Rama Setu: steps to save Setubandha

Rama Setu: steps to save Setubandha

Pleading for injunction to stop work on Sethusamudram
Canal Project (SSCP) which intends to create a channel passage cutting through Rama Setu

Setusamudram Channel Project should become Setusamudram land-based Canal Project (like the Suez or Panama canals) without impacting on or damaging Rama Setu which is a World Heritage monument.This note details the rationale for an injunction on proceeding with the project as presently designed and recommends a  review of the project design and scope.Land-based Canal (like Panama or Suez) versus channel passage cut through Rama SetuNEERI introduced a new alignment which changed the entire nature of the project which was designed in 1956 by AR Mudaliar Committee Report as a land-based canal (comparable to the Suez of Panama Canal).The channel passage is an extraordinary, experimental venture the like of which does not exist anywhere else in the world. Both Suez and Panama canals are land-based canals which have enabled adequate protective measures being built in the canals and to enhance navigation safety.

Plea for Advocate Commission

An Advocate-Commission should be constituted to resolve the extraordinary claims made by the project authorities (including the Minister for Shipping) denying the very existence of Rama Setu (also called Adam’s Bridge). In view of the failure of the Government to declare this as a World Heritage site, an injunction should be issued that no damage should be caused to Rama Setu until the petitions are disposed of by the court.Risk of damage to an ancient monument of national importanceBlasting is provided in the Palk Bay area. There are reports that blasting may be resorted to in Adam’s Bridge area which is NOT authorized in the EIA report and will be violative of the responsibilities to protect the Marine Bioreserve and National Marine Parks in the area. An undertaking should be given by the Project authorities that no damage will be done to the Rama Setu until the issues are deliberated and the contentions of the petitions judged.

Failure to review the project after the tsunami of December 2004

EIA Report and Techno-economic feasibility reports are dated August 2004. On December 26, 2004 a devastating tsunami struck the region. The tsunami killed over 2,60,000 people and caused damage to the coastline of India and the lives of many people in coastal villages and harbours (e.g., Nagapattinam, Cuddalore, Kollam).The tsunami changed the bathymetry (sea-depth) of the region and the nature of the region which is essentially a sedimentation sink. In some places, the sea-bed had risen by as much as 300 metres. Such a sea-change should have resulted in a complete review of the project and redesign. Such a review was NOT done. Surprisingly, the questions raised by Prime Minister’s Office in March 2005 about the impact of the tsunami were dealt with in a peremptory manner instead of referring the entire issue to NEERI for re-evaluation and re-write of their Environment Impact Analysis Report.

Ecological concerns of Srilanka

The report by 34 experts of Srilanka submitted to the Srilankan Cabinet in May 2007 brings out serious concerns on the ecological disaster that the project will cause in Sri Lanka. In particular, there is a reference to the impact on drinking water resources of both Jaffna and Rameswaram due to the damages by dredging or blasting, to ground-water caves and limestone layers in the bridge area. This means that Sri Lanka may take the matter to the International Court of Justice to safeguard their interests under the Historic Waters Agreement).Availability of alternative alignments which will NOT damage Rama SetuWhat has been considered as a canal (comparable to Suez or Panama as land-based and hence, controllable canal) since AL Mudaliar Committee Report of 1956, has been transformed by NEERI in 2004 into a passage in the mid-ocean, cutting across the Adam’s Bridge. All the previous 5 alignments reviewed in detail DID NOT cut across the Adam’s Bridge.NEERI has failed to take note of the serious consequences noted by Mudaliar Committee (Para 16) of any channel passage through Adam’s Bridge.Failure to evaluate the cultural significance of the project areaNEERI has failed to take note of the cultural significance of the Adam’s Bridge. It is considered as Setu Teerth (clearly mentioned in the Kurma Purana) and adored in the nation’s ancient tradition.Adam’s  Bridge has always been considered a bridge or causeway in ALL previous texts, in ancient texts, in epigraphs, in travelogues, in government documents since the days of the British rule.

