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Sethusamudram Controversy:EXPERTS VOICE VARIOUS CONCERNS, by Radhakrishna Rao,23 September 2007 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 23 September 2007

Sethusamudram Controversy


By Radhakrishna Rao

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.Karunanidhi’s controversial remark which questioned the very existence of Lord Rama and his ridiculous observation “from where Rama acquired his engineering degree” has started creating ripples of protest in the South. In Bangalore, a group of pro-Hindu activists dared Karunanidhi to paint the “venerated figures of non-Hindu religious streams” in the same brush and thereafter attacked the residence of his daughter, Selvi, in the posh Jayanagar suburb of the city.

According to   the watchman of the house, about 50 young protesters, shouting anti-Karunanidhi slogans, hurled stones and petrol bombs at Selvi’s house. They handed over a leaflet threatening Karunanidhi with dire consequences and demanding the resignation and arrest of the Union Minister of Roads, Highways and Shipping, T.R.Balu. A Tamil Nadu state-owned bus was burnt down on the outskirts of Bangalore, killing two passengers. This too was believed to be the act of Hindu activists though the Bangalore police are yet to establish a link between the statement of Karunanidhi and the torching of the bus.

Similarly, letters appearing in the mainline daily newspapers of Bangalore have roundly condemned the “irresponsible and unsavoury statement” of a person occupying a high Constitutional position. For instance, in a letter addressed to the editor of the leading English daily Deccan Herald, N.S.Ramaswamy, former Director of the Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore) observed that the religious belief of the masses need not be disturbed for political purposes. Ramaswamy argued that even if Rama was not a historical figure, it did not in any way diminish his value.

At a panel discussion “Bridge between Faith and Reason” held recently in Bangalore and joined in by a galaxy of scientists, historians, scholars and environmentalists, speakers expressed their dismay over the glaring apathy of the politicians to the public concern. Well known historian N.S.Rajaram stated that an ulterior political-economic agenda was driving the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi, to deny the existence of Rama.

Dr. Rajaram observed: “The theory of Rama as an Aryan God pitted against Dravidians, has been discredited. However, Dravidian parties still have to go back to it because that’s the founding doctrine of the Dravidian movement”.  He also expressed the view that Rama need not be seen as real or mythological, but as representative of certain values that should not be attacked with “distorted facts”.

In New Delhi, taking a position diametrically opposed to that of Karunanidhi, the Union Minister of Science and Technology, Kapil Sibal, said that he believed in Lord Rama and added that one should respect public sentiments over the issues of faith. “We must respect people’s view on Rama Sethu or the existence of Rama. I personally am a believer of Rama”, quipped Sibal. Nevertheless, like the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, which has created a spat between the Congress and Left, the controversy over the Sethusamudram project has the potential of driving a wedge between the Congress and the Dravidian parties.

Happily, for the BJP, the main opposition, the Sethusamudram issue has come as “a God sent opportunity to revive its sagging fortunes”. It has asked Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh to clarify the ruling party’s position on the statement of Karunanidhi. The BJP spokesman, Prakash Jawedkar, has made it clear that the observation of Karunanidhi was more offensive than the affidavit submitted by the UPA Government on Ram Sethu (also called Adams Bridge) to the Supreme Court.

“Raising questions about the college from where Lord Rama acquired an engineering degree”, he added, “was not only insulting but a direct affront to the faith of the Hindus”. According to Jawedkar, the statement made by Karunanidhi had exposed the inherent contradictions within the ruling dispensation.

He also reiterated the BJP’s stand on the Sethusamudram project: “it was not against the project per se but wanted an alignment that would not disturb the Rama Sethu.” It is not an issue of science versus faith, which does not offend faith unnecessarily. It is not an issue of progress versus heritage but a case for progress, which does not trample upon heritage”, further quipped Jawedkar.

Meanwhile, many environmentalists have questioned the ecological viability of the project, which could seriously affect the marine biodiversity of the region. The Rs.20,000-million 83-km long Sethusamudram project was first mooted in 1860 and was studied from various angles over the last five decades. However, it received the green signal only in 2004.

All the political parties in Tamil Nadu support this project which could involve the dredging of about 88-million cubic metres of sand and other material from the sea bed in Palk Bay. It has been estimated that the material would be equivalent to 7-million truckloads, which could easily fill Tamil Nadu’s largest natural water body Chembarbakkam lake in the Chingelput district .As projected now, more than 2,000 ships and vessels are expected to make use of this shipping channel.

As things stand now, this project is expected to enable the smooth movement of bigger vessels from the Arabian Sea to the eastern coast of India, without having to circumnavigate the island of Sri Lanka. Once the project is implemented in full, it would cut short the navigation time for the ships cruising from the western coast to the eastern coast by about 30 hours and the distance by about 4,000 nautical miles. The project would, moreover, quicken the economic development of southern Tamil Nadu.

The Tuticorin Port Trust is the nodal agency for the entire project and for the smooth execution of this challenging engineering project, an agency by name Sethusamudram Corporation Ltd has been put in place. Based in Chennai, it will have an equity participation from the Shipping Corporation of India SCI), Tuticorin Port Trust (TPT), Chennai Port Trust, Vishakapattanma Port Trust and Paradip Port Trust.

While the fishermen along the southern coastal belt of Tamil Nadu are worried over the possibility of the project depriving them of their livelihood, marine ecologists have their own concerns. They fear that this biologically diverse coastal region of India, with 36,000 species of plants and animals, could be subjected to “yet unassessed damage”.

They point out that the creation of a high trench in the depths of the Gulf of Mannar could instigate serious “gravitational and geological changes in the oceanic dynamics of the region”. Of interest in this context is an in-depth, multi-disciplinary study of the possible fallouts of the project by the Coimbatore based Doctors for Environment, a voluntary group. They claim that “the safety and stability of the canal project is a matter of concern”. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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