties knocked the doors of court to relook into the viability of the project. Nonetheless in the process Union Government have spent substantial money on the project and due to the imposition of the stay order from the apex court, the work was stopped resulting undoing of the work carried out in the substrata of Palk’s Strait. The author in the present research work shall discuss in detail the media hype followed the temporarily shelved Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project (SSCP) in detail regarding the technical feasibility of the project, socio-economic conditions in conjunction with corporate social responsibility and the planning for successful execution of the project keeping abreast with the Government legislation and ordinance.

Technical Details of Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project
Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project (SSCP), is deemed considered to be pride of the country, if successfully implemented for being the longest sea-bed dredging project developing offshore shipping channel in Palk Bay, to reduce the navigational distance to avoid circumnavigation of south coast of Sri Lanka for ships that navigate between east and west coast of India and vice versa. In SSCP channel the ships would navigate through Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay. SSCP channel’s total length of 167.22 km, width of 300 metre channel shall be dredged to depth of 12 metre, the total length is divided into 4 works consisting dredging in Adams Bridge and Palk Strait, since the central channel of 4 works are established to have adequate depth, these segment will not be dredged but shall need bar sweeping after the full channel is dredged and is ready for navigation.

Perhaps, the Indian dredging companies are experienced in maintenance and capital dredging works of ports and harbors or waterways, watersheds within or close proximity to the shore, nonetheless SSCP dredging shall be a great challenge for the Indian companies to prove their expertise and caliber in capital dredging of the channel offshore that is located approximately 34 km away from the low water line.

To meet the requirement of handling deeper draft ships and to deepen and widen the channel, dredging industry has started to boom in the last decade and further interesting to note newly incorporated companies have added to the national tonnage in terms of handling the domestic requirement. The port infrastructure is also developing at the same phase to handle the water borne cargo volume with a much reduced turn around time. Amidst all these developments, SSCP is deemed considered to be pride of all the projects considering the quantum of marine construction work, dredging, the development of the port infrastructure and the development of the areas associated and adjacent to the channel.

Earlier, there had been serious questions from various quarters about the feasibility and viability of the project, which was effectively and efficiently taken care by the model studies and impact assessment studies by various government agencies, perhaps scantly and contrast information of these analysis has led to review the issues in the current paper.

Technical Issues for Review
Development of the SSCP channel in the Palk Strait has abruptly ceased due to the intervention of political and judicial process, however, the dredging activities with constant shifting of the channel due to the sediment movements and hydraulics raise serious questions on its impact on ecology and environment. The analysis of the records indicates the quantum of sedimentation and siltation has been much higher than the earlier predicted values without increasing the depth but due to slight change in bathymetry of the sub strata. In the light of the above, SSCP project, with the longest navigational channel in India, of 167.22 km shall require to revisit the dredging methodology and schedule as the dredged channel might have been confronted with dramatic fluctuations in sedimentation movement, change of underwater conditions, atmospheric conditions and a steady rise of sea level, although there are substantial annual fluctuations, the change in dynamics, hydraulics, sedimentation movement, dunes formation due to current and etc, it seems that the frequency and intensity of storms is increasing enlarging the need to revisit the methodology and the schedule for effective and sustainable coastal defence of Sethusamudram Channel with perseverance of ecosystem of the bio-rich sphere.

Nevertheless, this present short notes raise few relevant technical issues that need to be addressed effectively and revisited in order to clear all the ambiguities. The current level of data availability and the understanding on the sediment patterns and the associated dynamics existing in the Palk Bay can’t be reliable without adequate information and or work being carried out in this region. It is to be anticipated, while dredging the Adams Bridge, the flush of sediments draining into the south of Adams Bridge might result in a different sedimentation pattern and associated dynamics with change in the velocity and turbidity levels of this region.

Chandramohan et al calculated the annual sediment load for Palk Bay being one of the permanent sediment sink zone as 58.8 x 106 cubic metre, however, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) calculated the net annual sediment transport in these region as 2.657 x 105 cubic metre, which was in conformance of the data published by Sanil Kumar et al, nonetheless these quantum accounts only for 0.45 per cent of the sediment in the total sink region, however, there is no reliable date to account for 99.55 per cent of the total sediment in the sink region, which is the deciding factor for sustained and prolong maintenance dredging.

Due to the high sedimentation rate as published by the maritime surveys between 1960 and 1986, suggest that there are specific regions in the Palk Bay where the annual depth tends to reduce by 25 to 75 times higher than the values proposed by Changramohan et al, it is interesting to note that the two of the four designed SSCP works of the ship channel coincides in zones of higher sedimentation rate. In absence of any reliable data of the sedimentation rate, once the channel is deepened there is a possibility of high sedimentation resulting in higher quantum of the maintenance dredging unlike the data published by NEERI as 5 x 105 to 1 x 106 cu-m / year. Further, numerous ecological studies indicate that the bio-rich Gulf of Manner with abundant coral growth is liable for destruction and shall result in depletion of the bio reserved area due to the high turbidity and the sediment plume by dredging activities to deepen, widen the channel and subsequently to maintain the dredged channel of 167.22 kms.