Radical change in project scope: Switch from canal to mid-ocean channel passageThere has been NO due diligence before suggesting an alternative sixth alignment which seeks to create a passage in the mid-ocean.Respondents’ (Union of India) Counter No. 11 states:  “EIA study revealed that in view of the environmental sensitivity along the coastal stretch of Gulf of Mannar harbouring the Marine National Pazrk, an alignment keeping a minimum distance of 6 to 8 kms from Van-Tiu Island in Tuticorin and more than 20 kms from Shingle Island in Adam’s Bridge approach area is the most suitable. This alignment at a distance of 4 kms. From the Medial Line at Adam’s Bridge and about 3 kms. at other places.”  

Why was the ‘best choice’ given up? 

This runs counter to the observations in the Techno-economic report also prepared by NEERI in August 2004: “All the earlier proposals selected the route, particularly in the Gulf of Mannar area passing through Mandapam / Rameswaram etc. involving the dredging of a canal mainly through the land portion. These alignments were so selected as to optimize the cost of dredging. An analysis of the earlier proposals reveal that with each proposal, the canal was shifted eastwards mainly due to the apprehensions of the local population. The report prepared by NEERI in 1998 had considered modification in route proposed by steering committee. However due to apprehension that route around Dhanushkodi might require to cut through Coral reef, the route suggested by steering committee was considered the best choice.” http://sethusamudram.gov.in/NSDRCSurvey.asp  

It is surprising that thi best choice (Alignment 4) has been abandoned and a channel passage has been proposed (Alignment 6) cutting through Adam’s Bridge (Rama Setu), a choice which the A R Mudaliar Committee had noted should be abandoned. NEERI and Project authorities have NOT provided reasons why this Committee’s observations were ignored [observations which were honoured by all four subsequent  committees including the Lakshminarayanan Committee or Steering Committee which recommended Alignment 4 through Dhanushkodi without impacting on or damaging Rama Setu (Adam’s Bridge)]. This statement also directly runs counter to the arguments advanced in AR Mudaliar Committee (1956) report whose observations related to Adam’s Bridge have been scrupulously observed by the various Committees which proposed and recommended alternative alignments, all of which DID NOT pass through the Adam’s Bridge. Neither the EIA report, nor the project feasibility reports discuss why the serious objections raised by AL Mudaliar Committee Report were NOT discussed and were NOT answered.  Excerpts below provide an overview of the alternative channel alignments considered to either create a canal or just a passage across the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Straits. The categorical recommendations of AR Mudaliar Committee (1956) are as follows, against any passage across the Adam’s Bridge. We are convinced that the Adam’s Bridge site is unsuitable for the following reasons:  First: The shifting Sandbanks in this area present a far more formidable problem – both at the stage of construction and during maintenance – than the sand dunes on the island site.  Secondly: The approaches to a channel would be far too open with no possibility of construction of protective works. A channel at this site – even if it can be made and maintained (which is unlikely) – would entail definite navigational hazard.  Thirdly: The channel would be bordering on the Sethusamudram Medial Line. In these circumstances we have no doubt, whatever that the junction between the two sea should be effectd by a Canal; and the idea of cutting a passage in the sea through
Adam’s Bridge should be abandoned.  

By not heeding these warnings, what started as a canal project has been converted into a mid-ocean channel passage cutting through Rama Setu with serious conequences impacting upon the coastline of Tamilnadu and Kerala, causing consternation among experts in Srilanka and Jaffna residents related to impact on drinking water supplies there and serious lapse of not including protection structures, like the walls built in Japan, to protect against another tsunami in the region. 

