Rama Setu protection: for sustainable development

Rama Setu protection: for sustainable development

By Dr. S. Kalyanaraman (20 November 2007)

A huge environmental disaster in the making, the Setusamudram project will cause irreparable damage to the fragile biosphere reserve. Moreover, the dredging project will lead to erosion in the coastal areas and also endanger marine species.

Sustainable development calls for protection of the ecosphere and livelihood of the people directly impacted by any development project. Sustainable development also means that scientific and environmental issues are considered carefully and deliberated upon before embarking upon any project. Unfortunately, such deliberation has not taken place in the Setu channel project intended to destroy Rama Setu.

The Setu project should be abandoned.

Transport system alternatives such as expanding the container traffic at Tuthukudi (Tuticorin) port and laying of railwayline between Tuthukudi (Tuticorin) and Chennai and pipelines from the westcoast to the eastcoast, for oil and gas distribution should be evaluated.

An alternative sutainable development in the region is to promote heritage and pilgrimage tourism as envisaged by the Tamilnadu Tourism Corporation.

The ingress of the ocean submerging coast lands is an ongoing phenomenon linked to plate tectonics. Boats were tossed out like toys in Nagappattinam on 26 December 2004 when tsunami struck the Tamilnadu coastline.

.The Gulf of Mannar near Rama Setu (Adam’s Bridge) is a fragile ecosystem and any short-sighed policy of the government of India will put the entire coastline at risk.

The marine region is also referred to as Rama’s hotspot, given the intensity of heat flows, apart from evidences for dormant volcanoes (Mannar volcanics are dated back to 105 million years), the region is riddled with fault lines.

The report in Nature magazine of issue dated 6 September 2007 points to the continuous movement of tectonic plates evidenced by a tsunami in 1762 and again in 2004 which pointed to the high probability of another tsunami which will be more devastating than the one which occurred in December 2004 when 260,000 lives were lost.

This impending tsunami is stated to put 60 to 70 million people along the coasts of Bay of Bengal at risk.

Heritage tourism as a sustainable development project

Rama Bhakti adored by Tamilnadu Government

Where the past comes alive…This is the title of the poster published by Tamilnadu Government Tourism Corporation.

On this poster, with Rama and Lakshmana standing nearby, an episode is depicted as a painting showing Vanara carrying large boulders to construct a bridge in the ocean.

Apart from this, “…even now, these waters stand carrying the blessings of Rama’s lotus feet;… this is the spot where the Vanara Sena crossed the ocean to reach Sri Lanka to rescue Sita”

…so says, the Tamilnadu Government Tourism Corporation on this poster. These advertisement posters are depicted on the train carriages of Haridwar-Delhi Janashatabdi Express train.

In this, Tamilnadu Tourism Department is clear that none need entertain any doubts about the existence of Rama Setu. The pamphlet of the department states: “A particular attraction to be seen in this site is the floating stone called Setubandhana used to construct the bridge.”

On the one hand, Chief Minister says, ‘Rama Setu does NOT exist, Rama does NOT exist, all are imaginations’; on the other hand, his Tamilnadu Government, advertises and tries to earn revenue by advertising an episode from Rama’s life and peoples’ bhakti for Rama.

Whether the bhakta-s believe it or not, Chief Minister’s (Kalaijnar’s) Tamilnadu Government believes that eulogies to Rama will yield prosperity.

Blurb from the Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation poster and pamphlet inviting tourists to Rameshwaram: “The floating stone ‘Sethu bandanam’ used to build the sethu Bridge is worth seeing here.” (Based on a report in Thuglak, Tamil weekly of 10 Oct. 2007).

Catalogue of tsunamis in the region

Valmiki Ramayana described in Setubandhana sarga the earliest tsunami in recorded history in what is called the episode of s’aranaagati of Samudra raja (depicted on a painting in Mysore palace by Raja Ravi Verma).

The catalogue of tsunamis given in the annex is taken from the article by BK Rastogi and RK Jaiswal of the National Geophysical Research Institute; http://www.sthjournal.org/253/rastogi.pdf

Professor CSP Iyer with whom I have been associated and who participated in an international seminar on Scientific and Security Aspects of Setusamudram Project had pointed out that the project which cuts through Rama Setu should be shelved. The project would destroy the remarkable natural tsunami-protection wall — Rama Setu with unpredictable consequences on ocean current flows and even climate systems, aspects which should be subjected to detailed multi-disciplinary and scientific studies.

Unlike the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Rama Setu has always been called a bridge since it connected India and Sri Lanka as a land-bridge across the Indian Ocean (Gulf of Mannar bioreserve which harboured a rich and unique ecosystem). Professor Iyer has now participated in the Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA), a Thiruvananthapuram-based group of scientists, technologists and environmental activists which urged the Central government to shelve the the shipping canal project

The canal project had the potential to trigger a series of ecological catastrophes along the Indian coast in the long run, apart from the adverse environmental impact which would be immense. The excavation of the region and effluents from ships will impact on the rich biodiversity all along the Indian coast. The panel led by Professor Iyer who is also former head of Centre for Marine Analytical Reference and Standards (CMARS) said the proposed realignment of the shipping canal to avoid the Adam’s Bridge was not a solution.

‘From 1961 onwards, four alignments were considered for a navigable route connecting the east and west coasts of India,’ the panel said. Iyer noted that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the Setu project had failed to take into account the tsunami or the frequent cyclones hitting the east coast. Dr Rajendran of the Centre for Earth Science Studies said the EIA had not considered the high sedimentation rate of the Palk Bay.

Apart from navigational hazards resulting from a mid-ocean channel passage being subjected to periodic cyclones making it extremely risky to salvage a grounded vessel, continuous navigation is likely to trigger ecological imbalance, affect habitats of aquatic resources such as corals, sea-cow (dugong), green turtle and affect the lives of millions of coastal people whose livelihood is integrally linked to the marine biosphere with 24 marine national parks hugging the coastline of southern India.

Olive Ridley turtles which migrated between Setutirtha (India) and Mahatittha (Sri Lanka) would face extinction. The breeding grounds of over 3,600 aquatic species of flora and fauna would be lost when waters from Bay of Bengal rush into the Gulf of Mannar in a constant stream through a channel created by the Setu project.

Sea grasses and manila reefs (algae) are photoplyktons accounting for the free oxygen of the ecosphere, mitigating the ill-effects of carbon dioxide. The reefs slow-down the waves and act as a natural protection against the onrush of sea currents and thus prevent erosion of the coasts.

