Dr. R. Subrahmonia Ayyar
(Symbol of National Unity)
Dr. Subramanian Swamy
published by Haranand Publications Pvt Ltd, New Delhi
A Review of the book by Dr. R. Subrahmonia Ayyar
'RAMA SETHU' a causeway which is said to have been constructed merely 7100 years back by an army of monkeys under the guidance of Lord Rama to take them across the sea from Indian mainland at Rameswaram to Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka, has currently assumed centre stage of global attention. This is due to the controversial Sethu Samudram Ship Channel Project ( SSCP) sanctioned by Government of India on 1st June 2005 to be completed and commissioned by November 2008 at a cost of Rs 2427 crores. The project involves the dredging of a total length of 167 kilometers in the sea belt from the Gulf of Mannar to the Palk Bay out of which 35 kilometers will furrow through the Rama Sethu which is at present lying on the seabed destroying thereby the immortal symbol of national heritage forever. According to the author, this project hastily sanctioned by the government of India under political pressures from various quarters, is completely not viable from the point of view of scientific, technical, economical, national security, environmental and above all the cultural aspects. Based on extensive information collected by him, the author convincingly puts forth his argument against this hastily conceived project which suffers from flaws imperfections and inadequacies making it a totally unviable one.
At the outset the author deserves to be complemented for the tremendous efforts he has put in for collecting voluminous data from various sources which he has arranged in seven chapters supplemented by 21 annexure. The introductory chapter outlines the project as conceived and sanctioned by the government of India giving brief details of the dredging of shipping channels along the identified alignment No 6.
Chapter 2 lists in chronological order various proposals that have been made since 1860 including 9 proposals made between 1860 and 1922 and 5 made after independence. He has described elaborately each of these proposals including the alignments suggested by them for the shipping channels and the reasons why none of them materialized.
The last one despite of the fact that it suffers from several drawbacks has been sanctioned by the government of India for extraneous and untenable reasons. The author then proceeds to prove this point in a logical sequence.
Chapter 3 deals with the historicity and heritage of Rama Sethu. It starts with disapproving the fallacious statements made by the British historians James Mill and Charles Grant in their book 'History of India published in 1813. Their statement whether Rama was a mythological figure and that Ramayana is a mythological story has been effectively thwarted by scientific evidence. Using the modern scientific tools of archeo-astronomy based on the movements of stellar constellations, Pushkar Bhatnagar has established the exact date of birth of Rama as 10th January 5114 BCE and the date of completion of Rama Sethu as 20th September 5076 BCE. The argument that there are inconsistencies in this mythological story ia also disproved by the fact that Valmiki who first wrote Ramayana was a contemporary of Rama himself and hence knew the events and episodes in the life Rama exactly. The meticulous description by Valmiki of the construction of rama Sethu further establishes the fact that this causeway was in fact constructed by the historical person Rama and is still held in great veneration by millions of Rama devotees all over the world. The author also cites evidence from literature, art and sculptor of other countries and religions to prove this fact of historicity and heritage of Rama Sethu.
Chapter 4 deals with the economic liability of the product. The cost of the project is estimated to be Rs 4500 Crores based on the detailed project report prepared by Larsen and Toubro. The author systematically points out how the project report has been prepared based on several outdated and assumed data without making detailed study of the ground realities. The Report has calculated there will be a reduction of 30 hrs of travel time and 335 nautical miles of travel distance for the ships going through this channel. Through a large volume of supporting documents and calculations the author has proved that the actual saving in travel time will be only 30% of what is projected and the saving in travel distance only half of what is projected. There will also be no fuel saving but greater fuel consumption for ships navigating through this channel compared to those using the current maritime channels. Again only small ships upto 30,000 tones DWT can go through this channel while most of the international cargo ships are in the range of 60,000 to 90,000 tones DWT. A detailed cost benefit analysis taking into consideration all investment aspects and cost escalation shows that the rate of return for the investors and equity holders will as low as the total unattractive level of 2.7%. Thus the author's detailed study show that the project is economically not viable.
Chapter 5 deals with national security and related aspects. Quoting various authorities from India's defense services The author points out the opening of the channel will increase easy access and consequently greater threat to India's security along the coast from pirates ( including LTTE) terrorists and other anti social elements. It is also help to increase narcotics and drug traffic. All these will result in substantial increase in the cost of strengthening naval security and coast guard system which has not been envisaged by the project planners.
Environmental implications are dealt with in chapter 6. the Environmental Impact Analysis conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute has several short comings ignoring several important factor concerned with biosphere reserve of the Gulf of Mannar Rama Sethu which acts an artificial barrier between the calm placid and warm waters of the gulf and the turbulent waters of the Bay of Bengal in the north has helped the growth of several delicate marine organisms, coral reefs and sea grass. The channel will open the flood gates to the turbulent undercurrents from the bay particularly when cyclone and tsunami strike the east coast destroying these biosphere reserves. Coastal erosion will also result in substantial loss of thorium rich sand. This is an important raw material for future production of enriched uranium for the country's nuclear reactors. It will also result in the loss of livelihood of a large number of fishermen.
In the concluding chapter 7 the author has summarized all these aspects and convincingly proves that the project poses a potential danger to the country rather than being a growth oriented asset. Due to the legal battle currently waged by him and several others, the project is bogged down in a complex legal entanglement resulting in a stay order by the Supreme Court from proceeding further with the work. The author deserves to be congratulated for hid dedicated effort.
The book however has a few inadequacies and imperfections. To begin with there is a lack of cogence and continuity and out of context repetitions of several documented facts. This, in turn has resulted in the failure of the book to sustain reader interest. The scanned reproduction of several sketches, diagrams and charts are not clear and there is no contextual description of the information attempted to be given through these figures. Even the photographs are not arranged in the appropriate location. Reader interest in the map of India showing the route supposed to have been traveled along by Rama could have enhanced if the names of the appropriate location as mentioned in the Ramayana had been given. A clear diagram showing the coastline , the Gulf of Mannar , The Park Bay, the various islands and the proposed alignment no 6 could have been of great help. Hope the author will take note of these and rectify them in the subsequent editions.
On the whole the book is a timely and comprehensive treatise on a topic of current global interest concerning the preservation of a historic monument of great national heritage which, according to the author is a symbol of national unity.
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