Historic Waters Agreement versus Creation of International Waters Boundary and failure to analyse Geopolitical implications 

Justice Krishna Iyer has written (April 2007) to the PM that the present alignment constituting an international waters boundary where none existed is an anti-national activity. AR Mudaliar Committee recommendations to stay away from the Medial Line have been ignored. Instead, the new channel passage has been designed to run close to the Medial line. This is a violation of the Agreement entered into between Smt. Indira Gandhi and Smt. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in June 1974 declaring the region as HISTORIC WATERS (that is, internal waters with full rights to coastal people of both the countries to access the aquatic resources of the waters). By choosing such an alignment, the Government, is, in effect, succumbing to the pressure of USA which refused to recognize this Agreement and this declaration of HISTORIC WATERS. To prove their refusal, as operational assertions, US naval vessels were repeatedly sent into the waters. By effectively creating an International Waters Boundary where such a boundary NEVER EXISTED, there are apprehensions that the traditional historic rights enjoyed by the people of India and Srilanka have been abrogated.  Such an abrogation has serious consequences for the livelihood of the coastal people and introduces a new geopolitical issue in the region, given the importance of the shipping routes from Straits of Hormuz through Straits of Malacca for oil tanker traffic to the West Coast of USA and other countries east ofIndia.An unusual (coincidence?) event occurred on 23 June 2005 following the visit of US naval ships in 1993, 1994 and 1999 in the region to assert the US failure to recognize the traditional claims of India and Srilanka treating these as HISTORIC waters under the Law of the Sea 1958. By choosing a channel passage running close to the medial line, a new phenomenon is sought to be created: an international waters boundary between India and Srilanka. A medial line is only relevant for recognizing the ownership of ocean properties of shanka (chank) and pearl fisheries.

Traditionally, fishermen and pearl-divers had the freedom to move across the medial line treating the waters as historic, internal waters.US Navy Operational Directive of 23 June 2005 treating these as international waters is a serious assault on the nation’s sovereignty and integrity. NEERI did not take into account the implications of the intrusion of international politics in this region.The impact on the lives of fisherfolk and coastal people will be devastating if the new new channel passage becomes a de facto international waters boundary since fish resources are available on the Srilanka side and will become inaccessible to the coastal people of Bharatam.

Imperative of incorporating tsunami protection measures 

Impossibility of protection structures if a mid-ocean channel passage is chosen 

Tsunami protection measures are needed not only for saving lives of the coastal people, but the properties along the coastline (including critical atomic installations) and the thorium reserves accumulated in Manavalakurichi (Tamilnadu), Aluva and Chavara (Kerala). In fact, Rama Setu acted like a sieve for the ocean currents in accumulating these placer deposits. Cutting through the Rama Setu for a channel passage will impact on the accumulation process for these deposits critical for India’s nuclear program (the reserves will meet the energy needs of the nation for over 350 years according to BARC). Need to provide canal locks  Not only should protective structures be included against tsunami and cyclones, but there should be locks provided on either end of the canal (as in Panama canal) to limit the ingress of saline Bay of Bengal waters and their turbulence into the placid, fragile ecozone of the Marine Bioreserve in Gulf of Mannar. It is surprising that these recommendations have been suddenly abandoned in favour of a mid-ocean passage increasing the distance of the channel for ships, increased dredging quantities with related increased costs and exposing the entire coastline of Tamilnadu and Kerala to devastation in a tsunami of the type that struck on Dec. 26, 2004. In fact, all the alignments considered so far should be revisited and reevaluated taking into account the impact on sea-depths caused by this tsunami.  The failure to consider Mudaliar Committee injunctions against any Adam’s Bridge alignment and the failure to consider the impact of a tsunami on the alternative channels and the failure to provide tsunami protection measures as an integral and vital component of the project raise matters of serious concern to coastline security and security of the coastal people.After the NEERI suggestion of alignment 6 (the present alignment on which work is proceeding), a cataclysmic event occurred, the tsunami of Dec. 26, 2004. This event should have necessitated a TOTAL and COMPREHENSIVE review of the entire project since the bathymetry (sea-depths) had changed (with rise of the sea-bed by about 200 metres in some regions) and devastation of aquatic life by denuding the resources in the Gulf of Mannar by as much as 66 percent. As observed in PMO observations of 8 March 2005, the impact of any future tsunami on the chosen channel passage should have been subjected to a careful, multi-disciplinary review and evaluation. This was not done. PMO observations also referred to the views of tsunami-expert, Prof. Tad S Murthy who opined that the chosen alignment with the mouth of the channel directed to the direction of the tsunami would result in the destruction of Kerala and of Tamilnadu coastline due to 1. experience of the tsunami of 1964 in Alberni canal and 2. the principle of quarter wave resonance amplification (when a body of water forcefully tries to enter a tube, the wave amplitude increases four-fold). This is what happened in Alberni canal resulting in the devastation of Alberni port.

