Bharatiya Janata Party
25th & 26th June 2007
Parliament Annexe, New Delhi
SAVE RAM SETU, SAVE HERITAGE, SAVE INDIA
The Bharatiya Janata Party expresses its grave concern over the total insensitivity and obduracy on the part of the UPA Government and in particular of the Shipping and Transport Minister Shri T.R. Balu in unabashedly proceeding with the implementation of the controversial alignment of the Setu Samudram Canal Project (SSCP) by completely ignoring the opinions of internationally recognized experts, rejecting the appeals from all sections of the society including signatures by 3.6 million people submitted to the President of India demanding a change in the present alignment of the SSCP which is bound to destroy the bridge which is revered by millions of people Hindus, Muslims and Christians as Setu Mandir, Rama Setu, Adi Setu, Adam's Bridge etc., and is considered as the most ancient heritage of our country. Delegations of Acharya Sabha and representatives of Shankaracharyas had waited upon the President and the Prime Minister to apprise them of the strong resentment in the people because they apprehended imminent destruction of the Setu if the proposed alignment was implemented. The Acharyas impressed upon both of them the religious and cultural importance of Ram-Setu and the deep sentiments of the people associated with the Setu. The Prime Minister asked them to meet the Shipping Minister.
The Acharya Sabha delegation met Shri Balu, and categorically told him that the opposition was not to the Project but to the alignment and for selecting it arbitrarily which has hurt the sentiments of the people. They also requested to suspend the dredging and to explore the possibility of selecting an alternative alignment which was feasible and would also save the Setu. During the talks Shri Balu invited the Acharyas to visit the site before further discussions. Despite repeated requests from the Acharya Sabha the Minister has been avoiding their visit to the site on one pretext or the other. Obviously he and the government have something to hide. What is even more reprehensible is his statement that those who are opposing the Project are antinational. Infact the Minister, through his various statements, was trying to misguide the public by denying even the existence of a Setu constructed between India and Srilanka in the hoary past. The government has also turned a blind eye to the representations of thousands of fishermen who will lose their only source of livelihood.
In the month of March 2007 reports were received about wide spread opposition, particularly in the districts of Madurai and Ramnathpuram and the Rameshwaram region, to the dredging which was about to hit the Setu. Considering the gravity of the situation and importance of the Ram Setu for crores of people who believed the bridge to have been constructed at the command of Shri Ram, the BJP appointed a fact finding Committee with Dr. M.M. Joshi, Sarvashri Yashwant Sinha, Vedprakash Goyal, Shreegopal Vyas, Su Thirunavukkarasar, all M.Ps. and Shri La Ganeshan President Tamil Nadu State B.J.P. The committee visited Chennai, Ramnathpuram, Rameshwaram region and Dhanushkodi between 19th to 22nd March. The Committee also visited the Project Office at Rameshwaram and had a discussion with the officers. The Committee has during and subsequent to their visit interacted with scholars, journalists, scientists, retired navy officers, fishermen, lawyers, local leaders, activists working for environmental concerns, and also religious leaders. Following are the facts that emerged:
A. RAMSETU IS A FACT NOT A MYTH
In order to confuse the public mind it was being propagated that there was no archeological or historic existence of the Rama Setu or Adam's Bridge in Rameshwaram. Apart from what has been described in the two epics Ramayan and Mahabharat and other Indian texts the existence of Rama Setu has been confirmed by several foreign travelers including the Venetian traveller Marco Polo (1254-1324), cartographers, the images released by NASA and Isro, and the maps prepared in 1747, 1788 and 1804. Also the Manual of the Administration of Madras Presidency mentions both Adam's Bridge and Rama Setu. It also says that the Setu was used for pedestrian traffic between India and Sri Lanka until 1480.
The sculptures in Prambanan Temple (9th Cent.) in Indonesia depict the story of the construction of the Setu.
Experts like S. Badrinarayan former Director of Geological Survey of India and other Scientists including those in the Earth Science Department of Government of India have opined that the Setu is not a natural formation. All these facts fully support the continuing existence of world's most ancient man made bridge Ram Setu.
