Protests against the razing of bridge of Rama

New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) Hindu groups are stepping up protests against the likely razing of an ancient bridge in the narrow sea between India and Sri Lanka due to a shipping project, saying it will be unfair to do away with something of such heritage and religious value.

The Ram Setu or Adam's Bridge, a chain of limestone shoals 48 km long that once linked Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu with Mannar in Sri Lanka's northwest, faces possible destruction when the ambitious Sethusamudram canal project comes up to create a navigable waterway in the narrow sea dividing the two countries.

Recent NASA satellite images show clear pictures of the broken bridge that Hindus believe was built by an army of monkeys to help Lord Ram walk over to the land of Lanka to battle its king Ravana, who had abducted his wife. The war and Sita's rescue form the climax of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

'That bridge tells the story of the entire war, how Ram and his army went on to destroy the evil by crossing a seemingly insurmountable barrier,' B.P. Singhal, a former director general of police and a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), told IANS.

'Therefore, the heritage is extremely sacred to Hindus. It is a heritage that cannot and should not be destroyed,' said Singhal, 65. Swami Vigyanand of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is closely allied with the BJP, said they were not against the Sethusamudram project per se nor opposed to India taking steps to shore up its trade and security interests.

'By all means take care of your trade interests and your maritime security interests,' the Swami said. 'But surely this can be achieved without causing any harm to a bridge revered by millions and millions of Hindus.'

India does not have a continuous navigational channel linking the east and west coasts. Ships coming from India's west and heading to Bangladesh or Indian ports on the east coast have to go around Sri Lanka because the waterway in the sea dividing the two countries is shallow.

When the sea is dredged and a shipping canal does come up, it will save up to 780 km of sailing distance and 30 hours of sailing time for ships plying between the east and west coasts of India. Indian officials say the canal will also boost the national economy besides speeding up the movement of Indian Navy and Coast Guard vessels as well.

Hindu groups say this may be true but such economic progress cannot be at the expense of Ram Setu, as they refer to Adam's Bridge, located at the southern end of the Sethusamudram project. This is where an estimated 48 million cubic metres of silt will be removed over the next two years.

As work gathers momentum, Hindu holy men gathered in the northern city of Brindavan near Agra a day after Holi March 4 to chalk out a nationwide campaign for the safety of Adam's Bridge. Presiding over the conclave was Goverdhanpuri Peethadhishwar Shankaracharya Nishchalanand Saraswati. A key speaker was Sadhvi Ritambhara of the VHP, Ujjain's Swarupanand Maharaj and Swami Nritya Gopal Das.

Shankaracharya Swaroopanand of Puri has already called on Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and pressed him to intervene and save the ancient bridge that is believed to have been built by an army of monkeys.

There have also been protests against the project over fears that it will cause irrevocable damage to biodiversity and harm endangered species such as marine turtles. But the Hindu anger is only over Adam's Bridge.

'This is actually world heritage. To destroy it is something not desirable,' said Singhal, younger brother of VHP chief Ashok Singhal.

'I am told that two machines engaged in the dredging have broken down. The belief is that no machine will be able to break it. So why not redraw the route of the canal?'

BJP demands archaeologists' view on Rama's Bridge

10 March 2007, Special Correspondent, The Hindu

CHENNAI: The Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday demanded that archaeologists be consulted on the status of the Ramar Bridge in the Palk Strait.

L. Ganesan, president of the party State unit, told reporters that the Centre should protect the bridge. It should not destroy "the country's heritage," by allowing work on the Sethusamudram canal project in its present alignment.

The BJP planned to organise `padayatras' to Rameswaram either by the month-end or early April.

Sea Tigers blast Indian tug deployed for Sethu project

25 February 2007, Shamindra Ferdinando, The Island

The LTTE blasted an Indian tug deployed south of Point Calimere in June last year, well informed sources said. The ill-fated vessel is believed to have been deployed alongside a dredger assigned for controversial Sethusamudram project. The LTTE had used a limpet mine, believed to be about 40 kgs in weight to blast the tug.

The Sunday Island came across information regarding the hitherto unreported attack Friday in the backdrop of Indian claims that 15 LTTE boats on suicide missions are operating in the waters between India and Sri Lanka, an assertion rejected by Sri Lanka.

The Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project envisages linking the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka by creating a shipping canal through the shallow sea called Setu Samudram, and through the island chain of Rama's Bridge. This would provide a continuous navigable sea route around the Indian Peninsula. The project involves digging a 44.9 nautical mile (83 km) long deepwater channel linking the shallow water of the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar.

Well informed sources said that the LTTE blasted the tug less than a week before a squad of LTTE frogmen made an abortive bid to raid the Colombo harbour. The limpet mine used against the Indian tug is believed to be of the same type the LTTE planned to use against SLN or merchant vessels during the raid which went awry due to rough seas. Immediately after the blast had hit the tug, the dredger had come alongside the stricken vessel to rescue its crew. The sources said that the unprecedented attack believed to have been carried out on the behest of an interested party was aimed at delaying the Sethu project by impeding the process of dredging.

