Palk Bay Issues and Security Concerns:

An Analysisby Commodore R S Vasan IN(Retd)

Introduction

1. The narrow stretch of seas that connects and divides the Island nation with India which has historical and mythological significance to both the countries can rightly be called the melting pot of the region- the Palk Bay. While the Adam's bridge has been photographed by NASA and is indicative of the existence of Rama's Bridge of yore; from times immemorial, the Palk bay has been the conduit for the historical links that exist between the two countries. The boat routes used by the ancient mariners in the region are still in use today. It is a different matter that they may carry different merchandise. The fishing areas are still visited, not withstanding the disputes that abound these areas.

2. The Bay is charecterised by shallow waters, the Adam's Bridge and the presence of rich fishing grounds and many small islets. The presence of hydrocarbons in the area adds to the economic dimensions in the region. The Bay is also famous for the variety of marine life and thus has been a marine biosphere reserve. The area is obviously a very sensitive one from the security point of view, though not only, necessarily in the military sense but, also in the context of modern day definitions and understanding of security as it is applied in the larger context today.

3. From the point of view of Marine security forces, the Palk Bay has the Coast Guard Station Mandapam strategically located to oversee the Palk Bay Operations. The Navy has a Naval Air Station at Ramnad with the Chetak Helicopters providing aerial surveillance towards Operation Tasha since the termination of IPKF operations. There are also several Naval detachments along the coast including one at Rameshwaram, one at Point Calimere and another at Nagapattinam to provide the necessary security mechanisms in the Palk Bay.

The Canal to Prosperity and Progress?

4. Military Analysts have discussed off and on about the security scenario in the Palk Bay that separates the two neighbours. Most of the recent discussions have all been about the likely impact of the Sethusamudram Canal and how it would impact the livelihood of the fishermen and how it would affect the over all scenario in the coastal belts of the two countries. There is a debate going on, on the cost effectiveness of the proposal to dredge a canal on our side of the IBL to bring about not only a reduction of the time taken between Indian Ports on the East Coast and Tuticorin but also to act as a catalyst to growth and economic activity in the region. While there are a lot of expectations on the long term benefits that would accrue from the canal, the whole process has been vitiated by the politicization of the project and a keen sense of competition by the two major political parties of Tamil Nadu to take credit for its implementation as and when it is set in to motion by the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle to monitor and implement the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP)