Rama Setu: scientists propose oceanographic, nautical, geoarchaeological investigations

Letter of 21 October 2007 sent from scientists/scholars in Pune

Sub: Suggestions/proposals/documents from agencies/individuals interested in SSCP

Ref: Notice dated 13 October 2007 published in Marathi Newspaper ‘Sakal’ on 15 October 2007


We are submitting the following for your consideration in connection with the SSCP.

  1. Introduction

The proposed SSCP will have far reaching consequences and irreversible impact on the local bathymetry, coastal and oceanographic conditions and local marine environment. Before making a decision on the implementation of a project of this magnitude it is essential to conduct the following multi-disciplinary pre-project studies.

  1. Issues to be studied in detail

The following issues intimately connected with the SSCP need to be investigated.

  1. Domestic and international political consequences
  2. Legal issues related to project implementation in international waters
  3. National defence and security of Indian territory
  4. Conservation of historic and archaeological heritage
  5. Economic impact including benefit to cost ratio
  6. Measures against possible spill of oil and toxic substances
  7. Measures against possible grounding of ships within and near the ship channel caused by human error, accidental collision, natural disaster and terrorist activity
  8. Volume of capital and maintenance dredging under normal conditions as well as under cyclones and tsunamis, stability of side slopes of navigation channel will also affect dredging
  9. Selection of best location for placement of dredged material during construction and operation of the project
  10. Change in the natural process of segregation and deposition of sediment containing radioactive material, which could be used as fuel for nuclear power projects in India
  11. Impact on local fishing industry and fishermen
  12. Accelerated propagation of waves and tsunamis through the new channel that would cause increased damage on coastline
  13. Impact on the coastal and marine environment caused by the project implementation
  14. Religious sentiments of the Hindu population in the Republic of India in connection with damage to a segment of Lord Rama’s Setu
  15. Engineering challenges involved in construction and maintenance of the project. These may include rock dredging and adverse atmospheric conditions
  16. Effect of noise, turbulence and increased turbidity on marine life in the area.
  1. Navigation and shipping issues

The channel will have restricted width and depth. Maximimum possible future expansion of the channel to accommodate large vessels must be decided in the pre-project study. Ships have varying dimensions and carrying capacity. A rational and realistic estimate needs to be made on the future annual traffic of ships including frequency, size of ships and type of cargo. Will the cargo include bulk cargo such as industrial and agricultural products, weapons and explosives, iron and manganese ore, crude oil and refined products? Will the channel have two-way traffic and facilities for night navigation? Which area would be used for waiting and anchorage of ships?

  1. Model studies

We have seen the NEERI Report dated 2004. It provides useful data on several natural parameters of interest in connection with SSCP. It also refers to the conclusions based on a two-dimensional numerical model studies. However, it does not provide adequate details on the model used, such as reasons for selection and limitations of the model. A three-dimensional numeral model study and a physical model study, if needed, is necessary to determine the extent of changes, areas and parameters that are likely to be affected by the project. NEERI Report’s conclusion of no significant effect anywhere appears doubtful. The results of numerical model depend upon the model used, the expertise of the modeler, data fed to the model, assumptions made, computer used for running the models, selection of magnitudes for the large number of coefficients in the model and so on. The study should cover all the feasible alternative alignments of the channel and take into account all the natural parameters such as waves, tides, currents, earthquakes, tsunamis, water temperature, sediment properties, water circulation and so on. Such a study needs to be conducted at a hydraulic research station that has international reputation and qualified researchers to undertake complex study.