It will be a travesty of development if such a situation is created by cutting a channel through a natural barrier of reefs, sand banks and stone constituting Rama Setu. Over 80 Sri Lankan islands would be at risk of erosion and getting flooded. In fact, 34 Sri Lankan experts have warned that any damage to the limestone fresh water caves in Rama Setu is likely to devastate fresh water supplies to Jaffna (Sri Lanka) and Rameswaram (India).

The last tsunami brought in a huge volume of sediments into the Palk Bay – Gulf of Mannar that in some places, the sea bed had risen by as much as 200 metres. It is a nightmare even to contemplate a scenario of oil spills if 30,000 DWT vessels carrying oil products were to pollute the ecosphere.

It will take millennia to restore the ecosphere to its natural state in the region if Setusamudram project is put through without compassion and careful evaluation of all aspects related to the impact of the ecology and marine reserves.

What has taken millions of years to form corals like the turbinella pyrum will be destroyed in one shot by dredging and blasting in the area. What if a nuclear submarine sank there? What would the consequences be in such an eventuality? How many hundreds of years would it take to clean up the mess?

The coral reefs unique to the marine bioreserve at the Gulf of Mannar represent over 8,500- year-old industry that yields s’ankha (turbinella pyrum) which is considered sacred in the Hindu religion. The bangles made of the s’ankha adorn young brides in West Bengal.

Rama Setu was mentioned in ancient literature and it was shortlisted for being labeled an international heritage monument by the World Heritage Watch List based in New York. The ongoing destruction is on the scale of destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha calling the monument a mere stone.

It is time for environmentalists of the world to come together and save Rama Setu.

Sir A R Mudaliar Committee Report 1956 said: Choose canal, NOT mid-ocean channel passage. Reasons: Shifting sandbanks; no possibility of construction of protective works; and navigational hazard. Channel would border on the Setusamudram 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.’

Breach of coastline security

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

A report in scientific journal Nature on 6 September 2007 and carried in major newspapers of the world said there was an imminent threat of tsunami more devastating than the one in 2004. The report states that about 60 – 70 million people of the east coast of India will be at risk. In view of the seriousness of this scientific report, the Central government should immediately suspend all project works along the coastline which could be resumed only after a detailed, multi-disciplinary investigation of the threat to national security and integrity.

In view of this situation, the work on Setusamudram Channel Project should be abandoned immediately and a multi-disciplinary review ordered on the impact of another tsunami on the coastline and the accumulation, and security of thorium/titanium reserves of the nation in this coastal zone.

Issues related to international law

A channel in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay will internationalise the waters of Gulf of Mannar and create an international boundary between India and Srilanka, 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 Srilanka, through Straits of Malacca to the Westcoast of USA. The geopolitical perspective becomes apparent from the location of the US base in Diego Garcia south of Srilanka, of a very low frequency radio station (which uses ocean waves for transmission) at Trincomalee to listen to the submarine chatter and the US naval units in Singapore.

Nuclear coast of the world – Gulf of Mannar

Thorium containing coastal sands south of Rama Setu represent 32% of the known reserves of the world. These placer sands also contain the heaviest concentration of upto 4% of thorium unprecendented in any heavy minerals areas anywhere in the world.

Accumulations of placer deposits containing thorium and titanium in monazite, ilmenite, rutile, garnet and zircon sands of the coastline of Bharatam will be smuggled out through the channel passage.

clip_image002

There is another geopolitical perspective. That relates to the existence of 32% of the world’s reserves of thorium in just three villages south of Rama Setu (details provided below). If these thorium reserves get desiccated and go into the ocean through a future tsunami funneled 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 Rama 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.

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 7 years, according to the statement of Dr. Baldev Raj of Atomic Energy Commission.

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

A serious breach of strategic national security created by the alleged exports of nuclear resources from southern coast of India near Rama 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, Kanniyakumari District, Tamilnadu. Thorium and titanium (strategic atomic and space age metals) are found in these placer sands called ilmenite, rutile, garnet, zircon, monazite.

There are also reports of loss of stockpiles from the Indian Rare Earths Limited offices.

FIRs considered by the Madurai bench of Madras High Court in August 2007 brings out serious concerns related to strategic national security. The entire zone is out of bounds even to the police forces of Tamilnadu state 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.

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

Issues of national sovereignty and heritage protection

Justice VR Krishna Iyer’s letter to PM: I beseech you to reconsider the stand taken if any already. This is a matter of political party business or popularity or pro-American yen…the grave issue with which the nation shall defend its survival.

Justice KT Thomas: It is our duty to make in-depth study of all possible repercussions before destroy the natural geological formations. That apart, the religious sentiments of the majority community in India that Lord Rama created such sea wall must he honored and respected.

Rama Setu as World heritage

Rama Setu should be deemed an ancient monument and a world heritage under UNESCO. The logo of Survey of India mentions aa setu himachalam, meaning: from Setu to Himalayas as Bharatam. This is thus a national metaphor, defining the boundaries of ancient India.

Madras Presidency Administration Report, 1903 and a Travelogue, 1744 refer to the bridge; Glossary entry for Adam’s Bridge: ‘Called the bridge of Rama. 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; but when covered has now here above three or four feet of water.’

clip_image004Asiatic Society, 1799, Asiatick Researches: Or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, P 52 refers to the bridge called Setband (alternative spelling, setuband like Allahband; setu-bandha), 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.’ English word ‘bund’ comes from Bharatiya word: bandha as in setubandha.

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

clip_image006Rama Setu in sculptures

Stone steles from the Ramayana wall carvings at Prambanan temple in Java, Indonesia, that were built during the 9 – 10 centuries; Setubandha venerated as sacred tirtha by Alwars and Nayanmars; and Rameswaram is one of the 12 jyotirlinga sthalams for the pilgrimage to Ganga river is complete only after the pilgrimage to Rameswaram and Setutirtham.

