It will take millennia to restore the ecosphere to its natural state in the region if Sethusamudram 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 Sethu 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 Sethu.
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 Sethusamudram 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 Sethu 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.
Rama Sethu should be deemed an ancient monument and a world heritage under UNESCO. The logo of Survey of India mentions aa setu himachalam, meaning: from Sethu 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.’
Asiatic 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.
Ancient Sethu (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.
Rama Sethu 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.
Evidence for Rama Sethu accepted. Courts use the word Rama Sethu / 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 Sethu / Adam’s bridge shall not be damaged in any manner. Dredging activity may be carried out so long as it does not damage Rama Sethu.’
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.
Heat flow in Rama Sethu 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.
If a land-based canal alignment is chosen, it will be possible to provide locks on either end of the canal 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: 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 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.
Time is short and it is important for environmentalists around the world to join hands and prevent the damage to our planet.
(The author is a scholar and director, Sarasvati Research Centre.)