B. WHY PEOPLE OPPOSE THE PRESENT ALIGNMENT
The SSCP was first conceived during 1860 to 1922 with a view to avoid circumnavigation around Sri Lanka in order to reduce time, distance and cost for the ships passing from the west to east coast and vice-versa. Nine proposals were formulated for cutting a channel across the narrow strip of land mostly through the Rameshwaram island. The project was later abandoned. In the post-independence era the project was again revived and several Committees were formed. The 1956 Committee headed by Shri A.R. Mudaliar categorically stated that the Adam's Bridge (Ram Setu) site, (that is the present alignment) was unsuitable and also the idea of cutting a passage in the sea through the Adam's Bridge should be abandoned.
The Rameshwaram Ship Canal Scheme (now SSCP) was investigated three times in the last sixty years and at all these occasions the canal was sought to be sited on the island. All these Committees recommended to have a land based canal like Suez or Panama.
The new channel alignment on which Mr.Balu and the Government of India are insisting to implement was never considered by any of the Committees since 1860 when Commander Taylor proposed a canal.
It has also been pointed out by experts that the Ram Setu divides the turbulent Bay of Bengal from the calm and tranquil waters of Gulf of Mannar. Due to this condition a very rare species of corals and other rare sea organisms grew in the Gulf or Mannar. The fishermen have been crying for this very reason that rare species of fish would become extinct which will render several thousand families jobless.
Scientists are worried over the irretrievable loss of flora and fauna. The consequences of cutting the Setu will be calamitous for over 3,600 exotic varieties of marine and plant life which will become extinct and may also affect the delicate ecosystem in the area. If the habitat of the fish is affected obviously then hundreds of fishing villages along the coast would face extinction.
Climatologists have opined that cutting the Setu will seriously affect the monsoon conditions and thereby the rainfall and its distribution resulting in irreversible climate changes in the main land.
The NEERI report which is being cited by Shri Balu as the basis of the present alignment was submitted before the occurrence of TSUNAMI in December 2004. No post Tsunami evaluation have been conducted in the region and no account has been taken of the radical changes in the bathymetry produced by Tsunami in under the sea and what would be the effect of a future tsunami.
The PMO itself raised some serious queries on 8th March 2005 which were responded by the Chairman Tuticoran Port Trust on 30th June 2005 without any reference to NEERI of Nagpur and NIOT of Chennai. It is unimaginable that serious queries can be summarily disposed like a telegraphic reply within such a short time, specially when Prof. Tad S. Murthy the world renowned tsunami expert had raised serious objections. Prof. Murthy had pointed out that in case of a future tsunami the present alignment is likely to create a devastating impact on southern Kerala.
This raises serious concerns of the absence of due diligence and utter disregard for the concerns expressed about the destruction of Kerala. What is even more strange that the PMO failed in applying their mind to get the reevaluation of the project done by experts, instead accepted blindly the casual reply by the Chairman Tuticoran Port Trust on 30th June and the Prime Minister and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi hastily inaugurated the Project on 2nd July.
Scientists also point out to the huge deposit of underwater minerals in the area adjoining the Ram Setu. A C.S.I.R. team studying placer deposits in the area, found that an estimated 40 million tonnes of Titanium alone have been deposited in the entire stretch of 500 Km coastline. Tsunami of December 2004 has changed the entire bathymetry of the area and hence the distribution of under water minerals.
The effect of cutting a Channel across the Setu on the sands containing black thorium of Kerala deposited close to Ram Setu has not been taken into consideration as also the loss of radioactive thorium due to the disastrous impact of future tsunami of Kerala coasts has also not been evaluated.
The security aspects related to the SSCP have not been taken into consideration. Reports are that Navy has not been consulted at any stage about the Project. The channel as it is designed is not meant for heavy vessels. At present the channel will be most favourable for vessels in the range of 20,000 to 30,000 DWT. Further, in a water based Channel piloting is essential. One wonders whether any vessel would prefer to use the channel by paying heavy piloting charges and suffering long delays due to shortage of pilots as compared to the time loss in circumnavigating around Sri Lanka? Perhaps the channel would serve empty vessels and/or small ships which will render the service economically unviable.