Excerpts from: Alberuni’s India, tr. Edward C. Sachau, Rupa, 2002 (Note: Sarandib is Lanka)

p.196: “The next place on the coast is Ūmmalnāra, then Rāmsher (Rāmeshar?) opposite Sarandib; the distance of the sea between them is 12 farsakh. The distance from Panjayāvar to Rāmsher is 40 farsakh, that between Rāmsher and Setubandha 2 farsakh. Setubandha means bridge of the ocean. It is the dike of Rāma, the son of Dasaratha, which he built from the continent to the castle Lanka. At present it consists of isolated mountains between which the ocean flows. Sixteen farsakh from Setubandha towards the east is Kihkind, the mountains of the monkeys.” …

p.298: “Rāma attacked Rāvana after having crossed the ocean on a dyke of the length of 100 yojan, which he had constructed from a mouintain in a place called Setubandha, i.e. bridge of the ocean, east of Ceylon. He fought with him and killed him, and Rāma’s brother killed the brother of Rāvana, as is descrived in the story of Rāma and Rāmāyana. Thereupon he broke the dyke in ten different places by arrow-shots.” …….. (Note: reference to isolated mountains shows that the sealevel was lower in Al-Beruni’s time and that the geological feature constituting Rama Setu is a rocky formation — not mere sand-shoals).

Numismatic and literary evidence

Ancient Setu (Aryachakravarti) coins of Jaffna, 13th century and Parantaka Chola copper plate (10th century). Copper plate inscription of Parantaka Chola. The copper plates indicate that Aparajitavarman went to Setutirtha.

Kaavya in Prakrit by Setubandha Kavya by the King Damodara Sen (5th Century).

King Pravarasena II (550-600 CE) called “Setu bandha or Ravanavaho, Dasamuha Vadha“. Copper plate inscription of Parantaka Chola

(Nagaswamy R. 1979. Thiruttani and Velanjeri Copper Plates. +State Dept. Of Archaeology, Tamilnadu. Madras. See: L’Hernault F. 1978. L’Iconographie de Subrahmanya au Tamilnad, Institut Francais d’ Indologie. Pondichery, p.111, ph. 63.) The copper plates indicate that Aparajitavarman went to Setutirtha.

Ramayana, Rama and Rama Setu exemplify eternal human values

“The year 1863 will remain cherished and blessed. It was the first time I could read India’s great sacred poem, the divine Ramayana…. This great stream of poetry carries away the bitter leaven left behind by time and purifies us. Whoever has his heart dried up, let him drench it in the Ramayana. Whoever has lost and wept, let him find in it a soothing softness and Nature’s compassion. Whoever has done too much, willed too much, let him drink a long draught of life and youth from this deep chalice…. Everything is narrow in the Occident. Greece is small — I stifle. Judea is dry — I pant. Let me look a little towards lofty Asia, towards the deep Orient. There I find my immense poem, vast as India’s seas, blessed and made golden by the sun, a book of divine harmony in which nothing jars. There reigns a lovable peace, and even in the midst of battle, an infinite softness, an unbounded fraternity extending to all that lives, a bottomless and shoreless ocean of love, piety, clemency. I have found what I was looking for : the bible of kindness. Great poem, receive me !… Let me plunge into it ! It is the sea of milk.”[Michelet, La Bible de l’humanité, volume 5 of Œuvres (Paris : Bibliothèque Larousse, 1930), p. 109-110.]

The Gazetteer prefaced by Karunanidhi on June 14, 1972, says, “Dhanushkodi is also called Setu. Setu means bridge or causeway. It is the place where Sri Ram constructed the causeway to reach Lanka. The story goes that Sri Ram destroyed the bridge with his bow’s end after his return from Lanka”.

Ramayana in Sangam literature

1. kadunter iraaman udanpun.ar seetaiyai

valittakai arakkan vavviya jnaanr-ai

nilamcer madaran.i kan.d.a kurangin

cemmukap perunkil.ai izhaippolindaa angu

aar-aa a varunakai yinidu per-r-ikume (Pur-anaanoor-u paadal 378)

When Arakkan Ravana abducted Sita who came with Rama, the ornaments removed from her body and thrown by her to the ground, the monkey families adorned themselves erratically with these ornaments. People enjoyed seeing this sight.

2. venve_r- kavuniyar tonmudu ko_d.i

muzhangirum pauvam iranku mun tur-ai

velpo_r iraaman arumar-aikku avitta

pal veezh aalam po_la

o_viyavintanr-aal iv azhunkaloore (Akanaanoor-u paadal 70)

Before Sri Rama embarked upon his journey to Sri Lanka, he sat below a big banyan tree on the banks of the sacred Setu (tiruvan.aikkarai) and was engrossed in conversation with his friends. The birds on the banyan tree were chirping. Sri Rama stopped the chirping by his command.

3.Tennavan vayaniya tunnarun tuppir-

Tonmudu kadavul. Pinnar me_ya (Maduraikkaanji, Lines 40, 41)

The word, ‘tennavan’ denotes Ravana. The word, ‘kadavul.’ denotes agastya muni. Agastya muni exiled Ravana from Podiya mountain. The message is that Ravana was driven away without enabling him to rule Tamilnadu.

4. imaiyavil vaangiya i_jncadai andan.an

Umaiyamarndu uyarmalai irundanna_ga

Aiyiru talaiyin arakkar ko_ma_n

Todippoli tadakkaiyir- ki_zhppukuttam malai

Ed.ukkal cella_du uzhappavan po_la (Kalittokai paadal 38)

In the Himalayas, S’iva was seen with Umadevi. Then, the leadere of arakkar, the ten-headed Ravana inserted his hand to lift up that Himalayas. He felt sad that he was not able to dislodge it with his empty hand.

5. Indiran poocai; ival. Akalikai; ivan cenr-a kavutaman; cinanur-ak kalluru onr-iya padiyidu ennurai ceyvo_rum (Paripaadal paadal 19)

In Tirupparankunr-am cittiramandapam (gallery), a painting about Akalikai caapam is seen.

There are many such references in ancient Tamil literature about Ramayana. (These selections are only from Sangam literature and are compiled by Shri K.C. Lakshminarayanan).

Tiruvalangadu plates of Rajaraja Cola I (985 to 1014 CE) describe the king as surpassing Rama in military prowess and crossing the ocean with his powerful armyi and subduing the king of Lanka (David T. Sanford, Ramayana Portraits, Vidya Dehejia ed., The Legend of Rama, Marg Publications, 1994: 54).

