Rama Setu: channel anti-religious, uneconomical

Sethusamudram project is anti-religious, uneconomical

Dipak Basu

The minister of shipping, through his decisions, has shown his ignorance of Indias maritime history and the religious importance of Ram Sethu…

The Rs 2,427 crore Sethusamudram Channel Project (SSCP) has been mired in controversy ever since it was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005. Minister for Shipping T R Baalu has antagonised both the Sangh Parivar and the CPI(M), through his decision to destroy the Rama Sethu, the ancient bridge between India and Sri Lanka: which is holy to the Hindus.
His plans to have a new Maritime University in Chennai, rather than in Kolkata, home of the oldest marine engineering college in India have angered the CPI(M) as well.

The project to dig up a canal by destroying the Rama Sethu will kill the fishing industry and destroy the livelihood of about 3.5 lakh fishermen in six coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. Already, dredging activity has scared the fish to other areas, reducing catches.

An NGO representing fishermen, Coastal Action Network (CAN), has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court. The fate of the Sethusamudram Project rests on the judgment.

It is safe to conclude that the Rama Bridge, acting as a breakwater, induces a certain stillness and calm in the Gulf of Mannar. Over the centuries, this calm has helped flourish over 3,600 species of plants and animals. It has five species of endangered marine turtles, innumerable fish, mollusks and crustaceans. As opposed to Palk Bay, Gulf of Mannar is deep, being over 300 metres deep in most places. Because of the unique circulation of ocean currents, the nutrients found here are exceptional. In case the Rama Bridge is breached, the shallow silted waters of the Palk Bay will flow into the Gulf of Mannar, destroying its fragile ecosystem.

On the other hand, breaching the bridge would also affect the meadows of sea grass in the Palk Bay, which are home to a large number of fish species and the rare dugong or sea cow.

Sethusamudram cuts off sailing time of less than a day and a distance of about 500 nautical miles, which is a negligible saving compared to the costs of using the channel, according to the calculations of a former deputy chairman of the Tuticorin Port Trust, K S Ramakrishnan.
Any ship using the SSCP will have to pay pilotage charges. There are various ways to calculate the charges. Ramakrishnan arrives at a figure of Rs 1.11 lakh per kilometre, which a ship has to pay for pilotage. For a channel length of Sethusamudram that would require pilotage, which Ramakrishnan fixes at 56 km, a ship would end up spending eight times more than it would to go around Sri Lanka. Ramakrishnan, therefore, concludes that ships won’t use the channel. The bulk of international shipping, comprising vessels larger than 60,000 tonnes, cannot use the SSCP because the draught of 10 meters is inadequate.

In the south of the Ram Sethu, sea depth ranges from two to 300 metres, supporting South Asia’s greatest marine biosphere. Right north, though, the shallowness is just three metres and does not go beyond 12 for most parts of the area till the Palk Strait and beyond.

Clearly, the bridge has produced this varied bathometry. One consequence of this bathometry is the sedimentation process, which is rapid in the Palk Bay and Palk Strait, with the prospect of Vedaranyam in the north joining Jaffna peninsula in 400 years. This incredible shallowness is likely to have acted as a quasi land breaker against the tsunami (December 2004), forcing it to return to the Bay of Bengal, and make its way to Maldives and further west around Sri Lanka. Another route for the tsunami and the energy will be directed towards south Kerala and Imagine if the great natural breakwater of the Rama Bridge was absent. It is very easy to show that the proposed channel with a depth of 12 metres will indeed wash away Thorium deposits from the Kerala coast.

By having the new Maritime University of India in Chennai, instead of Kolkata, Baalu also has demonstrated his lack of knowledge of India’s recent history and provoked a backlash against the Tamils.

Marine Engineering and Research Institute (MERI) in Kolkata is regarded as one of the most acclaimed marine institutes around the world. Just like the oldest such institute in Britain, the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and the Institute of Marine Engineering in Glasgow, the MERI is located in the city but connected to the Garden Rich Workshop, a very reputed shipbuilding centre of India. Chennai has no such claim, but the new maritime university will be located in Chennai just to satisfy the Tamil vanity.

