By V. Sundaram
I am of the view that the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP) is a monument of fraud and national infamy. The Office of the Prime Minister, The Union Ministry of Shipping and Transport, The Tuticorn Port Trust have collectively bungled in a calculated manner in according sanction to this Project which in my view will only lead to disastrous consequences.
The SSCP involves cutting of a ship channel to connect Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal so that most of the ships moving between east and west coasts of India can have navigable sea route around the peninsula within India's territorial waters, without circumventing Sri Lanka. But many responsible Naval officials say that even after the completion of the project, the depth of the channel between the two nations will only be 12 metre and big vessels like very large crude carriers (VLCCs) won't be able to pass through the channel.
'Only medium-size or empty vessels will be able to pass through it'.
Sethusamudram Corporation Ltd has been constituted for the implementation of the project. Once the project is completed, it is expected that the sailing time and distance for ships between East and West coast would be considerably reduced In 2002, Tuticorin Port Trust appointed NEERI as consultants for carrying out Rapid & Comprehensive Environment Impact Assessment Studies along with assessing Techno-economic viability of the project. The objective of the study was to obtain Environmental Approvals from the concerned local, state, and central government authorities. The terms of Reference issued by TPT to NEERI comprised of two sections viz. Techno-economic viability & other related to Environment Impact Assessment.
In the latter half of 2002, NEERI presented a report on the status of the marine environment which was established by drawing on the data collected during the IEE in 1998. The data presented for the Marine Environment covered the Physico-chemical and biological status. The assessment covered the marine water and sediment. The analysis given for the various marine environmental components was laudable and confirmed the biodiversity richness of the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay.
NEERI completed its work long before South India was struck by tsunami in December 2004. All the Geologists, Earth Scientists, Oceanographers, Marine Biologists and other Ocean Scientists are categorically of the view that the marine environment in Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar was radically altered and transformed after the tsunami. The evaluation report prepared by NEERI in the light of field data collected or observed before the tsunami in December 2004, cannot form the correct basis for according final sanction for the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP).
What is interesting to note is that sixteen (16) detailed queries were raised by PMO (Prime Minister's Office) on 8 March 2005 on various aspects relating to the environment impact, viability, dredging and other repercussions following tsunami in December 2004. These queries were sent to the Office of the Chairman, Tuticorin Port Trust on March 8 2005. The Tuticorin Port Trust, perhaps sent its detailed reply to the PMOs Office only on 30 June, 2005 (this is the date on which the information was posted on the government website by Tuticorin Port Trust.)
The People of India in general and the people living in the costal areas of Southern Tamilnadu and more particularly the fishermen, have a fundamental right to raise the following public issues before the Government of India:
Why did the PMOs Office refer the matter only to the Office of the Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust and not to Government of India agencies like NEERI and several others for further detailed study, analysis and report? Was not the PMOs Office aware of the unprecedented damage caused by the tsunami disaster in South India in December 2004? It is strange that Tuticorin Port Trust was asked to respond to PMO's queries. The correct agency should have been NEERI under the agreement entered into between Govt. of India and NEERI. Did the Office of the Chairman of the Tutcorin Port Trust refer the matter to the NEERI for its detailed analysis and comments in the light of the new environment and field situation created by the tsunami in December 2004? There is no indication if NEERI was asked to review its 2004 environmental impact analysis taking note of the post- tsunami field situation in December 2004.
The Office of the Chairman Of the Tuticorin Port Trust sent their final reply to the PMOs Office only on 30 June 2005. The timing of the response by Tuticorin Port Trust is significant. After two days, the SSCP (Sethusamudram Canal Project) was inaugurated by the de jure Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the de facto Prime Minister Sonia Gandhi who air dashed to Madurai for the inauguration on July 2 2005.The people of India have smelt a rat in this sequence of stage managed events to cover up many shady facts relating to the SSCP.
The haste with which Tuticorn Port Trust was asked to respond to PMO's queries raises serious questions on the violation of the due process instituted by the Government in conducting an unbiased and objective evalution by a competent agency. The competence of Tuticorin Port Trust in answering all the 14 queries raised by PMO is unclear. This violation of due process raises serious questions on the viability of the entire project.
