Rama Setu: Bridge to past, future

Bridge to past, future

(Pioneer, 21 Sept. 2007)

S Kalyanaraman, who has been in the forefront of the protest against the destruction of Ram Setu as part of the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project, explains why the ill-conceived scheme is scandalous: Not only does it threaten our national heritage but also our security and ecology

Canal vs channel
A channel in mid-ocean is an unprecedented, risky enterprise. Suez and Panama canals are land-based canals. To try to create a mid-ocean channel passage in the turbulent waters of Palk Straits is an invitation to disaster, putting the nation’s security and coastline integrity at risk.

When five alternative alignments are available to create a land-based canal, why has a mid-ocean channel passage been chosen as the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project? There is an international conspiracy behind this choice and an utter disdain of governance, a veritable failure to safeguard our nation’s wealth of placer deposits containing thorium and titanium.

This choice will internationalise the waters of Gulf of Mannar and create an international boundary between India and Sri Lanka, where such a boundary never existed. According to the June 1974 Indira Gandhi-Sirimavo Bandaranaike declaration, these waters were declared as ‘Historic Waters’, meaning, waters territorially shared between the two countries and hence, internal to these two countries. US Navy operational directive of June 23, 2005, sought to change this declaration. The directive refused to declare these as ‘historic waters’ and to operationalise their assertion, sent their naval warships into these waters. This is a serious violation of national sovereignty which has gone unnoticed so far.

Why is America interested in these waters and why the desire to create an international waters channel? Clearly, the choice is to suit the convenience of the US Navy which wants to outsource to India the coast-guarding of the sealane oil tanker traffic from Straits of Hormuz through Sri Lanka, through Straits of Malacca to the West coast of the US. The geo-political perspective becomes apparent from the location of the US base in Diego Garcia south of Sri Lanka, of a very low frequency radio station (which uses ocean waves for transmission) at Trincomalee to listen to submarine chatter and the US naval units in Singapore.

Sir AR Mudaliar Committee Report, 1956: Choose canal, NOT mid-ocean channel passage

After studying all aspects, the committee listed the following reasons in support of a canal:

 Shifting sandbanks

 No possibility of construction of protective works; definite navigational hazard

 Channel would border on the Sethusamudram Medial Line.

“In these circumstances we have no doubt, whatever, that the junction between the two seas should be effected by a canal; and, the idea of cutting a passage in the sea through Adam’s Bridge should be abandoned,” the committee noted in its report.

Thorium deposits in Kerala (Aluva, Chavara), Tamil Nadu (Manavalakurichi) Serious breach of strategic national security

There is another geopolitical perspective. That relates to the existence of 32 per cent of the world’s reserves of thorium in just three villages south of Ram Setu. If these thorium reserves get desiccated and go into the ocean through a future tsunami funnelled through the channel passage, India will have to continue to depend upon purchased uranium from NSG countries.

The accumulation of thorium placer deposits is emphatically due to the existence of Ram Setu acting as a cyclotron against the clock-wise and counter-clock-wise ocean currents depositing Th-232 on the coastline lands. Thorium is also found in ilmenite sands. Th-232+, a neutron, yields U-233 and India is ready with a reactor to produce electricity directly using a thorium-based breeder reactor. Maybe, this causes jealousy among some of the countries of the nuclear club.

There is an ongoing loot of placer deposits containing strategic minerals along the Ram Setu coast.

A serious breach of strategic national security created by the alleged exports of nuclear resources from southern coast of India near Ram Setu by some private parties, in violation of provisions in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, and Atomic Energy Act, 1962.

The judicial complaint lodged by Deputy Director, Geology and Mining, Nagercoil, Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. Thorium and titanium (strategic atomic and space age metals) are found in these placer sands called ilmenite, rutile, garnet, zircon, monazite. Thorium containing coastal sands south of Ram Setu represent 32 per cent of the known reserves of the world. These placer sands also contain the heaviest concentration of up to four per cent of thorium, unprecendented in any heavy minerals areas in the world.

In view of the seriousness of this scientific report, the Government must immediately suspend all project works along the coastline, which should be resumed only after a detailed, multi-disciplinary investigation of this threat to national security and integrity of the nation.

