Rama Setu: scrap unviable setu channel

November 11, 2007

Oh! Lord Ram, prove Your existence!
By Asim Kumar Mitra

While SSCP is not viable economically, and deprive thousands of fishermen living in the coastal districts of Thoothukudy, Ramanathapuram and Pudukkottai of their livelihood, its impact on the fragile Gulf of Mannar will be disastrous.
Noted journalist M.J. Akbar in an article in The Asian Age, wrote, “A year ago, the supreme leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, would not have fractured sensibilities nationwide with intemperate, unacceptable remarks about Lord Ram, revered and worshipped by Hindus as the paradigm of virtue…”

The other day a Ram Sethu activist said, “Now our responsibility is over. Lord Ram has taken over the issue and He has started playing His own game.” And the activist’s faith is that no one on earth can stop the sentiment of the people of India from abandoning the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) as it has already fractured the age-old bridge while trying to implement the proposed project. Lord Ram is there to lead us. So, there is no chance of defeat.
Already positive signs are being noticed in this direction. Although the UPA government is out to destroy the ancient Ram Sethu connecting Dhanushkoti of India with Talai Mannar of Sri Lanka (the northern part of this bridge is known as Palk Strait and the southern part is known as Gulf Mannar), the proposed Rs. 2,427 crore SSCP is destined to be abandoned. As Sam Rajappa in a post-edit article in The Statesman (18.10.2007) has pointed out, “The failure of the DMK to listen to the voices of traditional wisdom of the fishing community and those of more than 40 eminent scientists who had categorically stated that SSCP was not viable and must be abandoned was responsible for the rise of ‘Ram’ phenomenon and its associated communalism of the BJP and the Congress. The DMK which refused to rely on scientific inputs and showed scant regard for sustainable development for the poor has now become the champion of science to proceed with SSCP”.
The Telegraph on October 18, 2007 has reported on page 4, “Jayalalithaa today (17th October) said the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project would be a “disaster”.
“Responding to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi’s statement that the AIADMK, too, had committed itself to the project in its election manifesto, she said the party had revised its stand.
“The AIADMK’s support in the past for the project to dredge a navigable canal to link the Gulf of Munnar with the Palk Strait was ‘based on the information available then’, she said.
“Evidence that the project was not viable, had come up since, Jayalalithaa added, ‘depending on the new information made available by scientists and others, you have to change your viewpoint,” the AIADMK chief said.
Noted journalist M.J. Akbar in an article in The Asian Age, wrote, “A year ago, the supreme leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Shri M. Karunanidhi, would not have fractured sensibilities nationwide with intemperate, unacceptable remarks about Lord Ram, revered and worshipped by Hindus as the paradigm of virtue. Today, the political calendar has a premature general election marked within the first half of 2008. His party’s fortunes are now more important to him than his coalition’s fate. After all, what use is any coalition to him if he cannot get the seats that can make him a power broker?”
In this article, Shri Akbar then argued that how things are changing in social and political arena. He has established that even in Tamil Nadu, where highly caste-based politics once initiated by E. V. Ramaswamy Naicker (popularly known as EVR or Periyar) is now loosing its relevance and Dravidian-Aryan divide is not so strong. Akbar wrote: “When the Brahmin votes for Mayawati, he makes Periyar, once a crucial catalyst of change, irrelevant.” He further said, “No faith has undergone more dramatic reform than Hinduism has in the last seventy-five years. This is a tribute to both Hinduism’s leaders, the most notable of them being Mahatma Gandhi, and to ordinary Hindus, who realised that the excesses of caste were self-defeating”. It simply means that the effort to get electoral advantage by denigrating Lord Ram is out and out a self defeating proposition and Shri Karunanidhi is at a loss to see that even the general public of Tamil Nadu is not supporting the SSCP. The DMK may question the existence of Ram and ask for scientific proof. Equally, there is no scientific proof that he did not exist, say Hindu fundamentalists. Religious beliefs do not rest on scientific proof. (Sam Rajappa).
A project of this kind i.e. Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, was very much necessary in the interest of economy of the nation. Because, this would reduce the distance from Kolkata to Tuticorin by 340 nautical miles and from Chennai to Tuticorin by 435 nautical miles. In fact one British commander A. D. Taylor had prepared the first project to build up a waterway between Sri Lanka and India. But for different reasons, that were kept in cold storage. In the year 1955, Indian government had constituted a committee called ‘Sethusamudram project committee’ to study the project prepared by Mr. Taylor and submit a report. While giving its report the Committee suggested five alternative routes of waterway and none of them was disturbing the Ram Sethu let alone destroying it. The underlying truth is we the people of India want all kinds of development without disturbing the cultural heritage of the nation. It is not the question of one particular community or religion; it is the question of preserving the pride of the nation. Even today, SSCP could be successfully implemented without disturbing the existence of Ram Sethu. The movement against implementation of SSCP sparked off throughout India is a living proof that reverence to Lord Ram is still very strong in the minds of our countrymen, cutting across all barriers of caste, creed and religion.