Deopara inscription (ca 1100 CE) records that Samantasena, the head-garland of the Brahma-kshatriya proceeded towards Rames’wara Setubandha and subdued the wicked despoilers of the Lakshmi (wealth) of Karnataka (Metcalfe in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXIV, part 1, and afterwards critically edited by Prof. Kielhorn in Epigraphic Indica, Vol. 1.307-11). See: Setubandhanam, a book in Tamil, on Tamil literary references to Rama Setu by Somayajulu (Thanjavur, 2007)

Two quotes from Akanaanooru and Manimekalai:

Adjacent to victorious Pandyas’ ancient Kodikarai (Point ) Thiruvanai, (Ramasethu) the roaring waves that hit on the foreshores , when Raman who had the capacity to be Victorious did the planning of the invasion , all the birds stopped chirping, that make home on the ancient Banyan Trees like that this busy city (Rameswaram) also became quiet. ( Akanaanooru Song 70: Verse 13-17)

When Thirumal (Vishnu) took upon himself the Curse and came on this earth incarnated as Raman, when he wanted to go to Lanka and reached the seashore like the rocks went into the Stomach of the ocean… ( Manimekalai ( 9-12)

[quote] reference to Ram occurs in the epic Silappadikaram – “The Tale of an Anklet”. It was written in the Second Century AD by Ilango Adigal, a prince who became a Jain monk. It is an unforgettable literary masterpiece that was made into an eminently forgettable Tamil film by Karunanidhi himself. In this epic, shepherdesses sing ballads in praise of both Ram and Krishna, clearly identifying them as avatars of Vishnu.

The works of the Vaishnava saints the Alwars, collectively known as “The Sacred Four Thousand,” have innumerable allusions to Ram and the Ramayan. The Alwars prospered between the Sixth and the Tenth Centuries AD. As Vasudha Narayanan points out in her excellent essay on the Ramayan (available at http://www.ramanuja.org), in the work of one Alwar alone there are 106 allusions to Ram and the Ramayan and there are six “sets” of poems (about 63 verses) where the words are spoken by the Alwar in the guise of a character form the Ramayan. This Alwar, it must be noted, is not a Brahmin.

The Saiva saints, the Nayanmars, most of whom are contemporaries of the Alwars, also stud their verses with episodes from the Ramayan. Then we have the greatest Tamil poet of them all, Kamban. [unquote; references provided by P. Ananthakrishnan.]

Just as Kannagi mentioned in Cilappadikaram embodies Tamil culture, Sri Rama mentioned in the same text of Jaina Muni, Ilango Adigalar, and Rama Setu mentioned in many texts from all over the world including Tamil, embody the very essence of the nation of Bharatam. Rama, according to Valmiki is vigrahavan dharmah, the embodiment of dharma, the global and eternal ethic.

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 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
US court backs Indian tribe (Navajo) to prevent desiccation of a sacred mountain in USA

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/20070312-1046-environment-navajos.html

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/

3000 pages of documentation were submitted to the Madras High Court which accepted the arguments that the Rama 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.

Court orders

Evidence for Rama Setu accepted. Courts use the word Rama Setu / Adam’s Bridge. High Court noted: Sir A Ramaswamy Mudaliar Committee expressly rejected the idea of cutting a channel through the bridge and said that the idea should be abandoned.

Ramanathapuram judge: ‘Final opinion could be pronounced only after subjecting their documents to thorough scrutiny with the opinions of experts in the field (archaeology and geology).’

Supreme Court order: ‘Till September 14, the alleged Rama Setu / Adam’s bridge shall not be damaged in any manner. Dredging activity may be carried out so long as it does not damage Rama Setu.’

Scientific results point to man-made structure on a geological feature

Department of Earth Sciences noted in their 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 8000 to 9000 years B P and as recent as 4000 years B P.

On Sri Lanka there are indications of human habitation extending to late Pleistocene (about 13,000 B P) based on bone and fossils of human and animal form. All these point to a flourishing human activity on both sides of Adams Bridge and probably when the sea levels were just right the link between India and Sri Lanka could have been established.

clip_image008A volcanic canyon west of Rama Setu, 1 m to 3000 m slope

clip_image010Abstract  A paleoslump underlies the western toe of the East Comorin Slump at a depth of some 800 meters. To the south, an enlarging and deepening submarine canyon marks the area of slump coalescence. See William Vestal and Allen Lowrie, Geology and Geophysics Branch-Code 7220, U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office NSTL Station, 39522, MS 

http://www.springerlink.com /content/m602j3k746342lnl/

Rama’s hotspot; geoenvironmental concerns

Heat flow in Rama Setu 100 to 180 milliwatt per sq m comparable to Himalayan hot springs. Will dredging at Gulf of Mannar activate these heat zones? It is a criminal act of negligence that the work commenced without consulting the Geological Survey of India which is mandated to provide guidance for such projects.

It will be impossible to provide locks on either end of the channel to prevent disturbance to ocean habitats of aquatic resources mandated under the Law of the Sea.

The protection walls against tsunami for any canal project should be provided along the Indian coastline exposed to future tsunami devastation: example, tsunami wall in Japan. The project does NOT include such protection measures. In fact, NEERI report did not even taken into account past history of cyclones and tsunamis.

Suez canal uses special bollards every 200 feet to salvage a grounded vessel. Such bollards are possible only if a land-based canal is used. According to Captain Balakrishnan, the saving in time from Kolkata to Tuthukudi (Tuticorin) for a ship will be only 1.5 hours.

Is it viable to cross channel at six nautical miles paying pilotage charges (approx Rs 5 lakh per passage)? Even many small ships with only 30,000 DWT (dead weight tonnes) may prefer to navigate around Sri Lanka instead of using the channel.

Annex details serious lapses in design and implementation of Setu channel project which is a nautical folly. As Mr.Cardoze, a famous U.S legal luminary noted, ”Means un lawful in their inception do not become lawful by relation when suspicion turns in to discovery.”

Thus, environmental issues and the issues related to the livelihood of coastal people – both of which are interlinked – lead to only one conclusion. Shelve the Setusamudram navigation project. There are, of course, other serious issues related to national security by creating a mid-ocean channel passage as an international boundary where such a boundary never existed, thus opening up the region to dangerous geopolitical interventions. This is evidenced by the US Navy operational directive of 23 June 2005 refusing to recognize the age-old claim of historic waters and treating them as international waters defying Law of the Sea 1958.

Adverse impact on the livelihood of coastal people, drinking water supplies

37 Srilankan experts caution against eco disasters as detailed in the Annex. The most serious impact cited by the experts is the impairment of drinking water supply to both Rameshwaram in India and Jaffna in Srilanka by the desiccation of limestone-caves in the Rama Setu area containing freshwater aquifers.

