Rama Setu: consequences of proposed blasting

Apex court to hear Subramanian Swamy’s petition on Ramar Sethu today

J. Venkatesan (The Hindu, Aug.31, 2007)

Seeking a direction to the Centre and Sethusamudram Corporation

New Delhi: The Supreme Court will hear on Friday an application filed by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy for a direction to the Centre and the Sethusamudram Corporation to stop blasting or damaging the Ramar Sethu (Adam’s bridge) while implementing the Sethusamudram canal project.

On Thursday Dr. Swamy informed Registrar S.G. Shah about filing of the application and said that he was informed that the petitions which were to be listed for hearing on Friday would not be listed as the Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, who was hearing case, was out of station. He said though the main petitions could be heard later the application should be heard urgently and requested for posting it for hearing on Friday. The Registrar told Dr. Swamy that the application would be listed on Friday.

In his application, Dr. Swamy said that it was now proposed to cut through the ancient Ramar Sethu monument (a causeway built in ancient times to facilitate the passage of the armies of Sri Rama, across the ocean, from South India to Sri Lanka) to establish and maintain a ship canal to enable ocean going vessels to pass from the west coast of India to the east coast without going round Sri Lanka.

He said that his writ petition filed in the Madras High Court to declare Rama Sethu an ancient monument and to implement the project by following any other alternative route or alignment without affecting or destroying the Ramar Sethu had been transferred to the Supreme Court. The present application was filed in the transferred petition. He said urgent orders were required because it was now proposed to blow the Rama Sethu and 30 per cent of the work on the project had been completed.

He said that on August 26 he visited Rameswaram, which was only a few miles from the Ramar Sethu. There he was aghast to learn from reliable fishermen of the area that the Corporation had now started drilling holes in the Ramar Sethu to fill these with RDX explosives, the detonation of which would cut through the Ramar Sethu. Thus it had become necessary to approach this Court for urgent action to stop such desecration.

He said that if the Ramar Sethu was demolished or even damaged, it would be an irreplaceable loss to our heritage and culture; and it would also irretrievably wound the religious feelings of millions of Indians to whom the Rama Sethu was a sacred monument.

He sought an order of interim injunction to restrain the respondents from damaging the Ramar Sethu in any manner.

http://www.hindu.com/2007/08/31/stories/2007083162071100.htm

New Delhi, Aug. 30 (Express News Service), New Indian Express of Aug. 31, 2007, page 8

(quote) Janata Party leader Subramanian Swami on Thursday moved the Registrar of the Supreme Court seeking urgent hearing of the interlocutory application filed by him on the Ramar Sethu issue.

Swamy told the Registrar that he has credible information that Ramar Sethu was going to be blasted to facilitate the work on the Sethusamudram ship channel. The matter relating to it was to be heard by a Bench comprising the Chief Justice on Friday but that would not be taken up as the Chief Justice is away on a tour abroad, he told the Registrar. At this, the Registrar directed the matter to be listed on Friday before any other Bench. (unquote)

Information has been received from reliable sources that attempts are ongoing to blast through Rama Setu to implement the Setu mid-ocean channel project.

If Rama Setu is only composed of sand shoals and a tambolo as repeatedly stated by SSCP authorities and ministers, why blast?

Sources:

  1. Information that naval headquarters have been asked by SSCP authorities for naval divers to investigate the Rama Setu structural features
  2. Information that some dredging contractors engaged in Tuticorin port and some contractors of the region working with quarries have been asked to be involved
  3. Information that no work is ongoing in the physical structure called Rama Setu after the breaking of the spud from a dredger but continuously progress is reported in the so-called Adam’s Bridge segment of the project. (As of 29 August 2007, status of dredging is shown as 22.82% http://sethusamudram.gov.in/ProjectStatus.asp )
  4. The reported steps to indulge in use of blasting technology were also mentioned in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and NO denial has been issued by the Govt. on these reports.

Consequences of such destructive activities will have serious consequences in this fragile ecozone and impact the lives of coastal people in Tamilnadu, Kerala and Srilanka.