In the year 2001, when NDA government was at the helm of affairs, an expert committee was appointed to look after the viability of the project by which the proposed reduction of distance from western coast to Chennai, Ennore, Visakhapatnam, Paradeep, Haldia & Kolkata port would be 424 nautical miles or 780 kilometres, saving 30 hours for every journey and reducing expenditure of Rs. 1,000 crores every year. The committee was further asked to suggest a hassle-free route. Before they could submit their report, the NDA government was dismissed. So they could not do anything about it. But the political opponents of BJP were falsely blaming the BJP as NDA was formed under their leadership, to meddle the Ram Sethu issue. Curiously enough, since Independence, the government had appointed the Ramaswamy Mudaliar Committee in 1956, Nagendra Singh Committee in 1967, Venkateswaran Committee in 1968, and Lakshminarayanan Committee in 1981 and decided against the project (project prepared by A. D. Taylor). Still the UPA government is very much up with the project.
Why? First, by all means they want to destroy Hindutva or anything connected with Hindutva. Second, the DMK, a key constituent of the UPA, made implementation of the 150-year old dream of the Tamil people, a precondition for its support. The government never bothered to study fully the financial and environmental implications before rushing in to inaugurate work on the Rs. 2427-crore projects. Further they did not care to examine the project-propositions as well. Under SSCP, the proposed canal will be of 12 metres deep and the breadth will be 300 metres. Modern ships cannot navigate through this narrow canal as its general size is 60,000 DWT (Dead Weight Tonnage) or more. In old days, of course, the size of the ships were smaller, (the general size used to be 32,000 DWT) which could easily navigate through this narrow canal. In its undue eagerness to hurt the sentiment of countrymen, especially Hindus, the UPA government went on supporting the unconstitutional acts of DMK in this regard.
The government is even flouting the order of Madras High Court. On June 19, 2007 Madras High Court in its 11-page judgment said that after going through the 3000-page documents submitted by the prosecution to prove the existence of Ram Sethu is enough for the government to declare it a ‘heritage monument’ and take necessary steps to protect it. According to the norms declared by UNESCO, Ram Sethu should be identified as ‘heritage of the world’. The government had simply ignored it and sat down on the said judgment. When they were pressurised, they avoided the subject by saying that the Archaeological Survey department could not go through the said 3000-page document. Hence they could not give their opinion on the subject. When the Tamil Nadu government in support of its chief minister’s derogatory statement against Lord Ram, had given a call for statewide bandh, the Supreme Court of India declared this as ‘unconstitutional’. Neither the UPA government at the Centre nor the State government had taken any step to implement this judgment. Justice B. N. Agrawal of Supreme Court had warned the UPA government and the state government saying “Don’t play with fire”.
It is obvious that the Ram Sethu was built by human being. At least the 3000-page document submitted to the court is the conclusive proof for this. The courts, including the Supreme Court has admitted this. In a news item published by The Telegraph on 29.7.07 said that Mr. N. K. Raghupati, Chairman, Tuticorin Port, addressed a press conference on 28.7.07 to declare that he received an e-mail from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) which said Adam’s Bridge or Ram Sethu was a man-made bridge. At that time Dr Subramanian Swamy was in America. He immediately checked the matter with the officials of NASA. They said that no such e-mail has been sent to any person. They stood firm by their earlier statement i.e. the said bridge is a man-made bridge. Shri M.J. Akbar in his article wrote: “Incidentally, ‘mythology’ has an answer to Mr. Karunanidhi’s question about whether Lord Ram was an engineer, the bridge between the mainland and Sri Lanka was constructed by Nala, the son of Vishwakarma. But such political wisecracks only trivialise a sensitive issue”.
While SSCP is not viable economically and deprive thousands of fishermen living in the coastal districts of Thoothukudy, Ramanatha-puram and Pudukkottai of their livelihood, its impact on the fragile Gulf of Mannar will be disastrous. The Supreme Court which initially turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the movement against Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project and the Coastal Action Network, readily granted a stay of the project on the ground that dredging Adam’s Bridge would hurt Hindu sentiments. But it is not the question of Hindu sentiments only. One should not forget that in south India the agitation for protecting and preserving the Ram Sethu was started on April 18, 2007 and this was spearheaded by two retired Supreme Court judges and both are Christians. They are Mr. Justice K. T. Thomas and Mr. Justice B. R. Krishna Ayer. It is obvious that the constituents of UPA want to secure the minority vote bank by pursuing the implementation of SSCP. But the general mood of Christians and Muslims are also against this implementation. They should not forget that all Hindus are not members of BJP or VHP or RSS, but they constitute 87 crores among the total population of 113 crores.
Hence, the UPA government should think twice before taking this self-defeating step to implement SSCP. Let me conclude by quoting from the article of Mr. Sam Rajappa published in The Statesman on October 18, 2007: “For millions of Hindus not only in India but all over the world Adam’s Bridge associated with Ram’s epic battle to rescue Sita from captivity in Lanka has become a centre of pilgrimage like the holy land for the Christians and Mecca for the Muslims.
“The government should not give room for the Hindus to feel threatened in their own motherland. All things considered, it is better the government writes off Rs. 600 crores already spent on SSCP so far and abandon it once and for all. Adam’s Bridge or Ram Sethu as the BJP prefers to call it can be declared a World Heritage Site and promoted as a pilgrim tourism centre which will bring far more prosperity to the backward coastal districts in southern Tamil Nadu than SSCP can ever hope to achieve”.
(The author is a senior journalist and can be contacted at mitraasimkumar@rediffmail.com)

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