Excerpts from the submission made in October 2007, by Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh to the Central Government Setu panel:

[quote] The SSCP would destroy the livelihood of 15 lakh workers, spread over 200 Km. of sea coast, covering six districts of Tamilnadu. Ours is a Welfare State, and providing employment, creating avenues of employment has been the objective, but this is not taken care of in this case. Whenever and where ever, the existing employment is threatened or closed, the Governments have been offering compensation for the losses and providing alternate avenues of employment. In this case, no such steps are declared. It is not the case that the Authorities are not aware of the devastation of employment on a large scale. The workers were advised, a year ago, to search for alternate employments like nursing. Tailoring training centers were opened. Can this solve the displacement of 15 lakh workers? It is reported that the Authorities proposed to bring into operation four shipping harbors at Rameswaram, Thondi, Sethubhavachatram and Mallipatnam, at a cost of 60 crs. This arrangement would not, in any way benefit several lakhs of workers engaged in fishing and related operations spreading over 200 km coast line. Availability of fish and growth of fish is crucial, which the SSCP would impact. At Rameswaram Island, out of 1200 motor boats, only 200 are in operation, as they are not able to secure adequate catch of fish, on voyage, even to meet the expenses of voyage, like the cost of diesel oil.

The self employed fishermen and workers in the supporting activities would become unemployed, and would face starvation as no other avenues are created. The workers are in deep and perennial debts, and there is no other way to them, than to follow the farmers that are resorting to suicides, unable to realize adequate returns on the farm produce and repay loans. The workers are in a depressed mood and worried as the devastation is staring at them. There is no other means of earnings in the Rameswaram Island, and the workers may have to migrate. Whether the anticipated returns of 200 crs. per anum from the ship navigation of SSCP justify devastation of the employment of 15 lakhs of workers ? Can the gains of SSCP supplement the GDP loss (on fishery)?

Geographically, there was a pedestrian passage from Rameswaram towards east to Sri Lanka via Dhanushkodi and Ram Sethu (Ramar Palam), connecting Talai Mannar on the West Coast of Sri Lanka. Which was in use up to the end of 19 th Century. This passage separated the sea waters in between India and Sri Lanka, into Palk Bay on the North and Gulf of Mannar to the South. Besides, it formed a formidable wall in the sea waters which made the sea waters peaceful, providing safe growth for thousands of varieties of fish, costly fish and other marine beings and rare coral reefs. The SSCP would destroy the peace of the sea waters, and environment and ecology of the region. Ram Sethu has been protecting the southern parts of Tamil Nadu and up to Kerala from tsunamis, and the protection offered during the devastating tsunami of December, 2004 is fresh in very ones memory. Whether the SSCP is justified against this devastation?

Accordingly, a delegation of BMS and Bharatiya Shramshodh Mandal submitted objections against the SSCP, before the Expert Committee, Chennai, set up by the Government. [unquote]

Rama Setu and Rames’waram as divya-kshetram

Rama Setu and Rames’waram are divya-kshetram, world heritage. That’s why Rama setu should be protected. It is a divya-kshetram because it represents a unique feature in the globe’s ecosphere.

Time is short and it is important for environmentalists around the world to join hands and prevent the damage to our planet.  

Annex

Serious lapses in design and implementation of Setu channel project

1. Govt. of India stated in its affidavit before Supreme Court that the public hearings were on 28 Jan. & Feb., 2005. Surprisingly the whole coastal area of Tamilnadu was affected by Tsumani of Dec. 26, 2004, and it was impossible to conduct a fair public hearing. The present committee should remedy this serious lapse and arrange for public areas in all district headquarters from all concerned citizens.

2. A complete study is required by the Geological survey of India to determine geotectonic situation in the project area, ocean currents, changes in bathymetry of the Indian ocean after the tsunami of 26 Dec.2004.

3. It is pertinent to note that the project runs through Gulf of Mannar & Palk Bay, both of which are distinctly different ocean current systems; this project would mix & remix the ocean waters rendering the bathymetry of the channel area totally unstable.

4. Consultation with National Institute of Oceanography is also required to delineate the conditions of the ocean; researchers point to the fact that this project area is a sedimentation sink of the world’s ocean currents; continuing sedimentation will be virtually impossible to control noted Sir A Ramaswamy Mudaliar Committee of 1956.

5. This area has already been declared as a marine biosphere of South Asia and it is a highly fertile aquatic breeding are of the country, apart from the 24 marine national parks of Ram Setu area being home to 3,600 aquatic species; a study and consultation report is required from Central Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

6. It is a historically and culturally important area. A detailed study of Archeological survey of India is required in the special context of Marine Archeology for which ASI has established a separate unit.

7. The various study reports, in particular the report of 34 Srilankan experts, invite attention to the dangers that this sethu Samudaram project will also disturb the ground drinking water of the coastal area of Jaffna & Rameshwaram. Consultation with experts in ground water systems is necessary.

8. Geotectonic studies are also required because it is an intense Geothermal activity area (marked as Zone 2 in Heat Flow map of India prepared by Geological Survey of India) and existence of volcanic rocks and hotspring wells along this coastline are known through various studies. Any project work involving dredging and/or blasting is likely to trigger these faultlines in the ecologically fragile zone.

9. It is a well-known fact that in other countries like Japan they have constructed a Tsunami safety walls, since tsunamis recur at the same spots and zone;but, no environment management plan has been prepared by the govt. for the protection of coastal area from Tsunamis. There is a report in the Nature magazine of 6 September 2007 of another more devastating tsunami in this zone, directed towards Rama Setu; Govt. should suspend all coastal project works and order a multi-disciplinary inquiry on the safeguards needed to protect nation’s coastline and peoples’ lives.

10. The displacement problems and livelihood of 138 directly affected villages of fisherman has not been studied.

11. The economic viability aspect of sethu Samudaram project is in question since the project estimates are faulty, have been padded and grossly underestimate the maintenance dredging requirements, apart from ignoring any provisions for salvage operations for grounded vessels, comparable to those provided on Suez and Panama land-based canals. The experiment with a mid-ocean channel passage is an unprecedented project in human history and has not taken into account the warnings issues by Sir A Ramaswamy Mudaliar Committee Report on the impossibility of providing protective works in such a channel and of locks on either end of the channel to separate the Bay of Bengal waters from Gulf of Mannar.

12. Impact on international relations has not been studied.

13. Cost recovery is doubtful. The channel is likely to be a sick-unit from day one.

14. No comparative study has been made on the losses resulting from adverse impacts on fishing industry and aquatic resources industry.

15. Complete study is needed of the historical evolution of local s’ankha industry which is unique in the world as an 8500 year-old continuing industry.