The answers of the Tuticorin Port Trust which formed the basis for inaugurating the project on 2 July, 2005 were apparently prepared by a private company, Dr P Chandramohan of Indomer Hydraulics Pvt.Ltd., Chennai. The possible conflict of interests in engaging a potential contractor/consultant in making such an evaluation is a matter of serious public concern impacting on the impartiality and objectivity of the answers provided on the serious issues raised by the PMO in March 2005.
The evaluation of the impact of a tsunami on the canal project has been irresponsibly and haphazardly managed. All the PMO's concerns should have been referred to NEERI and the NEERI should have been asked to re-evaluate the two principal issues: 1. impact of another tsunami on the canal as aligned; 2. impact on the ocean currents by the choice of dumping areas for the dredged materials. These two issues were NOT evaluated by NEERI because the final alignment was not known to NEERI and tsunami struck on 26 December 2004, an event which was not taken into account in the earlier evaluation report of NEERI.
Dr Tad S Murthy, Tsunami Expert
He was on the editorial board of the prestigious Tsunami Journal, Science of Tsunami Hazards for many years and presently teaches at the University of Ottawa.
He has commented extensively and critically about the disastrous consequences of the Sethusamudram Canal Project (SSCP).
Prof Tad S Murthy of Canada has raised serious concerns on the devastation of Kerala through the proposed canal which will suck in the next tsunami waves if the present alignment is retained. The Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust has completely ignored the warnings given by Prof. Tad S Murthy of Canada.
Against this background, I would strongly appeal to the Supreme Court of India to treat this article as a public interest litigation and issue notices to all concerned to review the disastrous consequences of the implementation of the SSCP in the larger public interest.
Sethusamudram Shipping Canal in its present form is scientifically inconsistent and technically indefensible for the following reasons:
- According to Dr Ramesh, NEERI Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the study that gives the SSCP, its scientific legitimacy, has ignored the studies available on the sedimentation pattern of Palk Bay completely and has not fixed the exact locations wherein the dredged material would be dumped - these studies are crucial for the economic and technical survival of project, as they will give us an idea of how much sediment should be dredged each season and also prepare us for a study that will tell us where the dumped sediments will move every season.
- Subsurface geology has been studied only for the 20 kilo meter stretch of the canal in the Adam's Bridge area. Nothing is known about the subsurface geology of the Palk Strait region. Considering the fact that the canal's length will be 54.2 km; if the sub surface turns out to be rocky, the cost of the project will go up many folds, and the effect of blasting these rocks would cause serious damages to the Palk Bay environment. This was clearly stated in the Technical Feasibility Report prepared by NEERI only to be politically ignored at the time of political sanction of SSCP.
- The historical cyclone data for this region from the years 1860 to 2000 clearly indicate that cyclones cross this region and its neighbourhood once in every four years. Historically we have enough data to show that all these cyclones have caused severe erosion of the coastal stretch in the nearby areas from time to time by dumping the eroded material in Palk Bay and Adam's Bridge area. NEERI's EIA has not taken note of this natural phenomenon at all.
- Indomer's 'Hydrodynamic Modelling Study for SSCP' has also ignored the issue of the impact of cyclones on the canal completely. Thus, we do not know, what will happen to the canal in scientific terms during the period of cyclones.
- Tsunami computer simulation models by Professor Steven N Ward of University of California, Professor Aditya Riyadi of Pusat Penelitian Kelautan Insitut Teknologi, Bandung, Indonesia, WI-Delft Hydraulics, Netherlands and DHI Softwares, USA and Indomer-Alkyon have described graphically the way tsunami waves attacked Palk Bay on 26 December, 2004. It is against all this background that the International Tsunami Expert Professor Tad S Murty chose to warn the Prime Minister's Office on 30 January, 2005 about the possible negative and dangerous impact of SSCP during the times of future tsunamis. The PMO instead of referring the matter to the NEERI who were the official consultants of the Government of India, chose to refer the matter directly to the Office of the Chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust. He gave his final reply to the 14 vital points raised by the PMO on 8 March 2005 only on 30 June 2005. Then in a kind of sudden swoop operation the de jure Prime Minister and the de facto Prime Minister of Italian vintage air dashed to Madurai on 2 July 2005, to lay a solid foundation for the destruction of coastal life in Southern Tamilnadu.