What is agitating the minds of the people is that when several alternative alignments that do not destroy the Setu are available why was an alignment arbitrarily decided which cuts across the Ram Setu ignoring all expert opinion and that too without consulting the Navy for the geostrategic maritime implications. It has also been reported that Dr. Tad S. Murthy was puzzled when he received a fax message date line February 2005 in the month of May with a request to give his reply within 24 hours. This is yet another example of how perfunctory approach was adopted by the Tuticoran Port Trust Chairperson in dealing the service enquiries regarding the SSCP.
There has been a serious breach in foreign policy, by the Indian Government in NOT reiterating the rights of India in historic waters of Gulf of Mannar. These rights have been consistently held by all Governments so far. But the U.S. Government does not recognise this claim. And the Government of India has miserably failed quietly acquiescing with the US Navy operational directives.
It may be recalled that the Tuticoran Port Trust Chairperson replied to the queries of the PMO on 30th June and note the date (23.06.05) of US Navy operational directives refusing to recognise Indian claim on historic waters.
The new alignment is dangerously close to the international waters boundary between India and Sri Lanka and it does NOT facilitate free coast guard movements from both left and right banks of the channel. Many fishermen have suffered because due to dredging operations the catches have been dwindling and they are forced to scout in the areas close to the median line sometimes even in the Sri Lankan waters. Over the past two months or so many fishermen have been killed either by Sri Lankan Navy or the LTTE. If the alignment is not changed the situation might further aggravate.
Justice Krishna Iyer in a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister had appealed to stop building any bridge or other construction, an action hostile to the nation and its swaraj. He also opined that our nation will be weaker and may suffer new dangers as this project would be detrimental to India's territorial interests.
Padma Bhushan Justice K.T. Thomas former Justice of the Supreme Court has categorically stated that, in projects like this (SSCP) decisions are to be based not only on a study of geological implications, the religious sentiments of the people are also to be taken into account. In his opinion the Ram Setu must not be broken.
During the debate on this issue in the Rajya Sabha Members cutting across their political affiliation supported the plea for preserving Ram Setu as it was a unique heritage and a matter of pride for us.
After the visit of the Committee a letter was written to the Prime Minister stating that, while the BJP was not opposed to the SSCP but was certainly and seriously concerned with the preservation of this unique and rich cultural heritage of our country which should be declared as world heritage.
It is indeed shocking that even after this mounting opposition from all quarters, the UPA government has remained completely insensitive to this popular demand and has adopted a stony silence on this issue. Till today there has been no response from the Prime Minister on the letter sent in the month of March. In the opinion of the BJP the UPA government has shown utter disregard not only to the sentiments of crores of Hindus but also of all communities. It is now abundantly clear that the UPA government led and guided by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has scant respect for the ancient heritage of India.
In the opinion of the BJP, the present alignment of the SSCP should be abandoned and work on the site should be stopped forthwith. Party also demands that
1) A reevaluation of the project should be done taking in to consideration the effect of post tsunami changes in the bathymetry.
2) The effect of any future tsunami on South Kerala and other parts should be carefully investigated. Its effect on the placer deposits and the implications of the natural radio activity should be thoroughly examined.
3) Effects on the delicate ecosystem and the monsoon formation in the mainland be systematically studied. Serious efforts should be made to preserve the exotic marine life and plants.
4) Navy should be consulted for the geostrategic impact of the SSCP.
5) Since Ram Setu is an ancient formation and is close to the thorium sands of Kerala Coastline, the geological significance of the entire region should be studied with particular reference to India's nuclear programme initiatives.
6) A large number of fishermen and their families have suffered due to the adverse effect of dredging, they should be duly compensated.
7) Alternative alignment for having a land based canal should be selected. A committee consisting of renowned experts belonging to disciplines like underwater archeology, environment and climatology, earth scientists, atomic scientists along with representatives of navy and other geostrategic experts be formed for this purpose. Representatives of Acharya Sabha and other religious leaders should also be associated with it so that neither the Ram Setu nor any other religious shrine is destroyed.
8) UPA government should assert its right of Historical waters in this region.
9) The government should make serious efforts for Ram Setu being declared as world heritage since this is the world's oldest man made bridge. Sentiments of the people must be respected.
The BJP appeals the countrymen belonging to all communities to unite and work for preserving India's heritage and pride.