16. There have been no consultations with industrial groups like FICCI, Assocham, traders, NGOs of the coastal region, and Fishermen associations.

17. There is no white paper on technical feasiblity report.

18. Alternative transport systems such as pipelines and highways are growing rapidly in the country. Economics of alternative transport modes, as an alternative to navigation have not been presented.

19. Violation of International sea conventions.

20. Violation of Historic Water Treaty with Srilanka (June 1974 between Smt. Indira Gandhi and Smt. Sirimavo Bandaranaike) declaring the waters as Historic Waters. US Naval Operational Directive of 23 June 2005 questions this declaration and treats these as international waters. By creating the channel along the medial line, under apparent pressure from USA, national sovereignty is impaired, breaking Srilanka apart from India which is effectively connected as a land-mass because of Rama Setu as a functioning bridge linking the two countries for thousands of years. (Annexed is a statement of Former SC Justice VR Krishna Iyer on this issue).

21. Permanent loss of endangered species is an imminent and present danger and due to the continuing dredging in the area, problems of turbidity/loss of sunlight will arise for sea species thus disturbing the sea habitat which is a violation of the Law of the Sea 1958 conventions.

22. The project disturbs the world’s unique, and richest coral reef area.

23. The affected project area includes the coastal line of Kerala, which was required to be studied. Failure to study this coastal region’s placer deposit wealth is a serious neglect, endangering the safety of the South India’s coastline including the coastline of Kerala.

24. The impending loss of Thorium deposit of the country in placer deposits of monazite, ilmenite, rutile, zircon and garnet placer deposits along the coastline.

25. For a comprehensive archeological study, the travelers; reports from 14 th Century to 18th Century, ancient coins, sculptures, districts gazettes and districts manuals are to be studied and considered.

26. The name, ‘Sethu-‘ in ‘Sethusamudram’ indicates the cause and reason for historicity; district Rameshwaram is named after Shri Ram venerated as Rashtrapurush on the Constitution of India; both facets of historical and religious importance are to be considered and studied before carrying out any project on Rama Setu. The name ‘Setu’ meaning bridge, artificial bund (English word bund comes from Bandha, Setubandha of Bharatiya traditions) and mostly the persons around the locality are named after Sethu as well as Shri Ram. The project shall not, in violation of Section 295 of Indian Penal Code, make any invasion into the belief and faith or religious ceremony and religious importance attached to the world heritage ancient monument.

27. There are so many references of Ram Setu in Indian scriptures & sculptures, indicating the construction of Setu by Shri Rama and required to be studied are works such as Valmiki Ramayana, Kamba Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vishnu Purana, Agni Purana, Skanda Purana, Garuda Purana, Narada Purana and variouos other books such as Setubandha of King Damodara Sena of 5 thcentury, relating with the Indian culture, especially R.C. Majumdar’s book on history of India and Asiatic Society researches and travelogues during the colonial regime, including Presidency Manuals of the British regime and correspondences of Lord Pentland of Madras Presidency with the Viceroy.

28. There are so many places in India and specially in the context of Ram Setu in this particular area, both iin Srilanka and Tamil Nadu, whose relevance can be linked in the context of the Itihasa and facts outlined in the Ramayana.

29. The Sethu Samudram project also endangers National security and it is grave danger to Kalpakam Atomic Station which requires studies by both Atomic Scientists along with the project Scientists, geopolitical and security experts.

30. Threat by LTTE is not assessed and it requires to be studied in the of the ocean border strategies

31. Study of geopolitics is required especially in context of US Navy operational directive related to the area issued on 23 rd June.2005.

32. The creation of channel would alter the International Waters Boundary which would enable the neighbouring countries to restrict the operations of Indian Coast Guard and pose a threat to naval security.

33. No proper appraisal of earlier study reports from 1860 to 1981 and reasons why the British abandoned the idea of a navigational passage through the Gulf of Mannar and instead chose a Railwayline between Kolkata and Bombay to transport the mineral wealth for export.

34. A fresh study report is also required for assessing of the necessity of the project in the context of the existence of the Pamban gap with a Railway cantilever bridge which provides for navigation by small naval craft.

35. A proper study and consideration is needed of religious sentiments of entire Hindu Community before carrying out the present channel project.

36. There are dangers of losing flora and fauna due to oil spillage during navigation.

37. A comprehensive study is needed for simulating and evaluating the impact of changing of ocean currents in future.

38. Impact of future climatic changes is required to be analyzed especially in contest of cyclones, tsunami & global warming.

The imperative of abandoning the Setu channel project is succinctly stated in the following:

Statement issued by Shri. V.R.Krishna Iyer former Supreme Court Judge on 14 August 2007

According to Mr.Cardoze , famous U.S legal luminary, ”Means un lawful in their inception do not become lawful by relation when suspicion turns in to discovery.”

These words come to me when I talk of the Sethusamudaram Channel Project. The callousness with which such a big project is conceptualized and implemented is an unpardonable act.

First of all I would like to state that neither I nor any patriotic citizen could support this project. It is a serious fault that neither scientists, technocrats nor Indian Navy had been consulted and sought their opinions before this project was conceptualized. More over the project is an open challenge to age old Hindu beliefs.

At least the opinion that the implementation of this project as envisaged now may lead to oceanic eruptions like Tsunami should be considered and studied.

According Shri Kalyanaraman, the reputed researcher, this project would invite disasters like Tsunami to our southern coast and pose as a threat to the valuable mineral sand deposits along this coast .

Unlike in the case of Suez Canal, this canal penetrates deep in to the seabed. All this testifies that the construction of the canal is unwarranted .

I suspect that the haste with which he project is proposed to be completed, ignoring the welfare and progress of he people of India may be to further the interests of countries like America . About this I had send an emergency message to our Hon. Prime Minister.

What ever it maybe, it is the duty of every Indian to see that this historic and holy monument is protected. With out succumbing to the pressures from foreign forces all should strongly oppose this project.

I call upon each Indian to come forward and fight for such an important cause with out compromise.

Sd. VR Krishna Iyer

Catalogue of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean

11 Dec 1681. “Strong earthquake” shook the Sumatra mountains near Mentawai Archipelago and a seaquake was observed.

3 Nov 1756. Many houses collapsed in several towns of Sumatra near to Enganno Is. No tsunami was reported.

No date, 1770. Severe damage in the same general area as the 1756 event, but a tsunami was reported.