When the SSCP was about to be launched in July 2005, Dr C P Rajendran of the Centre for Earth Science Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, a Paleo-Seismologist and one of India's top geologists gave a timely warning to the effect that the SSCP should be put on hold. Giving detailed technical reasons, he concluded:
'Sethusamudram, as the name suggests, is the part of an ocean that is being constantly bridged by natural sedimentation processes, and the nature has been at this work for hundreds of thousands of years. By implementing this project, we are disturbing these processes. The project lacks technical, scientific and economic credibility, and is another disaster in the making. All the objections raised by me will remain valid until these issues are resolved by an independent group of experts'.
Professor G Victor Rajamanickam is one of India's eminent coastal geo-morphologists and mineralogists. And he is an authority on the Tamilnadu's coastal geomorphology.
In August 2005, Professor Rajamanickam when asked about the environmental impact of Tsunami of December 2004, replied as follows: 'The Tsunami had completely disturbed the Shelf sediment right from river Krishna down to Kanyakumari. It had disturbed the seabed even up to 200 meters. ...So, the shelf sediments now have a completely new texture after the Tsunami. If one studies the present sediments, one would be surprised to find the seabed to be a different one now. It is in this regard I feel that we have to undertake a resurvey of our seabed and understand the nature of the sediment present in it. Hence I feel an understanding of the pre-Tsunami sedimentation condition alone cannot work possibly for any modelling'.
Further, the Monitoring Committee set up by the Ministry of Shipping, Government of India to assess the impact of the dredging activity on the environment and advise the project authorities included only marine biologists and microbiologists besides experts from the fields of fisheries, agriculture. It is shocking to note that it had not considered including sedimentologists, geo-morphologists or meteorologists, hydrographers, geologists, coastal tectonics experts, or experts from atmospheric sciences in the Committee. The present monitoring team, of scientists from Marine Biology, Fisheries etc., will be able to do only 10 per cent of the total required monitoring work and the remaining 90 per cent has to be done by earth scientists. The lack of Earth System scientists in the Committee will definitely bring problems to the maintenance of Palk Strait in the future.
Professor Tad S Murty has categorically affirmed that Chairman, Tuticorin Port Trust (TPT) sent him a fax dated early February 2005 stating that the SSCP had been finalised by the end of February 2005 (!!) and they wanted Professor Murty's comments within 24 hours!!. Murty sent a short reply explaining why the Eastern entrance of the proposed channel in the SSCP should be realigned and reoriented. Murty has stated that he received a reply from Chairman, TPT saying that his experts outright dismissed his idea as ridiculous because it had absolutely no merit. Murty's comments are very relevant in this context: 'I do not worry that TPT does not think much of my ideas or me. I do not have to justify myself to TPT. I have to fight my battles, not with TPT but in the field of peer reviewed international scientific journals'.
the Ramar bridge (Ramasethu)
There is no table of weights and measures for ascertaining or determining what constitutes the Due process. What is due process of law depends upon circumstances. It varies with the subject matter and necessities of the situation. Due process of law requires that the proceedings shall be fair, but fairness is a relative, not an absolute concept. It is fairness with reference with particular conditions or particular results. Whichever way one looks at it, there has been a total violation of the DUE PROCESS by the Government of India in according sanction for the SSCP. That is why I am appealing to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India to treat this newspaper article as a Public Interest Litigation and to stay the construction work till all the public issues are fully thrashed out openly in the highest judicial tribunal of the land.
During the last tsunami in December 2004, the Ramar Bridge, also known as Adams Bridge in the Palk Bay acted as a natural barrier preventing the direct devastation of the entire South Indian coastline, south and southwest of Nagapattinam. Thus the Ramar Bridge, traditionally and popularly also known as Ramasethu, played a key role in protecting the coastline in South India against the unforeseen ravages of the tsunami in December, 2004.