  1. Additional Experts

The following experts need to be added to the present Committee

  1. Representatives from Indian Navy, Shipping Corporation of India, Department of Defence and Dredging Corporation of India
  2. Expert from Atomic Energy Corporation dealing with fuel for nuclear power plants
  3. Expert from Geological Survey of India
  1. Geoarchaeological issues

Recently we came across a very interesting paper titled ‘Geological and Geo-tectonic settings of Palk-Bay-Gulf of Mannar area between India and Sri Lanka and its relevance to Sethu Samudram Shipping Canal Project’ by K. Gopalakrishnan, S. Badrinarayanan, National Institute of Ocean Technology Chennai and KS Subramanian formerly of the Geological Survey of India. These scholars have briefly summarized geological and structural aspect of the sea bed in Ram Sethu area and brought out some new aspect of sedimentary cover upto a depth of 18 m to 20 m below the present surface of the sea. The ridge is a product of neotectonic activity and bears evidences of recent submergence as well as historical emergence. Presence of 2.5 m to 3 m thick bouldery-cobbly-pebbly gravel bed sandwitched between upper 4.5 m loose marine sands with shells – is suggestive of slight lowering of sea level during geologically speaking recent times. This gravel bed consists of boulders and pebbles of corals, calcareious sandstone and shelly limestone within the matrix of clay.

The gravel bed indicates allocthonou source of its components and seem to have been deposited either naturally (most likely by fluvio-marine agency) or anthropogenically.

To resolve the problem of the exact genesis of the gravel bed sandwitched between marine sands the following studies need to be carried out by competent scientists:

  1. To determine exact provenance of various lithoclasts (e.g. coral, shelly limestone, calcareous sandstone etc.)
  2. To find the mineralogy and micropalaeontology of fine matrix (salt-clay) and also of the cement
  3. To date the sediment, particularly its organic components by conventional C-14 and AMS (accelaratory mass spectroscopy) techniques
  4. To look carefully for archaeological antiquities – like stone artefacts, pottery etc. (if they are present).

According to our experience in geoarchaeological studies in coastal Gujarat, coastal Maharashtra and W. Bengal, the sea level was low by 100 – 130 m around 18,000 years BP (Before Present) and reached its present level around 6000 yrs BP. It has then marginally fluctuated within the amplitude of 2-3 metres in the last 6000 years. This sea level fluctuation model is workable in tectonically stable region only and these changes have taken place mainly in response to glacial eustacy which is a global environmental factor.

‘Ram Sethu Ridge’ particularly the gravel bed occurring 6 to 8 m below the present sea level should therefore be studies by competent agencies like the Geological Survey of India (Marine Wing), National Institute of Oceanography (Goa), Archaeological Survey of India (Marine Wing), Birbal Sahani Institute of Palaeobotany (Lucknow) and the National Institute of Ocean Technology, Chennai.

The above comments and suggestions have been submitted by the following individuals:

  1. Dr. TM Parchure, Ph.D. in Oceanography and Environmental Engineering (1984) Univ. of Florida, USA
  2. Dr. SN Rajaguru, Ph.D. in Geoarchaeology (1970), University of Poona
  3. Dr. VS Lele, Ph.D. in Archaeology (1972), University of Poona
  4. Dr. CN Parchure, Ph.D. in Literature and History (1971), University of Poona

We request that all communications may please be addressed to

Dr. CN Parchure, 528/C Shaniwar Peth, Mehunpura, Pune 411030 Tel. 24479522(O), 24490939 ®

If any of the studies suggested above have already been completed please provide us access to the final reports or communications submitted by the individuals/agencies so that we can review them to determine whether those studies have been comprehensive and adequate in our opinion.

Sd. TM Parchure

Sd. SN Rajguru

Sd. VS Lele

Sd. CN Parchure

November 04, 2007
An interview with Dr. S.R. Rao, the foremost marine archaeologist of India

“Ram Sethu is protecting South Tamil Nadu, it is important to save it”

STOP POLITICAL ABUSE OF HISTORY This interview was taken by Col. S.S. Rajan, retired as Additional Chief Engineer in the Corps of Engineers of the Indian Army, along with G.P. Srinivasan, an ISO 14001 lead auditor for environmental management systems.

Dr S.R. Rao is the foremost marine archaeologist, who discovered the submerged city of Dwarka of Sri Krishna, off the coast of Kutch, in Gujarat, which is considered to be the greatest archaeological discovery in independent India.