10-11 Feb 1797, Mw 8.2. A large earthquake and tsunami was observed in ports on the coast of the mainland and on the Batu Is. Waves of great force near Padang (0.99S 100.37E) The town was inundated and more than 300 fatalities occurred (Heck, 1947).

18 Mar 1818. A very strong shock associated with both tsunami and seaquake near to Enganno Island.

24 Nov 1833. The great earthquake of magnitude > 8.7 had maximum intensities and generated a tsunami over 550km along the south central coast of Sumatra that also caused much damage to the coast. Numerous deaths occurred in W. Sumatra. This earthquake ruptured the plate margin from the southern island of Enggano to Batu.

5-6 Jan 1843, Mw 7.2. The earthquake caused severe damage, liquefaction and many fatalities in Nias Is. A tremendous tsunami wiped out towns on the east coast of Nias and mainland. The damage and associated tsunami were very localized. The village of Barus (2N 98.38E) and Palan Nias (Nias Is. 1.1N 97.55E) reported large waves on two days.

11 Nov 1852. Earthquake near Nias generated seaquake.

16 Feb 1861. A great earthquake of magnitude 8.5 ruptured a major segment of the plate boundary in northern Sumatra. The tsunami that was generated extended over 500km along the arc. Tsunami destroyed southern towns of Batu Is., and a town on the southwest side of Nias experienced a tsunami height of 7m. The earthquake and tsunami caused 1000s of fatalities at west coast of Sumatra. Two aftershocks on March 9 and April 26, 1861 also caused tsunamis. There was no major shock for almost 50years.

The historic record shows that the strongest tsunami was associated with the volcanic eruption of Krakatau in Indonesia on 27 Aug. 1883. The 35m-high tsunami took a toll of 36,000 lives in western Java and southern Sumatra. Tsunami waves were observed throughout the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the American West Coast, South America, and even as far away as the English Channel. On the facing coasts of Java and Sumatra the sea flood went many kilometers inland and caused such vast loss of life that one area was never resettled and is now the Ujung Kulon nature reserve.

Subsequent local tsunamis in the Sunda Strait were generated by the 1927 and 1928 eruptions of the new volcano of Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau) that formed in the area. Although large tsunamis were generated from these recent events, the heights of the waves attenuated rapidly away from the source region, because their periods and wavelengths were very short. There was no report of damage from these more recent tsunamis in the Sunda Strait (George, 2003).

According to ancient Japanese scriptures, the first known supercolossal eruption of Krakatau occurred in the year 416 A. D. – Some have reported it to occur in 535 A.D. The energy of this eruption is estimated to have been about 400 megatons of TNT, or the equivalent of 20,000 Hiroshima bombs. This violent early eruption destroyed the volcano, which collapsed and created a 7 km wide submarine caldera. The remnants of this earlier violent volcanic explosion were the three islands of Krakatau, Verlaten and Lang (Rakata, Panjang, and Sertung). Undoubtedly the 416 A.D. eruption/explosion/collapse generated a series of catastrophic tsunamis, which must have been much greater than those generated in 1883. The time of tsunami with wave height of several meters that affected Tamilnadu in India matches with this early Krakatau eruption. However, there are no other records to document the size of these early tsunamis or the destruction they caused. Subsequent to the 416 A.D. eruption and prior to 1883, three volcanic cones of Krakatau and at least one older caldera had combined again to form the island of Rakata.

4 Jan 1907, Ms 7.6. This event caused tsunamis that devastated Simeuleu, Nias and Batu Islands of Sumatra and extended over 950km as measured by tide gauges.

25 June 1914. M7.6 earthquake destroyed buildings in southern Sumatra. No tsunami was reported.

1935: Mw 7.7. Tsunami in SW Sumatra.

The 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake of magnitude 9.3 generated 30m-high tsunami when upward slip of the ocean floor was up to 15m along a 1300 km long and 160 to 240km wide rupture. It was the deadliest tsunami killing about 300.000 people in 13 countries situated all around the Indian Ocean. The earthquake had created large thrust ridges, about 1500m high, which collapsed in places to produce large landslides, several kilometers across. The force of displaced water was such that blocks of rocks, massing millions of tons apiece, were dragged as much as 10km. An oceanic trench several kilometers wide was also formed. The run up in the India was 5m or less.

Magnitude 8.7 great Sumatra Earthquake of 28 Mar. 2005 with an upward movement of 2m of seafloor in an area of 400kmx100km generated locally damaging 4m-high tsunami that struck nearby islands and coastal Sumatra and was recorded by tidal stations in the Indian Ocean (asc.India.org). The earthquake and tsunami killed 665 people. The tsunami struck Nias Island with wave heights of 4-5 m. A 3-4m wave struck the islands of Banyak and Simeulue and the Singkil district of Sumatra. According to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) tide gauges in the Indian Ocean recorded minor wave activity in the Australian Cocos Island (10-22cm), the Maldives (10cm), and Sri Lanka (25-30cm).

TSUNAMIS THAT AFFECTED THE INDIAN REGION AND VICINITY

Though rare, tsunamis have hit India earlier. The tsunamis in the Indian region and vicinity are listed in Table 2. The oldest record of tsunami is available from November 326 BC earthquake near the Indus delta /Kutch region that set off massive sea waves in the Arabian Sea. Alexander the Great was returning to Greece after his conquest and wanted to go back by a sea route. But a tsunami due to an earthquake of large magnitude destroyed the mighty Macedonian fleet (Lisitzin, 1974).

Poompuhar is a town in the southern part of India in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was a flourishing ancient town known as Kaveripattinam that was washed away in what is now recognized as an ancient Tsunami in about 500 CE This time matches with the Krakatoa explosion.

There is mention of tsunami effect in scriptures at Nagapattinam in 900CE that destroyed a Budhist monastery. According to literature available in the library of Thondaiman kingdom in Puduckottai, Tamilnadu, it was during the reign of Raja Raja Chola that waves had washed away the monastery and several temples and killed hundreds of people. There is evidence of this in Kalaki Krishnamurty’s book “Ponniyin Selvan- The Pinacle of Sacrifice”. In the chapter “The Sea Rises”, the author explains how the sea had risen very high and the black mountain of water moved forward. The sea inundated warehouses and sheds and began to flow into the streets. Ships and boats seemed suspended in mid-air, precariously poised on the water peaks. The book also describes how an elephant was swallowed by the gushing water.

Lankan experts caution against eco disasters

*By Ravi Ladduwahetty *

An eminent 34- member advisory group of Sri Lankan professionals have cautioned that the Sethusamudram canal dredging project could have disastrous environment impacts, particularly, maritime environment, for SriLanka.

