On the Sangupiddy-Kerathivu Lagoon:
Bridge of peace and hope
January 16 turned out to be a historic day for the people of Jaffna
as their long-time dream became a reality with the opening of the new
bridge between Sangupiddy in Pooneryn and Kerathivu in Navatkuli.
bridge on the lagoon between Kerathivu and Sangupiddy is 288 metres in
length and 7.1 metres in width. Construction had cost Rs 1,037 million.
Initiatives to link the Jaffna mainland with the North-Western
coastal region via Pooneryn were taken way back in the late 1930s. The
engineering genius Mahadeva, who was the brainchild behind building the
Elephant Pass causeway, had first worked out a plan to connect
Sangupiddy in Jaffna and Kerathivu in Pooneryn by constructing a
causeway in the shallow lagoon waters. However, the plan did not
materialise due to protests from the fisherfolk in the area and
producers of salt in Elephant Pass.
The protests surfaced on the basis that fishing would be affected due
to the stagnation of salt water and as far as the salterns were
concerned, the production of salt in Elephant Pass would be hampered as
a result of less water flow from the lagoon to the salterns which had a
good harvest of salt throughout the year.
On the other hand, the importance of connecting Pooneryn with the
Jaffna mainland via the Kerathivu and Sangupiddy Lagoon (which is the
mouth of the Elephant Pass lagoon) was felt as many people from Jaffna
had their paddy and coconut cultivations in Pooneryn. The variety of
rice known as 'Mottaikaruppan' was popular among the people in Jaffna
and was cultivated in Pooneryn on a large scale before the three decades
of disturbances in the North.
The Northerners who had their paddy lands in Pooneryn brought their
harvest to the Jaffna mainland from Pooneryn to Colombuthurai port by
boat. The sailing between Pooneryn and Jaffna remained arduous and
In the 1950s attempts were made to reduce the distance between
Sangupiddy in Pooneryn and Kerathivuin Navatkuli, Jaffna by filling the
shallow lagoon with limestones which are found in plenty in the
Valikamam region in the North. But, despite efforts by various quarters,
the bridging of Pooneryn and the Jaffna mainland remained a distant
dream for the people of Jaffna.
According to former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jaffna,
Professor P. Balasundarampillai, the new flyover bridge above the
Sangupiddy and Kerathivu Lagoon is extremely significant as the bridge
did not merely link the Jaffna mainland with Pooneryn in the North
"The 288-metre flyover bridge will serve in a big way in enhancing
the socio-economic aspects between the North and the South. The new
bridge has reduced the distance between Colombo and Jaffna along the
western coastal belt by 110 km. It has also paved the way for an
alternative route between the North and the South, apart from the A-9
"Highways play a major role in developing the economy of a country.
Since the darker period in the North and the East came to an end in
2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa focused attention on building new
bridges and repairing the damaged ones in the areas hit by violence. For
instance, the renovation of the Mannar bridge and the construction of
bridges in the Eastern Province had highlighted the President's vision
in uniting the island nation geographically by constructive means,"
Prof. Balasundarampillai said.
The Professor also said that though the Sangupiddy - Kerathivu bridge
is now a reality, the A-32 highway, which links Colombo with Mannar via
Puttalam, has to be improved on a mega scale to ensure hassle-free
The A-32 which stretches up to the Jaffna peninsula could be a
`lifeline' in addition to the A-9 highway in transporting essential
goods and services to the North and the South, he said.
Dr. K. Kunarasa, who retired from the Sri Lanka Administrative
Service and also won a prestigious award from President Rajapaksa for
his contribution to Tamil literature last year, said the new bridge was
a great blessing for the entire country.
"I really appreciate the far-sightedness of President Rajapaksa in
completing the new bridge. For the past 70 years politicians, civil
servants, engineers and academics had made fervent attempts in making
the Sangupiddy-Kerathivu bridge a reality. Even Parliamentarians from
the North had made valiant attempts in the past by allocating funds to
complete the bridge; whereas President Rajapaksa had given the
greenlight for the construction of the bridge soon after the conflict
ended in the North.
entire structure had subsequently been completed within eight months.
The construction of a mega structure of this nature in a war-torn region
in a short spell is also praiseworthy," Dr. Kunarasa said.
Agricultural produce such as paddy and coconuts which had been
cultivated in Pooneryn were transported to the Jaffna mainland by boats
and ferries between Sangupiddy and Kerathivu for more than six decades.
The ferry service also carried vehicles such as buses, lorries and
cars which travelled between Mannar and Jaffna via Pooneryn.
Thousands of pilgrims to the historic Thiru Ketheeswaram Hindu Temple
and the Catholic pilgrims to the famous Madhu Shrine in Mannar had
travelled via the ferry service between Sangupiddy and Kerathivu, before
troubles escalated in the peninsula.
However, with the completion of the bridge between Pooneryn and the
Jaffna mainland, the number of pilgrims attending the Maha Sivarathri in
Thiru Ketheeswaram in Mannar this February is expected to increase.
Similarly, the number of Catholic pilgrims for the Madhu festive
season this year is also expected to be huge.
The areas along the coastal belt in the North Western Pooneryn
region, with its beaches and forests, also have good potential for
tourism in the region. In time to come, the hotel industry could thrive
in the region and the new bridge in Pooneryn would be a boon for the
The heartland of Jaffna has been constructed with causeways and
bridges to link the islets separated by shallow water lagoons. Four
causeways and bridges remain in Jaffna, connecting the distant islets.
Elephant Pass is the most significant of them all as the causeway
connects the Jaffna Peninsula with the rest of the country.
The other causeways and bridges remain within the peninsula. The
Ponnalai causeway links Karainagar with Jaffna. The Vanar bridge with a
causeway connects the Punkuduthivu islet with the Jaffna mainland.
The newly-built bridge
The longest of them all is the Pannai causeway which links Kayts and
the Karampan areas with the Jaffna mainland.
The former Parliamentarian from Kayts, the late Alfred Thambiaiya
played a key role in constructing the Pannai causeway.
Therefore, the latest addition to the Jaffna Peninsula, the
Sangupiddy-Kerathivu flyover bridge is more of a bridge for building
peace in the country while giving hope to the people in the North in
opening new vistas with regard to the unity and integrity of the
country. On January 16, when President Rajapaksa commissioned the new
bridge on the Sangupiddy-Kerathivu Lagoon, the melodious Nathaswaram
tunes from prominent musicians from Jaffna brought a pleasant atmosphere
to the region which had remained lifeless for three decades with only
the thundering sounds of deadly artillery gunfire.