Scientists have noted the following:

  1. The Setusamudram region has recorded ongoing geotectonic activity with earthquake fault lines running through the channel project area.
  2. The Setusamudram region has intense heatflows (as intense as sub-himalayan zone) with thermal wells and volcanic rocks.
  3. There are evidences of limestones on Srilanka side of Rama Setu of Miocene geological epoch (23.03 to 5.332 million years ago) and hard conglomerates on beachfronts; such conglomerates are NOT formed by the ocean but brought in from land. These point to the physical structure of Rama Setu with boulders sandwiched between sand layers, as having been man-made.
  4. Project work in such a zone involving dredging or blasting could trigger these geological anomalies (underwater vents of recent extinct volcanoes and epicenters of earthquakes with 5-7M) and provoke earthquakes, volcanic heatflows, mini-tsunamis and create subsidences of earth plates, apart from damage to nearby structures like the Rameshwaram temple.
  5. Over 3600 unique aquatic species in Gulf of Mannar will be devastated, the entire ecosphere and marine bioreserve which is a world heritage of south asia could be devastated. This willadversely impact the livelihood of coastal peoples of India and Srilanka. Since limestone caves of freshwater are likely to be impacted, fresh water supply to Jaffna (Srilanka) and Rameshwaram (India) will be devastated.

These scientific findings and expert opinions are based on the following sources:

Powerpoint presentation by Dr. VK Rao, Dy. Director, National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad titled: Sethusamudram, geology and tectonics (explaining the ridge formation due to continental drift and recurring subsidences in the region). Download from http://www.slideshare.net/kalyan97/geologytectonicsvkrao/

https://kalyan97.wordpress.com/2007/08/22/547/

http://www.slideshare.net/kalyan97/gopalakrishnanmonograph/
Download in 46 pages, August 2007 (Geological, geo-tectonic perspectives of Rama Setu and channel project by K Gopalakrishnan, S Badrinarayanan, KS Subramanian, Former Directors, Geological Survey of India).

Background

A categorical undertaking was given on June 2, 2007 by the former Chairman of Sethusamudram Project that BLASTING will NOT be used. Here is the report of the press conference held with Min. for Science and Technology, Sibal.

NEERI report categorically states that no blasting should be done.

Issues related to blasting in the Setu channel project

Madras HC order of 19 June 2007:

“We are not inclined to grant any interim relief at this stage, as it would hamper the further work in the project. However, we leave it to the Union of India to decide whether the actual cutting of Adam’s Bridge/Rama Sethu could be postponed till the issues involved in these petitions are considered by this Court.” Now, the case has been transferred to the Supreme Court and hearing is scheduled on August 31, 2007.

A categorical undertaking was given by the former Chairman of Sethusamudram Project that BLASTING will NOT be used. Here is the report of the press conference held with Min. for Science and Technology, Sibal.

Sethu samples for independent tests

New Delhi, Jun 2: Centre today made an open offer to provide rock and soil samples from the Adam’s Bridge region of the controversial Sethusamdram project for carrying out scientific tests.

“There is an open offer. We will provide samples collected from the area to persons wanting to carry out tests independently,” Minister of Earth Sciences Kapil Sibal told reporters.

Sibal said the present alignment of the Sethusamudram project has been arrived at after detailed scientific and environmental tests.

“The present alignment is the best we can have,” he said.

Sibal said utmost care has been taken to in the planning and execution of the project to ensure the least impact on the coasts of India and Sri Lanka.

“The Sethusamudram Ship Channel is located at a distance of more than 20 Km from Shingle Island of Gulf of Mannar near Dhanuskodi,” N K Raghupathy, Chairman and Managing Director of Sethusamudram Corporation Limited said making a presentation on the project here.

The total length of the channel is 167 km, 12m deep and 300 meters wide at the bottom.

Raghupathy, who also heads the Tuticorin Port Trust, said the project managers will not use blasting technology for dredging activity along the entire length of the project.

