Rama Setu: SSCP hey kaarasthaan
Specific aspects of serious, almost criminal neglect, in pushing the Channel project in haste and in utter disdain for public sentiment:
1. Geological Survey of India was NOT involved in the project design/project monitoring. This is a serious lapse. GSI is mandated by its charter as a 200-year old institution to be consulted in projects like Narmada dam, Nagarjunasagar project. GSI has the equipment and scientists with expertise in seismology (earthquakes), oceanography. The project area is an intense heat flow zone (with hot springs in the coastline between Nagapttinam to Kerala) and mannar volcanics 105 m. years old have been identified. Any project work in such an area subject to serious fault-lines (apart from plate tectonics) of the type which resulted in the tsunami of 26 Dec. 2004 is likely to trigger mini-tsunami’s with devastating effect on the coastline. This issue of nation’s territorial integrity was never given any consideration in the project reports. The project reports do not even refer to recurring cyclones in the ocean region, the project area.
2. There has been a total failure to study the cultural and national wealth aspects of the entire project area south of Rama Setu with placer deposits of very rich heavy minerals and rare earths: ilmenite, monazite, rutile, zircon, rutile sands containing thorium and titanium — nuclear resource and space age metal respectively. The whole region echoes the cultural memory of Shri Rama, the rashtra purusha, enshrined in the photolithographed version of the Constitution of India with paintings by the national artist, Nandalal Bose. Even the geological composition of the project area was not analysed in the project reports with scant regard for geophysical, geotectonic, geothermal, tsunami-cyclone experiences on the indian ocean. It should have been known to the project designers that the 150 kms. stretch south of Rama Setu is nuclear region of the world accounting for 32% of the thorium reserves of the world– thorium which is critical for ensuring energy independence for the nation.
2. Nature magazine reported on 6 Sept. 2007 that another tsunami more devastating than the Dec. 2004 tsunami is likely putting at risk over 6 to 7 crore people in the Bay of Bengal coastline. This warning by scientists should have resulted in immediate suspension of all project works along the coastline (including Rama Setu) until scientists investigate the report and incorporate safety measures, saving lives and property along the coast.
3. The project design was frozen before Dec. 2004 and was NOT re-examined in the wake of the impact of the tsunami of Dec. 2004. Tsunami impact has been so severe that the bathymetry of the indian ocean had changed drastically, resulting in the rise of the seabed by as much as 200 m. in some regions. The whole project should be scrapped and re-evaluated reviewing the impact of this tsunami and future tsunami-s.
4. It is the responsibility of any civil government to incorporate tsunami warning systems and tsunami protection systems in the project area. Failure to do so is criminal negligence. There are NO tsunami or cyclone protection measures in the project design.
5. Public hearings held in January and February 2005 were a farce since the people along the coastline were still recovering from the Dec. 2004 tsunami devastation. This puts in question the very nature of civil dialogue which should be in place in a civil society. Many issues related to India being a signatory of many international conventions such as World Heritage, Underwater Cultural Heritage, Law of the sea (protection of the habitats of aquatic and marine resources), Wild Life protections have been given the short-shrift as evidenced by the evidence produced in the courts.
6. Sir A Ramaswamy Mudaliar Committee (1956) had categorically ruled out a channel cutting through Rama Setu citing three reasons: a. shifting sandbanks in the project area which is the world’s sedimentation sink; b. impossibility of providing protective works and locks in a mid-ocean channel passage as distinct from a land-based canal; and c. creating an international waters boundary. This recommendation accepted by four subsequent committees has been disregarded by choosing alignment 6 under US diktat (US Navy operational directive of 23 June 2005 and inauguration of the channel project on 2 July 2005). This arbitrary and high-handed decision to create an international waters boundary where none existed (under Sirimavo Bandaranaike-Indira Gandhi declaration of June 1974, the area was declared as ‘HISTORIC WATERS’ that is, waters shared as a commonwealth between India and Srilanka under UN Law of the Sea 1958). The violation of this declaration under US diktat which refused to recognize this declaration and sent their naval ships to operationalise their assertion of these being international waters is an assault on nation’s sovereignty, national security and survival.
7. Srilankan experts’ concerns on the impact on environment have been ignored. The concerns included the possibility of impacting fresh-water supplies to Jaffna and Rameshwaram by the desiccation of limestone freshwater caves in the project area during project dredging/blasting work.
8. Salvage operations for a grounded naval vessel have NOT been discussed in any of the project reports. In Suez canal, special arrangements using bollards every 200 ft. and metal wires are in place to salvage a grounded ship in any segment along the entire stretch of the canal. No such arrangements exist in the channel project; in fact, such salvage operations are virtually impossible in a mid-ocean channel. There is no experience anywhere in the world for maintaining the stability of such a mid-ocean channel passage. Suez and Panama canals are land-based canals. Any prudent designer should have carefully evaluated the option for a land-based canal and issues of navigational hazards, before venturing into creating a veritable international boundary exactly 3 kms. west of the medial line between India and Srilanka and calling it a Setusamudram Channel.
9. Project cost-benefit estimates were padded. One instance is the wrong computation of time saving through this channel. It is clear that for navigation between Kolkata and Tuticorin, the proposed channel will save only one hour and 45 mts. as Capt. Balakrishnan has demonstrated. This fundamental parameter puts the economics of the entire project in question. Another instance is the wrong computation of maintenance dredging. In this sedimentation sink, perpetual dredging will be needed to keep the channel stable and open. Costs of such dredging could be prohibitive rending the entire project a sick unit from day one.
10. Whether man-made or vaanara-made or a combination of natural geological features and artificial bridge structures, Rama Setu has performed a role as tsunami-protection wall saving the coastline of Tamilnadu and Kerala south of Rama Setu. Care should have been taken before recommending desiccation of such a protective structure. Rama Setu has a role in the accumulation of mineral placer deposits, unique in the whole world creating a veritable nuclear coast of the world. Without undertaking detailed multi-disciplinary studies, such a structure which has ensured nation’s coastline integrity and nation’s wealth should not have been interfered with.
For these charges of criminal neglect, errors of commission and omission, Government of India should provide the answers by appointing a Commission of Enquiry under Supreme Court monitoring.
A state which behaves like the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan buddha will not gain recognition in the comity of nations as a civil state. It is the responsibility of every citizen (under Fundamental Duties enshrined in the Constitution) and hence of the state to protect nation’s heritage. There is no greater heritage than Rama Setu, spanning the ocean between India and Srilanka and enshrined as a divyakshetram in the hearts of every citizen of the world.
It is the duty of the state and the samajam to protect, conserve and cherish a heritage such as Rama Setu evoking Shri Rama who is vigrahavaan dharmah, the very embodiment of dharma. Forgetting dharma, we forget our very identity and meaning of our very social life, either for nihs’reyas or for abhyudayam. We are trustees of the punyabhumi for the present and future generations; a trust which can be betrayed only by rendering the state as an instrument of high-handedness, arrogance and utter disregard for human sentiments. A state which is meant to protect cannot become an instrument of destruction, trampling sentiments. The state has chosen to ignore the thousands of pages of evidence produced in courts about this world heritage monument.
Note: kaarasthaan is a Marathi word meaning : ‘conspiratorial place’. SSCP – Setusamudram Channel Project.