Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ram Sethu: Where is the conflict?

A closer look at Ram Sethu issue leads to a quagmire. I can’t see any real conflict. An objective analysis does not indicate any need for controversies, unless somebody really wants to create one. Perhaps that is what we are witnessing now.

It is the belief of millions of people that Ram Sethu was built by the forces of Lord Rama. There is also a belief that the events in Ramayana refer to a war between Aryans and Dravidians. These are all traditions that originated some time in the distant past and survived through thousands of years. As Henry James (1843-1916) said, “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.” In this light, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) affidavit before the Supreme Court on Ram Sethu, though subsequently withdrawn, was unfortunate.

There is another side to it, however. For instance, I am a Syrian Christian who firmly believes that St. Thomas founded our Church. That is the tradition among the people. But if I were asked to submit an affidavit on it in a court of law, I would have to say that there is no historic evidence about the Apostle ever landing in Kerala. Several historians have and still do, say this, but I have not heard of any Syrian Christian getting emotional about such statements.

The objective of building Ram Sethu would have been a limited one – to send armies to Lanka and rescue Sita. Therefore, the requirement was not a solid structure to survive millennia but a functional temporary causeway sufficient for the immediate purpose on hand. Leaving the bridge usable after the target was achieved would not have been wise militarily either. In any case, there was no reason at that time to have a permanent land route to Lanka.

Where would such a bridge have been built? Naturally at the shallowest, easiest and fastest to construct alignment. The location of Ram Sethu confirms this. Logic brings one to the conclusion that a temporary causeway was built using the existing shoals as base. The Adam’s Bridge, according to what I have read, is much older than Ramayna. The causeway which was raised on it had served its purpose and would have been washed away during the centuries that have rolled by with the waves. Perhaps some parts of it still remain. The name Ramaar Paalam or Ram Sethu merely signifies an event in the traditions.

Is there something sacrosanct about Ram Sethu? If there is, would the BJP led government have, according to reports, reactivated the 1860 scheme of Alfred D. Taylor to cut a shipping channel through it to connect Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar? The obvious answer is no. And, if the project can help mankind, would Lord Rama like it being shelved again? (One website mentioned that a couple of dredgers engaged at the site broke down because Rama is angry. If that is the case, there is nothing to worry. Divine intervention will protect Ram Sethu.)

Now, will the project help the people? One view expressed is that it will only benefit the shipping companies and the politicians. I don’t know about the latter, but reducing the turnaround time of any carrier makes sound economic sense. The benefits are bound to percolate down to the people as well.

Another apprehension is that this project is meant to expedite the growth of the Tuticorin Port in Tamil Nadu and sabotage the development of the Vizhinjam Harbor project in Kerala. The question here is whether the BJP which has at least some base in Kerala, would have agreed to an arrangement favorable to Tamil Nadu where it does not seem to have any significant following.

The real concern, I feel, should be the environmental implications of Ram Sethu project. The Techno-Economic Feasibility study for the scheme was reportedly done by the Tuticorin Port Trust. Was it an independent work by competent people, free of political interference? There was one indication that the World Monuments Fund had suggested that divers should be asked to collect samples from the seabed near Ram Sethu for analysis. I can’t trace any further information on this.

Those who are for the shipping canal project repeatedly assert that ecological hazards have been carefully assessed and addressed. One claim is that dredging process has been chosen for the scheme since blasting the seabed would cause environmental damage. According to them five different alignments were considered by two different governments. Some media reports say that the present route through Ram Sethu was accepted by both the earlier BJP led government and the present UPA one after studying all aspects.

In the name of a project that may or may not be implemented, enough damage has been already done by the politicians and the fanatics. Is this what Rama Rajyam envisages?


Also see:

Ram Sethu controversy

Adam's Bridge & Adam's Peak

Cross posted to

Articles By Abraham Tharakan


harimohan said...

dear sir,
disturbed by the comments by our jingoistic politicians i just felt i should read up on this subject and then i stumbled on your post ,let me thank you and congragulate you on the indepth study with an excellent qoutation ,the blog is measured and rational and i wish to forward it to like thinking people with your permission.

deepanjali said...

Your blog is nice. I think you should add your blog at and let more people discover your blog. It's a great place for Indian bloggers to be in and I am sure it would do wonders for your blog.

Anup said...

Sir, a techno-economic feasibility and an environment impact study are two different things and I am not aware of any such environment impact study ever been done.

I beg to differ about the cost reduction trickling down to consumers,unless shipping is a noble business. In the Airlines, for years I have seen that carriers have never passed on benefits of reduced costs (not even when fuel charges were reduced) to the passengers. The IATT that was brought in because of the first Gulf War, stayed a decade after that and was never removed by the Government because they benefited from such an income, never mind that it was brought in to mitigate costs during the first gulf war and never mind that when they brought in the IATT, the public was assured this would only be a temporary measure! Knowing how carriers work (air carriers at least and being in upper management), I can also say that the promoters take any reduction of costs as an improvement on their bottom line and will never pass it to a consumer.

I'm sorry to have digressed from the main topic. I remain opposed to the project and it's got nothing to do with Ram.

Anup said...

Sir, forgot to add: you mention that some people claim that the damage to the eco-system has been "assessed". If so, they should come out and say by whom this was done, when, whatmethod used and so on. I also consider it a joke on educted people when they comment that dredging does lesser damage to the seafloor than blasting! Damage is damage and those who have not witnessed dredging, should do so, before commenting. I have, and seen disastrous consequences.

As for Ram rajya that you mention in the end, clearly we are not in one because Ramrajya had no politicians. Our politicians are among the most corrupt because this is not Ramrajya. Hence I am also convinced that our politicians of every hue and color have eaten money in the project.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Dear Harimohan,
I am glad you liked the post. Please do forward it to your friends.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thanks for the compliment, and the suggestion which I have already followed.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Hello Anup, thanks for the comments.

As I mentioned in my post, environmental implications should be the real concern. I also did mention about the the credibility of the study by the Tuticorin Port Trust.

I believe that the depth of the channel as planned is 7-9 meters. In the 1980s I was approached to do a project to manufacture white cement using dead coral powder around the Lakshadeep Islands. A decade or so earlier the Geological Survey of India had prepared a report which claimed that clearing the dead corals would would help growth and stating there was no risk to ecology by mining it. The idea was to scrape it, I think. Anyway I didn't take up the project because of conflict of interest; was an advisor to the Travancore Cements at that time.

The advantage of reduced turnaround time is not only by reduced tariff. Shorter lead time for exports and imports has several benefits.

Your concerns are relevant and issue based. ThatI appreciate and that should be the way to look at Sethusamudram Project, without dragging in religion and politics.

Your concluding statement is great - Ramarajyam would not have politicians.

trang said...

I am not a Hindu but identify with various beliefs, and I would oppose a project without the sanction of millions of Indians who beleive in it. If at all there was a compelling reason I would spend a lot of energy to convince most before even touching the place. One can talk about rational thoughts or otherwise, but the first thing I like to see is benevolence and respect for people - whatever their perception is. As for politicians & current leaders... well they just love to hijack our emotions and relationships...

scorpiogenius said...

Interesting trilogy on Adam's bridge. Its been proved without doubt that its a natural formation and not man-made...

Now here is a problem: Its not man-made, accepted. So here are some souls who are claiming that if its not man-made then it must be God-made...meaning built by Lord Ram!! :)

howzaaat? Some people never give up no? cant go left, right or centre...