What is most disconcerting is the absence of any response from the Indian Government to the Lankan concerns.

The Group, after a year’s study, submitted their report to Foreign Secretary Dr. Palitha Kohona, earlier this month.

The Experts Group comprised Secretary, Education Ministry Ariyaratne Hewage – Chairman, Peradeniya University Professor of Geography Shantha Hennayake -Deputy Chairman, Special Advisor, Technical Planning & Development,SriLanka Ports Authority, Prasanna Weerasinghe and Systems Advisor, Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), Tikiri Jayatilleke.

The Advisory Group was supported by sub committees from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headed by Assistant Director Sugeesawara Gunatunga, on hydrodynamic modeling headed by Moratuwa University’s Prof of Coastal  Engineering Samantha Hettiarachchi, on Environmental Measures for Sustainability headed by the Director, Institute of Technological Studies, Dr Aziz Mubarak, including IUCN Ecologist Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya and Head of Oceanography, NARA, K. Arulananthan, on Fisheries Resources & Livelihood,headed by Head of Marine Biological Resources, NARA, Dr Champa Amarasiri and on Navigational Emergencies headed by Commander Y.N. Jayaratne, Sri Lanka Navy.

The primary concern for Sri Lanka is that the initial dredging, the infinite maintenance dredging and subsequent shipping through the channel, could have negative impacts on Sri Lanka’s maritime and environment resources, sources in the Advisory Group told The Nation yesterday.

Another major Sri Lankan concern which also relates to environment resources, is that the Indian studies have not taken into account the single environment impact on the Sri Lankan side of the international boundary,  they said.

The Advisory Group is of the view that, despite the SSCP being located only one mile away from the Indian side of the maritime boundary, the impact is unlikely to remain only on the Indian side and that, Sri Lanka’s concerns  have become even more significant, in the light of insufficient attention paid to minimise the environmental aspects on the Lankan side of the boundary.

The Advisory Group has also noted that the Environmental Impact Assessment  (EIA) carried out by India is inadequate for a number of reasons.

The Nation in its edition of January 7, 2007, exclusively reported that, despite the Indian assertion (Commercial Counsellor, Indian High Commission,  Colombo, Sanjay Sudhir refers) that it has shared the Ahamedabad based Indian National Environment & Ecological Research Institute (NEERI) report with Sri Lanka, is insufficient justification to prove that there will be no  adverse impact on the environment. Simply because, the NEERI report by itself, was flawed and was sufficient legal justification to put the entire NEERI repot into scientific question.

For example, the NEERI report is yet to explain the sedimentation issue, silting possibilities and underwater ocean currents, when the canal is onstructed.

According to Sudharshan Rodriguez, a Chennai based conservation analyst, the EIA report furnished by NEERI, has used secondary data going back to 1976.

“Hence, how can a project, which will pass through a biological hot spot,  with so many likely impacts, be assessed on the basis of secondary data?” is the next most logical question.

The Convenor, Indian Coastal Action Network, Ossie Fernandez has alleged  that the NEERI EIA report is also a re-hash of the preliminary report and that, many activists and professionals are querying the data sources,  including the bio diversity readings.

Furthermore, there would be increased turbidity, which has never been  studied by NEERI, which has neither studied the possibility of a tsunami through the canal water flow, due to the deep water channel linking the  Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.

The United Nations Law of the Sea mandates that neighbouring States need to be consulted and sufficient safeguards and guarantees provided.

Fishery resources

There is also concern of the lack of concern on the Indian side, of the unique, biologically rich resource areas linking two Marine Eco systems in the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Bay. Unless accurate forecasts are made of the mitigation effects, it could eventually destroy this fragile marine ecosystem. This is all the more significant in the light of the Northern and North western communities in Sri Lanka being heavily dependent on the fisheries resources of this area.

The concerns that Sri Lanka has expressed are protecting the endangered species, protecting the fisheries resources, the coastal and maritime ecodiversity system, integrity of the eco system in the seas around the island and immediate and long-term ecological stability.

According to research done in Jaffna, by Sri Lanka born Monash University’s Professor of Systems Ecology and UNDP Consultant Prof. Ranil Senanayake, fresh water fish such as Dandiya (Rasbora Daniconius), Tittaya (Amblypharygnodon Melenittus) and Amblypharygnodon Melenittus, migrate down towards underground caverns and chambers, during dry weather and surface when it rains. This also demonstrates the existence of massive underground freshwater caves off Jaffna, with which the salt water of the Palk Straits would mix, if the dredging continues.

This is a shallow area which is highly productive, biologically. As a consequence to the dredging, rare species of mammals, dugongs and fish and invertebrates such as the guitar shark and cone shells would become extinct.

One cone shell (Conus Zonatus and Conus Gloria Maris) is worth around US$3,500 apiece.

Dredging will also reduce the photosynthetic rate, resulting in the collapse of the fishing industry.

Ecological and archaeological concerns

Among a host of serious problems, one major issue is that the canal is to be dug through vesicular limestone, which is a formation of limestone, consequent to the myocene sea encroaching upon parts of Northern Sri Lanka  and Southern India. This entails Mannar and Jaffna on the Sri Lankan side and Tuthukudi (Tuticorin) and Rameswaran on the Indian side, which means that the groundwater on both sides of the channel, would be affected.

It is also salient that no maritime archaeology has been conducted on this site. Scientific evidence, in a paper presented by Prof. Senanayake, indicates that 13,000-years ago, the area around the Kalpitiya lagoon, up to  Mannar, was forested. Even today, stumps of old trees are found underwater.

There are innumerable stories in Sinhala history, regarding noblemen and royalty living underwater.

Navigational Emergencies

Sri Lanka has proposed that a plan to ensure vessels that cause pollution and oil spillage are identified and necessary compensation mechanisms put in place, is established. Sri Lanka should, invariably, be involved in the preparation of contingency plans for oil spills, including modalities to work out the cost of marine pollution and other navigational emergencies and how they be met.

Recommendations

Sri Lanka has also proposed the sharing of information on existing studies and collaboration on further studies and assessments and the setting up of a common database. Also that a Joint Environment Management Plan for impact assessment and monitoring of the project area be established.

Both Sri Lanka and India will be tremendously benefited if the recommendations are implemented to minimize the adverse environmental impacts of the SSCP, the Advisory Group has pointed out.

http://www.nation.lk/2007/04/22/newsfe3.htm

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