Rama Setu: seminar in Chennai (May 12, 2007)

Govt to push ship lane plan despite protests
Wed May 16, 2007 7:26 PM ISTNEW DELHI (Reuters) –

India plans to go ahead with a controversial project to carve a shipping channel in seas off its south coast despite protests by religious groups who say it will destroy a mythical bridge of sand made by a Hindu god.

The $560-million Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project will dredge a channel in a narrow strip of sea between India and Sri Lanka, reducing distances and cutting costs for freight traffic.

But religious groups and opposition politicians have called on the government to stop the project, saying it will demolish a bridge of sand linking India and Sri Lanka which was built by Lord Ram, a Hindu god.

Shipping minister T.R. Baalu told parliament that the Ram Sethu bridge, also referred to as Adam’s Bridge, was not man-made and therefore could not be considered an important religious or cultural heritage.

 “As far as the Indian map is considered, there is no Ram Sethu at all. It is purely mythical,” said Baalu. “We have never intended to hurt the religious sentiments of any religious community including the Hindus.”

Research had shown that the bridge was a series of sand shoals created by sedimentation, he said.

 Dredging for the project began in 2005 and the channel — 12 metres deep, 300 metres wide and almost 90 km long — will cut through the Ram Sethu bridge and link the Palk Bay with the Gulf of Mannar.When the project is finished, ships sailing between India’s western and eastern coasts will no longer have to go around the south of Sri Lanka, and are expected to save up to 36 hours of sailing time.

The project has also sparked protests by other groups including conservationists and local fishermen who say the dredging will mean dumping sediment in deeper water further out to sea.

 This and increased freight traffic will harm marine life and threaten the livelihood of thousands of fishermen in both countries, opponents say. http://in.today.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2007-05-16T191851Z_01_NOOTR_RTRJONC_0_India-298545-1.xmlAt a


Heat in Chennai was on the increase in more than one sense last week. As mercury relentlessly rose – 106, 107, 108 (degree Celsius) — it was 109 on Saturday, May 12, 2007– about 200 journalists were arrested (and released later in the day) for trying to take out a protest march condemning the killing in Madurai of three employees of DINAKARAN, a Tamil daily owned by the ruling DMK chief’s family allegedly by supporters of a member of the same family.   On the same day, far from the heat and dust, experts of several disciplines converged in the city and dared to look beyond the present; they deliberated upon the possible havocs in case Ram Setu is destroyed. The air was thick with rumours that Ram Setu might be blasted if dredging becomes difficult on the rough sea. The lone dredger on job had been brought to the shore the previous day. The solemn meet was an International Seminar on SCIENTIFIC SECURITY ASPECTS OF SETU SAMUDRAM PROJECT (SSCP) organised by ‘Rameswaram Ram Setu Protection Movement’ (RRSPM). 

Justice Parvatha Rao, retired judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court summed up the mood of the seminar thus: ” Marine specialists here have shown that Ram Setu is man made and archaeologists here have established that it is ancient. So Ram Setu is a monument. Article 51-A of the Constitution of India says that protection of heritage handed down to us is the duty of the citizens. Supreme Court has said that the duty of the citizen is the duty of the state (the government). In the case of Ram Setu, the government is too rash – it shows defiant disregard for danger or consequences — and it seems bent upon destroying the monument. So, Ram Setu should be declared a national monument at the earliest”.  The learned judge wanted that the facts that emerged in the seminar should be taken to the people in a language that they understand. Members of Parliament and the government itself should be educated on this. He wished that the Movement (RRSPM) gains momentum, so that people could be saved from perils.  Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat, Professor of Geopolitics, Academy of Higher Education, Manipal University, rubbished the argument in certain circles: ‘Why bother about the fate of a bridge built by a man from Uttar Pradesh in Tamilnadu?’ He said Tamilnadu cannot survive without Bharat and Bharat cannot survive without Tamilnadu. Bharat is one country and it is great. He warned that cost of hydrocarbon fuel that we need (80 percent of which is dependent on imports) has increased while our nuclear plan is under-funded. He hinted that loss of Thorium by destruction of Ram Setu would be debilitating.  