He said there will be a restriction on the size of ships passing through the channel. (Agencies)

http://www.chennaionline.com/colnews/newsitem.asp?NEWSID=%7B538DFCAA-C6BB-4C4E-B52B-4D7274791201%7D&CATEGORYNAME=TAMNA

Sethusamudram project is based on scientific studies: Sibal

From our ANI Correspondent
New Delhi, June 2: Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said here today that the Sethusamundram Ship Canal Project (SSCP) across Palk Bay got its final nod only after careful scientific studies.

The project was cleared only after taking into consideration the facts received from the bio-diversity and the fragile eco-system of the area falling between Palk Bay and the Palk Strait, Sibal told reporters here.
He added that the Indo-Lankan Maritime interests between Point Calliner and Jaffna were taken into account before giving the final nod for the project.
The Centre has no intention of hurting the sentiments of any community, Sibal said.
On May 16, the Lok Sabha was adjourned after Bharatiya Janata Party MPs raised a furore over the construction of the project.
BJP MPs and the Vishva Hindu Parishad are demanding that project must be scrapped, as it would destroy the mythological bridge built by Lord Rama of Ayodhya.
The Sethusamundram proposes the linking of the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka by creating a shipping canal through the shallow sea. This would provide a continuous navigable sea route around the Indian Peninsula.
The project involves digging a 44.9 nautical mile (83 km) long deepwater channel linking the shallow water of the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar. Conceived as early as 1860 by Alfred Dundas Taylor, it recently received approval of the Government of India.

http://www.dailyindia.com/show/146256.php/Sethusamudram-project-is-based-on-scientific-studies:-Sibal

*Controversial Sethusamudram canal dredging project**
**Lankan** experts caution against eco disasters *
*By Ravi Ladduwahetty *
http://www.nation. lk/2007/04/22/lankan.jpg
An eminent 34- member advisory group of Sri Lankan professionals have cautioned that the Sethusamudram canal dredging project could have disastrous environment impacts, particularly, maritime environment, for SriLanka.
What is most disconcerting is the absence of any response from the Indian Government to the Lankan concerns.
The Group, after a year’s study, submitted their report to Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona, earlier this month.
The Experts Group comprised Secretary, Education Ministry Ariyaratne Hewage – Chairman, Peradeniya University Professor of Geography Shantha Hennayake -Deputy Chairman, Special Advisor, Technical Planning & Development, SriLanka Ports Authority, Prasanna Weerasinghe and Systems Advisor, Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), Tikiri Jayatilleke. The Advisory Group was supported by sub committees from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headed by Assistant Director Sugeesawara Gunatunga, on hydrodynamic modeling headed by Moratuwa University’s Prof of Coastal Engineering Samantha Hettiarachchi, on Environmental Measures for Sustainability headed by the Director, Institute of Technological Studies, Dr Aziz Mubarak, including IUCN Ecologist Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya and Head of Oceanography, NARA, K. Arulananthan, on Fisheries Resources & Livelihood, headed by Head of Marine Biological Resources, NARA, Dr Champa Amarasiri and on Navigational Emergencies headed by Commander Y.N. Jayaratne, Sri Lanka Navy.
The primary concern for Sri Lanka is that the initial dredging, the infinite maintenance dredging and subsequent shipping through the channel, could have negative impacts on Sri Lanka’s maritime and environment resources, sources in the Advisory Group told The Nation yesterday.
Another major Sri Lankan concern which also relates to environment resources, is that the Indian studies have not taken into account the single environment impact on the Sri Lankan side of the international boundary, they said.

The Advisory Group is of the view that, despite the SSCP being located only one mile away from the Indian side of the maritime boundary, the impact is unlikely to remain only on the Indian side and that, Sri Lanka’s concerns have become even more significant, in the light of insufficient attention paid to minimise the environmental aspects on the Lankan side of the boundary.

The Advisory Group has also noted that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out by India is inadequate for a number of reasons.
The Nation in its edition of January 7, 2007, exclusively reported that, despite the Indian assertion (Commercial Counsellor, Indian High Commission, Colombo, Sanjay Sudhir refers) that it has shared the Ahamedabad based Indian National Environment & Ecological Research Institute (NEERI) report with Sri Lanka, is insufficient justification to prove that there will be no adverse impact on the environment. Simply because, the NEERI report by itself, was flawed and was sufficient legal justification to put the entire NEERI repot into scientific question.
For example, the NEERI report is yet to explain the sedimentation issue, silting possibilities and underwater ocean currents, when the canal is constructed.