The sources claimed that the Indian government was aware of the developing scenario. Referring to a recent editorial in The Hindu, the sources said that the LTTE was capitalising on the political situation in Tamil Nadu to its advantage. Pointing out the danger in allowing the LTTE to set up base in Tamil Nadu, The Hindu recently said, "a deeply worrying mix of political collusion, official complacency, mercenary considerations and corruption has enabled the LTTE to exploit Tamil Nadu both as a source of supply and a base of operations." The sources said that last year's attack on the tug took place about 20 nautical miles away from the location the Indian Coast Guard seized an LTTE vessel on February 13 this year. The mystery over India's decision to blow up the vessel seized 27 nautical miles South West of Point Calimere has taken a new turn with the online edition of India's national newspaper The Hindu claiming that the explosives-laden boat was on a suicide mission and the suspected target was Kankesanthurai port in the Jaffna peninsula.'

The Indian Coast Guard seized the boat along with five crew members-three Sri Lankans and two Indians aboard. The Hindu, quoted 'well informed' sources as saying that the suspects, included a Black Tiger operative and a Sea Tiger operative.

Sri Lankan sources said that India initially acknowledged that the vessel was on its way to Tamil Nadu and that a suicide belt recovered from the craft was to be used to attack a major Temple festival. Coast Guard Regional Commander Rajendra Singh publicly declared that the Coast Guard succeeded in thwarting a terrorist attack on a big temple celebration. But subsequently the Indian officialdom changed its position and in a bid to cover-up claimed that 15 LTTE boats on suicide missions are operating in the waters between India and Sri Lanka.


Editorial, The Hindu, September 2004

The Hindu is the largest circulating broadsheet in south India THAT A MEGA scheme such as the Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP), which is bound to change the face of regional shipping and affect the lives of thousands of fishermen, should not be put through without an informed and many-sided debate is a rule of developmental prudence. For whatever reason, politicians and the Government seem to be in a great rush to execute a project that was conceived not less than 144 years ago. There may be unanimity among political parties in Tamil Nadu on the need for the SSCP; and a sense of righteous indignation that it has taken so long for the Centre to clear it. But that does not justify the way in which the public hearings are being handled in the coastal districts, and opposition to the project is being dealt with. There may be a host of advantages flowing from the SSCP for the State, yet the centrality of the social and environmental concerns is undeniable. Fortunately, a technically competent Environment Impact Assessment done by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) is at hand.

By its very nature, the mega project involves massive dredging, an estimated 84.5 million cubic metres of sand and spoil that will need safe disposal. The Sethusamudram Canal will stretch to a length of about 260 km - from Tuticorin port to Adam's Bridge in the Gulf of Mannar (GoM) and extending northwards to the Bay of Bengal. The Gulf of Mannar has been designated a National Marine Park in order to conserve and protect the wealth of the seas. The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), an institution of world renown, is engaged in a unique promotion of alternative options for livelihood security in the region, including community-owned small industrial units and a community-managed artificial reef programme. Time and again, the Environment and Shipping Ministries have offered the assurance that the proposed alignment of the SSCP will steer clear of the biosphere reserve and there will be no threat to the coral reefs and marine wealth of the Gulf of Mannar region. But nobody, it seems, knows how and where the dredged material will be disposed of. This issue must be addressed transparently. An equally vital question is the livelihood of some 20 million fisherfolk in the coastal districts. The fishing communities are already under tremendous pressure arising from disputes over fishing rights and specific problems involving Sri Lanka, not to mention overexploitation and bad fishing practices that have led to "the near extinction of several marine species unique to the GoM" (to quote from an annual report of the MSSRF).

When it comes to handling mega projects, notably big dams such as the Sardar Sarovar, the Indian experience has exposed the gulf between promise and practice. The relevant State Governments have failed miserably to deliver on the commitments they made for resettling the large numbers of people displaced by the project. In the case of the SSCP, the series of public hearings in the coastal districts has thrown up a hot potato: fisherfolk have challenged the contention that their livelihood will not be affected. Predictably, conspiracy theories have surfaced alleging that `outsiders' are out to sabotage the SSCP. The challenge before the State Government and its agencies is to face the livelihood concerns of the fisherfolk sympathetically. Engineers from NEERI and fisheries experts must be allowed to engage seriously with these issues. Nor should questions relating to the economic benefits of the SSCP be dodged. Another important task is for the Government of India to brief the Government of Sri Lanka in a friendly way on the SSCP to rule out any kind of bilateral problem. New Delhi must also keep in perspective the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Sri Lanka and India ratified and acceded to in the mid-1990s.