Avoid hasty decision on Ramsetu
by Radhasyam Brahmachari (Statesman, Kolkata, Aug. 24, 2007)
Whosoever has visited the small town of Rameswaram in southern India has noticed that the Indian mainland ends at Pamban, a place few km before Rameswaram, and there lies shallow water that separates these two places. A rail bridge and a newly constructed road bridge connect Rameswaram with Pamban. In fact, Rameswaram is a small island and about a distance of 3 km southward from the township, one reaches a place called Dhanuskoti, wherefrom a bridge starts that connects India and Sri Lanka at a place called Talai Mannar.
It is not a bridge in the modern sense and more appropriately a highway, about 30 km long. Time has put its signature on this road bridge and it now looks like a train of small islets. This road bridge is called Ramsetu or Setubandha as, according to the epic Ramayana, Lord Ram had built this road with the help of the army of Kiskindha and led his army to Sri Lanka to get back his wife Sita, who had been abducted by Ravana, the kind of Lanka.
Some Indians also call it Nal-setu, as according to the Ramayana, the Ramsetu was planned and built under the guidance of Nal, the celebrated civil engineer of Kiskindha. Today, the sea in the north of the Ramsetu is called the Palk Strait, and on the other side it is called the Gulf of Mannar. The sea in the entire area is shallow and teeming with innumerable marine creatures.
Up to the 14th century, people used to cross the Ramsetu on foot. Later on, some portions went below the sea level, not more than 3 to 5 metres, due to natural wear and tear and hence it now looks like a train of small islets.
A few years ago, the USA’s National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) took photographs of an area spread over 1.25 million square kilometres with the help of the Gemini-11 satellite from 410 miles above the earth, using the remote sensing technique, and these photographs clearly show that the Ramsetu is a continuous structure spreading between Dhanuskoti and Talai Mannar. Though the bridge was known as the Ramsetu or Ram’s bridge from time immemorial, in 1804, James Rennell, the Surveyor General of the East India Company, renamed it as Adam’s bridge. This Adam refers to the Adam of the Old Testament.
A close examination of this territory reveals that a ship, while sailing from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea, has to bypass the island of Sri Lanka and if a canal could be dug between Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar, the sea route could have been shortened by a considerable extent. So, nearly 150 years ago, AD Taylor, the British naval commander, suggested that such a canal be dug but no action was taken. After obtaining independence, the Indian government formed a panel called the Setusamudram Project Committee and asked it to look into the viability of the project. The committee in its report suggested five different routes for digging such a canal. But the proposal was dropped for want of money and lack of infrastructure.
The matter was raised again in 2001, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, led by the BJP, was in power. The government constituted a fresh committee to look into the matter and the panel in its report said that such a canal would shorten the sailing distance between the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea by 424 nautical miles or 780 km, reduce the sailing time by nearly 30 hours and the total cost of fuel thus saved would be about Rs 1,000 crore per year. But the NDA government went out of power before finalising the project and selecting the route of the proposed canal.
However, after the present UPA government came to power, a project called the Setusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), with an expected cost of Rs 2,427 crore has been floated that aims to dig a 167 km long canal through the middle of the Ramsetu or the Adam’s bridge. As the sea in the area is very shallow, a considerable amount of soil has to be removed using dredgers to give shape to the project. It should be pointed out that the previous committee had suggested five different routes; damage to the Ramsetu could have been averted if a route passing through Pamban and Rameswaram had been selected.
But the proponents of the project are not ready to alter their plan and argue that there is no evidence that the said bridge was built by Ram, or more pointedly, there is no evidence that the bridge is a result of human activity. They try to assert that it is a natural structure and hence it does not matter if it is damaged for the sake of national interest. But another group of people of this country firmly believe that the structure was built by Lord Ram and many ancient scriptures provide evidence in this regard.
It is important to note here that a reputed scientific organisation like NASA has come forward with scientific evidence that says that the bridge is an outcome of human activity. The NASA document, which is still there on the Internet (http://www.rense.com/general30/nasa.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam%27s_Bridge), says that i) it is a manmade structure and ii) it is 1.75 million years old.
NASA has come to the first conclusion by examining the base of the bridge. The large chunks of stones with which the base is made could not have been placed in that position by a natural process and hence humans had to carry them from somewhere else.
Secondly, the type of the stone, a special kind of sandstone with high percentage of calcium carbonate, called calcareous sandstone, with which the base is made, is not locally available. These lead one to conclude that they were carried by humans from elsewhere.
Early this year, the Centre sent a team of scientists to examine the bridge and verify NASA’s conclusions. On 28 July, the team submitted its report that echoed exactly what the scientists of NASA had said. In addition to that, our scientists examined the coral formation on the bridge and found that it is quite different from naturally formed coral, which suggests that the bridge is the result of human activity.
The second conclusion of NASA is that the structure is 1.75 million years old. NASA has not disclosed how it arrived at this conclusion, but in all probability they may have used the thermo-luminescence technique. Whatever the method, the conclusion is important from several points of view.
Firstly, it has shattered the Darwinian view that man appeared, through evolution of apes, only about 100,000 years ago. Secondly, it has also exposed Max Muller’s mistaken observation that says that civilised people, called Aryans, were not children of this country and came from outside India in about 2000 BC. Thirdly, it has served a severe shock to those Indian scholars who say that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have no historical value, these are poets’ fancy and people like Ram or Krishna never lived on earth, they are simply mythical. Fourthly, it has established the truth that the Ramsetu, or Adam’s bridge, is the oldest historical relic of the humankind.
It should be mentioned here that a special bench of Madras High Court, while hearing the public interest litigation filed by Mr Subramanian Swami and the Hindu Munnani, observed that the government should keep itself away from causing any harm to the Ramsetu till it is proved beyond doubt that it is not a manmade structure. The HC Bench has also clarified its stand and said that it is to be treated as its advice to the government in this matter and not a verdict, as the matter is lying before the Supreme Court.
Early this month, a Press report in a Bengali daily in Kolkata said NASA had reversed its previous stand and now says that the structure called Adam’s bridge grew as a natural process and was not linked to any human activity. According to the report, NK Raghupati, director of the Setusamudram Project and chairman of the Tuticorin Port Trust, convened a Press conference on 28 July, and told journalists about this development. But at that time Mr Subramanian Swami was in Harvard and inquired from NASA scientists in this regard. NASA confirmed to him that they still stuck to their original opinion and nothing had happened to alter that decision.
On a PIL filed by Swami Vidyananda Bharati of the Dandi Math, a Supreme Court Special Bench on 10 August observed that the government should keep away from causing any damage to the Ramsetu till it is proved beyond doubt that no human activity was involved in its construction. Otherwise, it would be liable for prosecution under Article 295 of the IPC for destruction of a historical relic.
Dr Madhavan Nair, director of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has recently expressed a similar opinion in this regard. On 7 August, while announcing the launching of spacecraft Chandrayan in connection with India’s moon mission next year, he said the Ramsetu should not be touched unless rigorous scientific investigation finds it free from human activity.
The government should refrain from doing anything in haste. It should form a committee of scientists to find out how the structure came into being. If it is found to be a manmade one, it would be the responsibility of UNESCO to protect it and declare it a world heritage site.
Many feel that the structure should not be damaged to protect the Kerala coast from a possible tsunami. The sand in the Kerala coast contains deposits of thorium, the nuclear fuel that is used as an alternative to uranium. A tsunami may wash away the valuable deposits.
(The author is Professor, Department of Applied Physics, Calcutta University)