In view of this situation, the work on Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project should be suspended immediately and a multi-disciplinary review ordered on the impact of another tsunami on the proposed channel and the coastline and on the impact on the accumulation, and security of thorium reserves of the nation in this coastal zone.

All private mining leases in this coastal zone containing ilmenite, monazite, rutile, garnet and zircon deposit should be suspended.

The entire zone is out of bounds even to the police forces of Tamil Nadu and the Centre. It is imperative that this zone be declared as a Strategic Security Zone and brought under the control of the defence forces of the nation to safeguard and conserve the thorium reserves so vital for the nation’s strategic nuclear program to ensure energy independence.

According to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) website and records, the estimated reserves of thorium in India are 3,60,000 tonnes and represent the energy equivalent of generation of electricity at the rate of 400,000 mw for 387 years and use in thorium-based breeder reactors. Recent report from BARC also indicates that the nation’s nuclear scientists are ready with a thorium-based reactor to generate electricity which can be made operational in the next seven years, according to the statement of Mr Baldev Raj of Atomic Energy Commission.

Thorium 232 bombarded by a neutron yields U-233 and can be used in the three-stage nuclear programme chalked out by our atomic scientific community.

Natural tsunami barrier

Ram Setu is a tsunami protection wall which saved the coastline of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and west coast during the devastating tsunami of December 26, 2004. It is impermissible to damage such a protective structure impairing the integrity and security of the nation.

A report has appeared on September 6, 2007, headlined in major newspapers all over the world, that there is an imminent threat of a tsunami more devastating than the tsunami of December 26, 2004. This report appeared in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. The report states that about 60 to 70 million people of the east coast of India in the Bay of Bengal will be at risk.

Ram Setu as an ancient monument, a sacred world heritage

Many monuments have been declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO:

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

 Marine Park in the Philippines

 Kvarken Archipelago / High Coast in Sweden/Finland

 Giant’s causeway and Causeway coast in the UK

 Great Barrier Reef in Australia

 Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System in Belize

 Mont St Michel and its bay in France

 Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

 Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe

A total of 3,000 pages of documentation were submitted to the Madras High Court which accepted the arguments that Ram Setu should be deemed to be an ancient monument and a world heritage under UNESCO world heritage and UNESCO underwater cultural heritage conventions to which India is a signatory.

The logo of the Survey of India refers to Setu — aa setu himachalam, meaning: From Setu to Himalayas as Bharat. This is thus a national metaphor, defining the national boundaries as Himalayas and hindumahasaagaram.

There are cartographic evidences such as the one provided in Schwarzberg of University of Chicago’s South Asia Atlas.

Madras Presidency Administration Report, 1903 and a travelogue of 1744 refer to the bridge; glossary entry: Adam. “…Called the bridge of Ram… It really joined Ceylon to India until 1480, when a breach was made through rocks during a storm. A subsequent storm enlarged this and foot traffic then ceased… Partly above and partly below water…”.

Asiatic Society, 1799, Asiatick Researches: Or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, refers to the bridge called Setband (alt. spelling, setuband like Allahband; setu-bandh), broken in three places. It also notes, “The people call it a bridge; or otherwise it appears to have wood growing on it, and to be inhabited.” The English word ‘bund’ comes from bandh as in setubandh.

Scientific investigations and results

The Department of Earth Sciences noted in its report of March 2007, based on the report of a consultant, that around Rameswaram, there are raised teri formations that supported a rich assemblage of mesolithic — microlithic tools indicating the presence of strong human habitation and activity in these areas as early as 8,000 to 9,000 years BP and as recent as 4,000 years BP. On the Sri Lankan side there are indications of human habitation extending to late Pleistocene (about 13,000 BP) based on bone and fossils of human and animal form.

All these point to a flourishing human activity on both sides of Adam’s Bridge and probably when the sea levels were just right the link between India and Sri Lanka could have been established.

The writer is Director, Sarasvati Research Centre, Chennai. He has served in the Asian Development Bank. He can be contacted at kalyan97@gmail.com


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