Dr. S Badrinarayanan, Geologist and Consultant, National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), introduced himself as a field scientist and asserted that there is hard evidence to prove the existence of Ram Setu. Ocean bed bore tests show that the ridge is man made; it is an engineering marvel, added Badrinarayanan.  Prof. C.S.P.Iyer, Executive Director, Centre for Marine Analytical Reference and Standards, Thiruavananthapuram, stressed the need to conserve the marine bio reserve in the placid Mannar sea, extolled by the UN. This, he pointed out, owes its existence to the Ram Setu. Nowhere else in the world there are 3,600 species of marine life in one place as found close to the Ram Setu. The Professor dwelt at length on the effects of silts, prohibitive cost, absence of any Tsunami precaution and turbulence of
Bay of Bengal in the shipping canal project. He called for a scientific study of the environs before the shipping canal project could progress.  
Shri. V.Sundaram, IAS (Retd.), First Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust (the organization that is now in charge of the Setu Samdram Project), said that the Prime Minister will have to face an enquiry under another regime tomorrow for not referring the vital queries (regarding absence of safeguards against Tsunami) raised by Tad. S.Murthy to the Ministry of Shipping but to the Tuticorin Port Trust, a mere executing body. “I smell a rat in the whole affair”, he said.  Captain (Retd.) H.Balakrishnan of the Indian Navy, forcefully argued the security risks in theShipping
Canal use, citing the recently added ‘Air Arm’ of the LTTE that has conducted three raids on Srilankan assets last month.  

Shri. T. Satyamurthy, former director of archaeology, Government of Kerala, pointed out that ancient Romans who engaged in trade on the west coast could not navigate to the east coast via the
Palk strait obviously because of the presence of Ram Setu. The prevalence of the same culture on either end of the Ram Setu proved by the Rameswaram temple associated with Shri. Ram on the Bharat’s end and the Tiruketeesawra temple associated with Mandotari, Ravana’s wife, on the Srilankan end shows that the zone was culturally united. The sea is knee deep along the Ram Setu and that made passage of people easy and of ships impossible across the strait.   

Shri. D.Kuppuramu, advocate, Jilla Sanghchalak of Ramanarthpuram and Convenor of  ‘Rameswaram Ram Setu Protection Movement’, who presided over the seminar, appealed to all well meaning persons to implead themselves in cases filed so far – one at the Supreme Court, one at Madras High Court last week by Hindu Munnani founder Shri. Rama Gopalan and one at the sub court in Ramanathapuram – all seeking protection of Ram Setu.  

Shri. M.S.Karunanidhi, a resident of Rameswaram, who could see Ram Setu revealed completely the day after the December 26, 2004 Tsunami, cited earliest Tamil print evidences with mention of Ram Setu in them. 

Shri. T.V.Rangarajan, Organising Secretary for South India, Akhila Bharateeya Itihasa Sankalana Yojana and a Tamil scholar listed literary evidences dating back to more than 2,000 year mentioning Setu built by Shri. Ram. Sethupatis of Ramanathapuram, the rulers of the area, were indeed appointed by Shri. Ram himself to guard Ram Setu, as per the local traditions, he said. Pauraniks in ancient Tamilnadu went from place to place lecturing on Setu Puranam, an ancient literary work in Tamil, Rangarajan added.  

Shri. Tad S. Murthy, Vice President of the Tsunami Society of Ottawa, USA, the expert who was commissioned by Shipping Ministry (and whose advise that the Project include precautionary steps against Tsunami was ignored), had sent in his best wishes for the success of the seminar. He was to have attended it. The message of greetings from Dr. S.R.Rao, Founder, Society of Marine Archaeology in India, was also read out at the seminar. Dr. Rao was to inaugurate the seminar but he could not make it to Chennai owing to ill health.  RAMA SETU, a compilation edited by Dr. S.Kalyanaraman, Director, Saraswati River Project, that includes the papers presented at the Chennai seminar, was released at the seminar. It is priced at Rs. 600. Dignitaries who were among the audience included former ministers S.Tirunavukkarasar and Dr. H.V.Hande, Shri. K.Surynarayana Rao, senior functionary of RSS, DR. Subramaniam Swamy of Janata Party and Shri. L. Ganeshan, state president of BJP. With the recital of Vande Mataram, the day-long seminar came to a close.  

No one at the seminar opposed the Sethu Samudram Shipping Channel Project per se. They demanded its realignment so that Ram Setu is not harmed. But DECCAN CHRONICLE thought it wise to describe it as “anti-Sethu canal meet” in its report next day. So much for media sensitivity to the vital issue.  

RAMA SETU, a well-documented and well-referenced book on various facets of the Rama Setu, was released on May 12, 2007 and copies are available and can be obtained from Rameswaram Ram Setu Protection Movement, 12, M.V. Street, Chetpet, chennai – 600 031. Price Rs. 600/-.


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