The implementation of the Sethusamudram Canal Project (SSCP) will operationally involve the breaking and dismantling of the Ramar Bridge for creating a 300-meter wide canal. This in turn will suck the next, impending, tsunami waves directly into the South Indian coastline. The spread of the massive displacement of waters displaced by the Tsunami 'plate tectonics' of 2004 was such that it doused the Southern Tamilnadu coastline, circling the entire Sri Lanka Island and moving partially into Kerala and towards the Ramar bridge. This circling around Sri Lanka occurred because the Ramar Bridge acted as a natural shoal barrier preventing the inflow of waters.
If the Sethusamudram Canal is dug through the bridge, it will act as the channel for the waters to flow directly into the entire Southern India coastline beyond Dhanushkodi and into the coastline of Kerala right into the Konkan region. The resultant devastation will be incalculable. Keeping this aspect in mind, Dr. Tad S. Murty, an acknowledged international authority on the 'Tsunamis' has clearly indicated that creating the Sethusamudram Canal as per the existing alignment will only lead to unprecedented disasters during the next Tsunami which can happen at any time. Dr. Murthy is Chief Editor of the reputed International Tsunami Journal 'Science of Tsunami Hazards' for over two decades.
To quote his exact words of warning in this context: 'I like this (Sethusamudram) project, but there is a flaw. The entrance to the channel should be re-oriented towards the eastern side. Otherwise, there is a chance that it may create a deepwater route for another devastating tsunami. This may cause huge destruction in Kerala.' Taking note of this ominous warning, Government of India should immediately stop the construction of the project till this technical point raised by Dr Tad S Murty is carefully considered by a team of experts drawn from all the concerned technical fields, including the whole gamut of Earth Sciences.
Against this background, it will be clear how the Ramar bridge (Ramasethu) had acted as a 'a high wall' and, in fact, saved most of the coastline west and northwest of Dhanushkoti from total devastation during Tsunami 2004. There are clear indications that the environmental clearance was given to the SSCP without taking into account the following fundamental engineering and cost-benefit factors:
1. Effect of a tsunami-type of event on the SSCP. All the scientists are unanimous in their view that a recurrence of tsunamis cannot be ruled out.
2. Locations for dumping the dredged sand
3. Costs of continuous dredging given the continuous sea currents which tend to create the shoals through the never-ending natural accretion process, again and again rebuilding the Ramar bridge, and thus making the SSCP, apart from being financially unviable, inoperable for most of the time.
4.There has been no market study of the numbers and types of vessels which will navigate through the channel and the freight rates expected to be paid by these vessels for being tugged through the proposed Canal.
In the interest of safety of the lives of the coastal people, it is prudent to stop the project work until the fundamental factors are re-studied and re-evaluated. It is also essential to involve National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) in this exercise and create a Marine Archaeological Unit to study the archaeology of the Ramar Bridge and Kizhakkarai where a S'ankha Industry has been flourishing for centuries. It will be a tragedy of incalculable proportion to the cultural traditions of India, if this age-old industry were to be devastated by the SSCP.
The possibility of choosing alternative strategies with little or no impact on the Ramar Bridge should also be re-studied, taking into account the satellite images made available by NASA. To quote the beautiful words of the eminent Cultural Historian Dr S Kalyanaraman in this context: 'The received narratives of the submergence of Kumarikandam should be a pointer to the imperative of careful studies before embarking on projects which hurt the cultural sentiments of the people who are inheritors of a glorious sea-faring, maritime, riverine civilization continuum'.
I am shocked by the reply which the Union Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni gave in Parliament recently on the issue of this avoidable destruction of the Ramar (Ramasethu) Bridge. She said: 'there are no archaeological studies which confirmed the existence of a Ramasethu Bridge between India and Sri Lanka in ancient times. .... The Government has no plans for any preservation imperative in this regard'.
