A file photo outside the Supreme Court premises in New Delhi, after a hearing on former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy’s Ram Setu petition. | Photo Credit: PTI
HeThe Supreme Court on November 10 gave the Center four weeks to file a reply clarifying its stand on the plea of former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, who sought national heritage status for ‘Ram Setu’.
Although the story of the controversial Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project (SSCP) can be traced back to the British who proposed a canal to connect the Palk Strait to the Gulf of Mannar, the project was inaugurated only in 2005. The shallow sea comprising the Gulf of Mannar to the south and the Gulf of Palk to the north is separated by a somewhat linear coral ridge called Adam’s Bridge or Ram Setu. It runs between Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu and Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka. The SSCP, if completed, is expected to significantly reduce the navigation time between the east and west coasts of India.
Anxiety about the project
Although the CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute has ruled out any serious environmental risk and confirmed the feasibility of the project, concerns have been raised about the sustainability of the proposed canal and its impact on the environment. Computer models suggest that the central, eastern and northeastern parts of Palk Bay may be affected by high energy waves. This means that these areas also receive more sediment, making them more cloudy. The models also show that waves enter from the north and south of the bay, according to the alignment of the channel.
The area is also vulnerable to cyclonic storms. In 1964, a cyclone was so strong that it wiped out the city of Dhanushkodi. Such storms can lead to deterioration of local sediment dynamics. Finding safe places to dispose of dredged material without harming terrestrial and marine ecosystems is therefore a major challenge. Waste from ships passing through the narrow channel will pollute the air and water. If a rogue ship carrying oil or coal were to run aground or miss its course within the canal, it could cause an environmental disaster. While environmental groups have opposed the project due to the huge environmental costs, religious groups oppose it because they believe the structure mentioned in the Ramayana has religious significance.
In 2003, a space-based study by researchers at the Center for Space Applications in Ahmedabad, using satellite remote sensing images, concluded that Ram Setu is not man-made, “but a rock crest consisting of 103 small patch reefs running linearly with sand. cays and intermediate deep channels”. Cays, also known as keys, refer to low-lying islands that rest on surfaces made of coral reefs. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that Ram Setu is a linear chain of coral reefs and forms a shallow part of the ocean that is constantly affected by sedimentation processes. Like the Great Barrier Reef, Ram Setu is a continuous shoal of limestone that stretches from Pamban Island near Rameswaram to Mannar Island on Sri Lanka’s north coast.
During the global glaciation that began about 2.6 million years ago and ended about 11,700 years ago, the coast of India, including parts of Sethusamudram, may have risen above the water. The post-glacial period witnessed a steady rise in sea levels around the world. Coral polyps could rise again on newly submerged platforms. Over time, platforms may have been used by migrants to cross oceans. The Ramayana refers to a supposed land bridge in this region; Believers consider it as the structure built by Lord Rama and his army to reach Lanka. This mountain range may have been used as a migration route in the distant past.
The need for protection
The coral reef platforms between Thoothukudi and Rameswaram in the Gulf of Mannar were declared a marine biosphere reserve in 1989. It is said to be home to more than 36,000 species of flora and fauna, with mangroves and sandy beaches considered suitable for turtle nesting. It is also a breeding ground for fish, lobsters, shrimps and crabs. Of the 600 fish species recorded in the region, 70 are reported to be commercially important. The area is already threatened by runoff from thermal power plants, runoff from salt pans, and illegal coral mining. If the SSCP becomes a reality, it will be a final blow to this sensitive environment and the livelihood of the people there.
When looking at this issue from the point of view of a believer, this feature should also be taken into account from the point of view of “geoirs”. The Geoirs paradigm is used in nature conservation to protect the natural diversity of important geological features. It recognizes that geodiversity, which consists of diverse landforms and features that reflect dynamic natural processes, is threatened by human activities and in need of protection. The country’s natural heritage includes its geological heritage. The value of abiotic factors such as geology, soils and landforms is also recognized for their role in supporting habitats for biodiversity. India’s “test with fate” does not begin in the Harappa or Vedic period; It dates back billions of years when the Indian tectonic plate moved thousands of kilometers south of the equator to where it is today. Ram Setu bears unique geological traces of an eventful past. Therefore, it should be protected not only as a national heritage monument, but also as a scientifically defined geoirs structure.