Importance of Rama Setu in accumulation of placer deposits of thorium (nuclear fuel)

NEERI did not take into account the role of Adam’s bridge and ocean currents in the accumulation of placer deposits of thorium, a vital nuclear resource of the nation. The impact of another tsunami on these resources have also not been taken into account since the new passage is likely to function like a funnel absorbing the energy of the tsunami (instead of the waves going around Srilanka) and thus, directly impacting the coastline. Rama Setu as a monument of national and international importance (See Annex 1 on definition of monument and criteria for determining national importance)Rama Setu should be deemed to be a world heritage site Rama Setu (Adam’s bridge) is a sacred monument. NEERI has failed to take this fact into account before suggesting the new channel passage route.

Justice KT Thomas has noted (April 2007): “In projects like this (Sethu Samudram Shipping Canal Project), decisions are to be based not only on a study of geological implications; the religious sentiments of the people are also to be taken into account. The religious sentiments of the people of Bharat must be honoured and there exists a tradition in this land, of honouring religious sentiments.. So, it is my definite opinion that Ram Setu must not be broken”. Many monuments in India have also been declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Some examples of such declaration:

Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection in Panama

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/653  Tubbataha Reef Marine Park in the Philippines
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/898 Kvarken Archipelago / High Coast in Sweden/Finland
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/369 Giant’s causeway and Causeway coast in UK
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/154 Great Barrier Reef in Australia
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/764 Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System in Belize
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/80 Mont St. Michel and its bay in France
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/672 Ha Long Bay in Vietnam
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/306 Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe

Rama Setu (or Nala Setu) should be declared as such a World Heritage Site.

Here’s how a US court deals with desiccation of a sacred mountain in America: http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/20070312-1046-environment-navajos.html U.S. court backs Indian tribe on sacred mountain 

Failure to evaluate cultural significance of Rama Setu 

“There are no archaeologically significant structures along the proposed channel alignment. However, there are apprehensions of encountering cultural/ archaeological artifacts during the excavation of the channel though borehole data generated by the National Ship Design Research Centre (NSDRC) does not support such a situation.”  Source:  http://sethusamudram.gov.in/EIA.asp#Env  Environmental Impact Assessment for Proposed Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute  Nehru Marg,Nagpur – 440 020  August 2004 This statement by NEERI is an example of suggestio falsi and suppressio veri.  Environment Impact Assessment Manual (Jan. 2001) of Dept. of Forests and Environments stipulates: “Assessment of impact on significant historical, cultural and archaeological sites/places in the area.”  No discussion on this topic is found in the NEERI’s Environmental Impact Analysis report. The entire complex on either end of the Rama Setu is an archaeologically and culturally rich region. A cursory list of tirthasthaana venerated in the Indian tradition would have revealed that Setutirtha has always been as sacred as the tirtha of Ganga near Varanasi. In fact, the tradition is that water from Ganga is brought by pilgrims to do abhishekam to Rameshwara and to perform tirthasnaanam in Setutirtha. The very word Setusamudram in the project name is indicative of the significance. Setu in Tamil is explained in  Abhidaanakosam as ‘ceyar karai’ that is, artificial bund (NOT natural bund). Rama Setu or Nala Setu or Setubandha are mentioned in many ancient texts including Ramayana, Mahabharata and almost all Puranas. A Prakrit kaavya called Setubandha was written by King Damodara Sena in 6th century. Setu sculptures adorn the Prambanan (Brahmavana) temple in Java, Indonesia. The name Dhanushkodi is a reference to the tradition associated with Sri Rama using the Dhanus to combat Samudraraja (depicted in a Ravivarma painting adorning Mysore palace). Aasetu himachalam, logo of Survey of India Survey of India has the logo: Aasetu himachalam indicating the Setu as a boundary marker of India. 