The Tamils may mention the maritime exploits of Rajendra Chola but thousands of years before him traders from Bengal and Bihar had established the Champa kingdom in Vietnam, Sri Vijaya kingdom in Sumatra and Malaysia, Barman Kingdom in Cambodia. The names of cities like Kanchan Bari, Panch Bari, Ayoudhya in Thailand, Aranya Pathe in Laos, Bander Sri Bhagwan in Brunei, Rangan (Rangoon) and Bagan (Pagan) in Burma; names of islands like Java, Bali, Sumatra are not in Tamil but in Bengali or Maithili or in Magadhi Prakit. The name of the present king of Thailand Bhumibal Atulya Devor and the ancient name of Bangkok as Banga signifies that historic link, which Baalu ignores.

(The writer is professor, Nagasaki University, Japan)



One Response to Rama Setu: channel anti-religious, uneconomical

  1. Dr.B.V.Subrahmanyam says:

    “Astronomical Dating of Sri Rama tallies with the limited evidence and confirms the presence of the Sethu”

    Sri Rama Sethu is of great topical interest today, thanks to the Sethusamudram Canal Project. Some believe it to be present and others negate its presence.

    The position of every one seems to be similar to that of “Alice in Blunderland”, there being blunders on several counts.

    The Purana based time calculations have led some to estimate the period of Sri Rama and Sri Rama Sethu to be some 17,50,000 years. The very limited Geological studies made thus far have indicated the sethu area to be only as old as some 500,000 to 700,000 years, the upper parts being about 6000 to 8000 years old. Accordingly, some officials and the Minisiter have discounted the existance of Sri Rama sethu.

    In his Ramayana, Valmiki had mentioned the astronomical positions during some 45 events in Sri Rama’s life. The recent availability of Planetarium computer software has facilitated the accurate calculation of the time periods.

    Dr. P.V.Vartak in his book “Vastav Ramayan” has arrived at the date of
    Sri Rama’s birth as 4th December 7323 B.C. All the 45 events have been found to be consistent between themselves atronomically. The Construction of Rama Sethu (5 days) is assigned by Dr. Vartak to 26-30th Oct. 7292 B.C. (-that is about 9299 Before Present-). Yet another astronomical study by Pushkar Bhatnagar has resulted in the date of Sethu construction to be around 7090 BP.

    We thus have two dates viz, 9299 BP and 7090 BP from astronomical basis. There is definitely a need for further independent studies to ratify these dates. However, what is more important is that these studies have brought Sri Rama to near historical times.

    The other valuable point is that if the Sri Rama sethu were to have been built around 7090 – 9299 BP, prima facie, this would fit extremely well with the time periods fixed from the Geological studies available. Moreover, the sea level during this period would also be consistent with the top levels of the remnants of the Sethu as existing today.

    It is a great pity that no marine archaeological or archaeological studies have been done hitherto. Moreover, none have thought it fit to associate archaeologists with the dredging works to investigate if any dredged material fits the descriptions given in Ramayana for a causeway.

    Valmiki describes in about 65 verses, with intricate details that a Causeway Bridge was built using rocks and stony materials along with tree branches. This is somewhat similar to the recent development and use of geotextile and fibre reinforcement of soil pavements and embankments.

    A meaningful thing would have been to study the top say 10 meters below the surface. In contrast, the limited geological studies have tended to look at some 100 to 200 m below the sea bed. Officials were also looking for a “Bridge structure”, in vain.

    However, Dr. Badarinarayanan, (former Director Geological Survey of India), based on NIOT results concluded that indeed the top about 2.5 m depth has yielded the evidence of the man-made causeway built by dumping low density rocks (corals) and rocks some 7300 years ago. These clearly confirm the existance of a causeway of the type Valmiki has written about.

    The most wonderful result for Indians would be a direct confirmation that Sri Rama, who is a role model and personality worthy of worship , did indeed live in this land.

    The routing of the Canal across Sri Rama sethu or otherwise is a matter which is sub-judice. But the astronomical dating of Sri Rama results in a dramatic and new focus on the issue.


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