Dr. S.R Rao had represented India for three terms, of three years each, to the UNESCO convention to protect underwater cultural heritage. India has the longest coastline of 7500 km with the richest underwater cultural and archaeological repository including perhaps one of the greatest find, an entire city submerged that he himself discovered off the coast of Kutch. According to Dr S.R. Rao, SSCP has violated all international norms and conventions for saving underwater cultural heritage, a mandatory for every maritime member to “list, preserve and protect all underwater cultural sites.” Excerpts:

How did you discover the city of Sri Krishna?
There was a modern building that was obstructing an ancient temple. It was then we decided to demolish the modern building. Underneath we found an ancient temple which led to subterranean steps that led to steps covered with mud. When we got them cleaned up, they led to passage that led to the seacoast and a port, which when probed led to the greatest discovery in the archaeological history—the discovery of submerged Dwarka city. On one side of the city was four kilometers long wall with a complete port and storage area, warehouse, and weighing stones that are completely intact for holding the ships from drifting away.

Are there any international conventions to save underwater heritage?
I represented India and drafted the UNESCO charter in the convention for saving the underwater heritage. When I last checked, only six nations had signed the treaty. India as a responsible member of UNESCO must sign this convention as we have the richest reserves in marine archaeology and signing the convention will help get international funds allocated to “list, preserve and protect underwater cultural heritage”. As a responsible member of the United Nations India must sign the UNESCO charter for preservation of our underwater heritage and India should not shy away in this regard.

Can you explain the full details of the convention that you chaired?
Yes. I have the journal of marine archaeology volume 7 and 8 pages 66 and 68 published in 1988 which state among other things definition of underwater heritage, list them and describe ways and means to preserve and protect them. The rate of erosion by violent sea is so aggressive that when we excavated in Poompuhar we found brick walls of ancient city mentioned in Tamil literature.

What caused the destruction of the city?
Right from Ennore near Chennai if you travel down south, Mahabalipuram, Tarangambadi to Poompuhar, this belt has been historically known for violent seas, cyclones and sea erosion. We have experienced one of the most violent seas. A temple can be found taken away by the sea in Ennore, and another Shiva temple can be found submerged at Tarangambadi. The rate of erosion is not what it was even 8 to 10 years ago, it is very rapid. Off the coast of Poompuhar four km wide into the sea the entire city mentioned in Silapadigaram was located and also a long brick wall of the port mentioned in the Tamil classic. I myself have been diving for over 15 years in the underwater expeditions off the coast of Gujarat, Poompuhar and Mahabalipuram.

The Kannagi statue installed on the seacoast had to be shifted 10 meters by the government to save it from sea erosion some years ago. If this being the case it is Ram Sethu that is acting as natural barrier and now saving the southern Tamil Nadu from the violent sea. If this is damaged all hell will break loose. Poompuhar was a very important port and was very extensive of Sangam period but got submerged. What about Ramayana which was even earlier and several thousands of years older? It is absolutely certain that it is historical and of mythological importance. The sea in the western coast of India is not that violent but the eastern coast has been facing one of the most violent seas as we have encountered in our underwater expeditions. Hence this region contains the richest archaeological heritages of the world.

Some researchers say there are so many such sites—as much as 20,000 in the world—and what is the definition of a underwater site?
The definition of the underwater cultural heritage should cover objects of archaeological interest. It should also cover sites and landscapes which are of great importance for understanding of our history. If the site of the naval battle of Salam’s (BC 480) and a recent 100-year-old Titanic (sunken luxury liner) could be mentioned as landscape sites then the protection should not only be guided by archaeological and historical interest but also by the need to preserve information about a site even if nothing is recovered from it. The chairman of the international convention stressed on the need to protect sites of mythological significance to traditional communities as non-human heritage. Everything dating back from before the 20th century should be protected. It was also observed that there is no such thing as a time limit to archaeology.

About the committee formed, is it not the political abuse of history, an appointment of this committee of eminent persons?
The committee did not have any members from NIOT, which is the most competent to carry out the research, and has the equipment, technology and money and expertise and certainly not the ASI, which is ill-equipped for such mammoth mission.

TOR Steel Foundation, a Bangalore-based company, had come forward to construct coffer dams to save Dwarka from further submergence. They could also be involved in the committee formed.

What are the guiding principles for listing, preserving and protection?
Two basic principles: The indivisibility of cultural heritage and the significance of it for humanity.



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