Reference to Rama and Setu occurs in an old Sangam work: Akananooru.

Cartographic, epigraphic, numismatic, literary evidences for the existence of Rama Setu or Setubandha 

A mere look at the maps of University of Chicago called South Asia Atlas edited by Schwartzberg would have shown the importance of the Setu mentioned in many ancient maps including the observations in Al-Biruni’s texts, showing Setu and Adam’s Bridge within parenthesis. A monument to be declared or deemed to be of national importance, DOES NOT have to be man-made.Brahmasarovar has been deemed to be an ancient monument. About 5 lakh pilgrims go there on a solar eclipse day for tirthasnaanam and to offer tarpanam to ancestors. (Punjab and Haryana HC order 1993).The name given by British cartographers, Adam’s Bridge shows that it was recognized as a structure relatable to the first man on earth. Christians and Muslims believe that Adam after banishment from heaven walked across the bridge to reach Adam’s Peak (called Vishnupaadam). 

Section 14 of Velanjeri copper plate of Paraantaka Chola I  issued in the 25th year (that is, about 930 Common Era) refers to the bridge as a pilgrimage place: “This ruler (Paraantaka) performed tulaabhaara with gold acquired by his valour, at the beautiful Sriraamatirtha, where the ablest of monkey flocks built the bridge; at the Kanyaatirtha which subdued the southern quarters, and at Srirangam beautiful by the areca groves, where Sri Vishnu reclines on his serpent couch. ” There are thousands of coins of the 10 th-12th centuries, found in Jaffna with the word written in Tamil: Setu, referring to Ariyachakravarti (noble kings), namely Chola kings.Arguments for Setubandha as a sacred monument. Many textual evidences, Asiatic researches, epigraphs prove Setubandha as a monument sacred in Bharatiya tradition.For centuries, Rama Setu has served as a land bridge linking India and Srilanka (evidenced by scores of ancient maps and research reports).The Srilanka end of the Setu has a Mahatirtha (Mahatittha) and a Shiva temple. URL for Techno-economic feasibility Report (August 2004): http://sethusamudram.gov.in/NSDRCSurvey.asp  

Annex 1 THE ANCIENT MONUMENTS AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES AND REMAINS ACT, 1958   ACT NO. 24 OF 1958 1*   [28th August, 1958.]    
An  Act  to  provide for the preservation of  ancient  and  historical  monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance,  for   the  regulation  of  archaeological  excavations  and  for   the  protection of sculptures, carvings and other like objects. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 defines an ‘Ancient Monument ’ as follows:- Ancient Monument means any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than 100 years and includes—   Remains of an ancient monument,  Site of an ancient monument,  Such portion of land adjoining the site of an ancient monument as may be required for fencing or covering in or otherwise preserving such monument, a The means of access to, and convenient inspection of, an ancient monument;  The section 2(d) defines archaeological site and remains as follows:
Archaeological site and remains means any area which contains or is reasonably believed to contain ruins or relics of historical or archaeological importance which have been in existence for not less than one hundred years, and includes—   Such portion of land adjoining the area as may be required for fencing or covering in or otherwise preserving it, and
The means of access to, and convenient inspection of the area; http://asi.nic.in/asi_monuments.asp  
The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) are responsible for identifying new monuments and ensuring existing ones are protected. English Heritage (EH) advises DCMS in these matters.  
Criteria for designating a Scheduled Ancient Monument The following criteria are used by the local government of Cheltenham in UK “Only monuments of national importance are included in the list. Decisions regarding whether a monument is of national importance are guided by criteria laid down by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. This criteria is as follows:

  • Extent of survival
  • current condition
  • rarityrepresentivity, either through diversity or because of one important attribute
  • importance of the period to which the monument dates
  • fragilityconnection to other monuments, or group valuepotential to contribute to our information, understanding and appreciation
  • extent of documentation enhancing the monument’s significance.”



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