I fully endorse the brilliant words of Radha Rajan, a fearless journalist with soaring idealism linked to ardent nationalism, in this context: 'Union Minister for Tourism and Culture Ambika Soni has only confirmed the anti-Hindu bias of the UPA government. I would have been surprised only if she had not said this. It is the accepted custom and tradition of anti-Hindu Indian polity to ignore or humiliate Hindu religious sensibilities. Ambika Soni and her party President are both non-Hindus who cannot be expected to respect Hindu sentiments in this regard or venerate a traditional Hindu belief or custom. Partnered in their plans to fulfill the Sethusamudram project is of course the genetically anti-Hindu Dravidian Chief Minister of Tamilnadu. Caught in a pincer between non-Hindu and anti-Hindu polity, the Hindus of India, whether on Ramjanmabhumi, Srirangam temple, arrest of Pujya Kanchi Acharya or the Ramar Sethu, repeatedly have their noses rubbed in the dirt. Nowhere in the world, except in India, will you find a country's polity being driven by ideologies inimical to the majority populace'.
In India's decadent and immoral public life in general and politics in particular today, this is an age of classical ignorance - more particularly of Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma. I am not therefore surprised that the mighty Government of India is also steeped in Himalayan ignorance about many fundamental historical facts about the Ramar Bridge. Enough irrefutable cartographic evidence, which can stand the severest judicial scrutiny in any court of law, is available about the existence of the 'Ramar Bridge' (Ramasethu).
Ramancoil has been shown on a 1747 map made in Netherlands.
A map of Hindustan
We also have the 1788 edition of the map called Map of Hindoostan or the Mughal Empire, which is available in Sarasvati Mahal Library, Thanjavur. This map is based on explorations by an Australian Botanical Explorer called Joseph Parks. On this map, The bridge linking Ramancoil and Talaimannar (Ceylon, then Sri Lanka) is called Ramar Bridge.
A map of India titled as a map of Hindoostan or the Moghul Empire from the latest authorities inscribed to Sir Joseph Banks Bart President of Royal Society, was produced by James Rennel, a pioneer in map making, on 1 January 1788. James Rennell (1742-1830), was the First Surveyor General of the East India Company. He is sometimes also referred to as 'the father of Indian geography'. The original print of the map (112c.m x 106c.m) is available in the Saraswati Mahal Library in Thanjavur. The 1788 edition of this map which is open to scrutiny calls it the RAMAR BRIDGE. But in the 1804 version of the map, the same Rennel calls it the Adam's Bridge. This renaming can only be viewed as a motivated action by a Colonial and Imperialist Administrator.
Further the space images recently taken by NASA reveal a mysterious ancient bridge in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. This recently discovered bridge currently named as Adam & laqno's Bridge is made of chain of shoals, c.18 mi (30 km) long. To quote the words of NASA: 'The bridge&laqno's unique curvature and composition by age reveals that it is man made. The legends as well as Archeological studies reveal that the first signs of human inhabitants in Sri Lanka date back to the a primitive age, about 1,750,000 years ago and the bridge & laqno's age is also almost equivalent'. NASA, unlike Ambika Soni or Karunanidhi, is not influenced by either non-Hindu or anti-Hindu vote bank politics of India.
The Ramar Bridge has withstood the onslaught of centuries and seen the rise and fall of mighty global empires from the dawn of history. I would like to invite the kind attention of the Supreme Court of India to the following words of Annie Besant (1847-1933): 'Make no mistake, without Hinduism, India has no future. Hinduism is a soil into which India's roots are stuck and torn out of that she will inevitably wither as a tree torn out from its place. And if Hindus do not maintain Hinduism, who shall save it? If India's own children do not cling to her faith who shall guard it? India alone can save India and India and Hinduism are one'. Against this background, I would make a fervent appeal to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India to treat this article as a Public Interest Litigation Petition and to stay the implementation of the SSCP by issuing notices to all concerned.
(The writer, who is a retired IAS officer, was the first chairman of Tuticorin Port Trust. He was the one who completed the work on coal jetty, oil jetty and other facilities in connection with the commissioning of Tuticorin Harbour Project. He became its chief on 1 April, 1979.)
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