According to Sudharshan Rodriguez, a Chennai based conservation analyst, the EIA report furnished by NEERI, has used secondary data going back to 1976. “Hence, how can a project, which will pass through a biological hot spot, with so many likely impacts, be assessed on the basis of secondary data?” is the next most logical question.
The Convenor, Indian Coastal Action Network, Ossie Fernandez has alleged that the NEERI EIA report is also a re-hash of the preliminary report and that, many activists and professionals are querying the data sources, including the bio diversity readings.
Furthermore, there would be increased turbidity, which has never been studied by NEERI, which has neither studied the possibility of a tsunami through the canal water flow, due to the deep water channel linking the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.
The United Nations Law of the Sea mandates that neighbouring States need to be consulted and sufficient safeguards and guarantees provided.

Fishery resources

There is also concern of the lack of concern on the Indian side, of the unique, biologically rich resource areas linking two Marine Eco systems in the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Bay. Unless accurate forecasts are made of the mitigation effects, it could eventually destroy this fragile marine eco system. This is all the more significant in the light of the Northern and North western communities in Sri Lanka being heavily dependent on the fisheries resources of this area.
The concerns that Sri Lanka has expressed are protecting the endangered species, protecting the fisheries resources, the coastal and maritime eco diversity system, integrity of the eco system in the seas around the island and immediate and long-term ecological stability.
According to research done in Jaffna, by Sri Lanka born Monash University’s Professor of Systems Ecology and UNDP Consultant Prof. Ranil Senanayake, fresh water fish such as Dandiya (Rasbora Daniconius), Tittaya (Amblypharygnodon Melenittus) and Amblypharygnodon Melenittus, migrate down towards underground caverns and chambers, during dry weather and surface when it rains. This also demonstrates the existence of massive underground freshwater caves off Jaffna, with which the salt water of the Palk Straits would mix, if the dredging continues.
This is a shallow area which is highly productive, biologically. As a consequence to the dredging, rare species of mammals, dugongs and fish and invertebrates such as the guitar shark and cone shells would become extinct.

One cone shell (Conus Zonatus and Conus Gloria Maris) is worth around US$3,500 apiece.
Dredging will also reduce the photosynthetic rate, resulting in the collapse of the fishing industry.
Ecological and archaeological concerns
Among a host of serious problems, one major issue is that the canal is to be dug through vesicular limestone, which is a formation of limestone,consequent to the myocene sea encroaching upon parts of Northern Sri Lanka and Southern India. This entails Mannar and Jaffna on the Sri Lankan side and Tuticorin and Rameswaran on the Indian side, which means that the
groundwater on both sides of the channel, would be affected.
It is also salient that no maritime archaeology has been conducted on this site. Scientific evidence, in a paper presented by Prof. Senanayake,indicates that 13,000-years ago, the area around the Kalpitiya lagoon, up to Mannar, was forested. Even today, stumps of old trees are found underwater.

There are innumerable stories in Sinhala history, regarding noblemen and royalty living underwater.
Navigational Emergencies
Sri Lanka has proposed that a plan to ensure vessels that cause pollution and oil spillage are identified and necessary compensation mechanisms put in place, is established. Sri Lanka should, invariably, be involved in the preparation of contingency plans for oil spills, including modalities to work out the cost of marine pollution and other navigational emergencies and
how they be met.
Recommendations
Sri Lanka has also proposed the sharing of information on existing studies and collaboration on further studies and assessments and the setting up of a common database. Also that a Joint Environment Management Plan for impact assessment and monitoring of the project area be established.
Both Sri Lanka and India will be tremendously benefited if the recommendations are implemented to minimize the adverse environmental impacts of the SSCP, the Advisory Group has pointed out.
http://www.nation .
lk/2007/04/22/newsfe3.htm

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