In absence of adequate data regarding the nature of the dredging spoil, shall increase the commercial risk for Indian and the International competitors of repute, whereby the risks involved will be covered and included in terms of the contract cost resulting in a linear quantum of the budget cost.

Union Government finds flaw in its own appointed scientific committee that was entrusted with feasibility study of Sethusamudram project, neither was the report submitted by the committee debated nor discussed by any subject experts but the Government preferred to reject the report and informed the Supreme Court that after 24 months of study of its committee, the Government shall prefer its own earlier alignment channel for the project. The successive State Government of Tamil Nadu Pollution Board didn’t issue the clearance certificate that is mandatory for the projects on the concurrent list. Sethusamudram channel designed for 12 m CD and 300 m bottom width shall accommodate less than 30,000 DWT with a navigable distance of 167 km of the long channel transiting through Adams Bridge and Palk Straight, as per the IAPH Norms, ships transiting through this proposed channel shall be the ‘sitting ducks’ as the ships can’t be on full speed ahead due to the draft and the width restrictions of the long channel resulting in economic unviability. Opening of the Adams bridge shall change the turbidity and dynamics with unpredictable maintenance dredging throughout the year in the longest channel, the cost analysis of the scanty number of ships transiting the channel vis-ŕ-vis the maintenance dredging cost shall confirm technical, operational and economic unviability of the proposed channel apart from severe impact on the biosphere and environment. It is a myth that the dredged channel on the northern channel i.e. Palk Strait shall remain at the dredged datum after the dredging operations was discontinued three years ago. If dredging has to commence again, it will be a fresh start due to the accumulated sedimentation due to the littoral drift and the seasonal changes.

Unless these ambiguities are addressed by the policy makers to the people and as well to the judicial officers, it shall be difficult to have development and the project execution. It is pertinent to mention here already huge quantum of money was invested for the execution of the project without any development. Perhaps, considering the recession in the container market and the infrastructure development in Sri Lanka, it is imperative that our policy makers should look forward for establishing coastal shipping and inland waterways that shall connect the landlocked commercial zones for sea trade, that is cheaper, environmentally safer mode of transport than developing the longest channel that shall incur annual maintenance cost, which shall be higher than the rate of return.

Socio Economic Issue
Until recently, little attention was given to the vision and the need of people, who are directly affected by the changes enforced by the execution of projects and it is time to turn the tables and place people at the forefront while executing marine and dredging projects. The recent survey, in implementing Sethusamudram project, indicates the need for communities to take a lead in planning their own destiny with social planning becoming a critical component. Sethusamudram Project, along the coast in the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Bay shall affect 138 villages and towns belonging to 5 districts of south Tamil Nadu. The socio economic profile of the fishermen in these villages is very low, and more than 40 per cent of the fishermen families are indebt. Due to construction of the infrastructure, the land access now available for the local fishermen for traditional fishing will be hindered unless and until there is an alternative options and or land available for carrying out their livehood. Further, the dredging schedule and the methodology should be informed to the fishermen in advance to avoid unpleasant situations, whereby an update of the schedule of the dredging and other land works should be accessible to the local village chiefs, who should be the spokesman to the village and inform fisher folks accordingly. The Government and the local Non Government Organisations should encourage and educate the local fishermen to adopt to the changing scenario and explore employment opportunities, which will be in abundance due to the involvement of international firms who believe in the local knowledge and promote the employment opportunities for the local to keep them in good books. Furthermore, considering the quantum of the project and the alternative employment possibilities, it shall also be the onus of responsibility that the Indian and international companies those are awarded the project work should adopt and device reasonable measures within their social corporate responsibility for upliftment of the local community.

In view of the above it is clear that there will always be public and political competition among different stakeholders about their potential contribution to the projects resulting in head on collision with the interest and claim of some social and economical groups. It is to be noted that the apprehension about the project and the lack of understanding has to be cleared, the most effective tool is communication, the discussion with the stakeholders when the lack of knowledge and fear of potential socio economic issues becomes a problem for a planned mega projects. The process of improving mutual understanding and acceptance of the objectives and arguments with regard to the projects may, therefore, clear all the apprehension and subsequently all the quarters will provide a common platform for an acceptable plan for the project, resulting in a win-win situation to improve the public interest in such projects.

Nonetheless, keeping abreast with the developments and plans using techniques like community visioning for better management of natural hazards and physical development is necessary for successful completion of the projects. Sethu project has also witnessed that the community visioning requires full support of the Government and the private sector to ensure that the proactive measures and action to be taken in successful implementation of marine and dredging projects as well as to meet the nation’s vision to build its natural resources to enhance economic reforms and cater to all other industry utilising the waterways and waterborne transportation. Perhaps, this is the wake up call to build better and stronger industry to move inland away from danger.