Parliamentary leader of DMK, Lok Sabha
In order to stress the restart and implementation of the shelved Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project (SSCP), a public meeting was organised by the Dravidar Kazhagam (DK) in Madurai, Tamil Nadu on 27th January 2023. The leaders of mainstream political parties addressed the meeting. The Member of Parliament and leader of the DMK Parliamentary Party and former Union Minister for Shipping and Waterways and former Union Highways Minister T.R.Baalu addressed the public and spoke in support of the project concerned. The excerpts from his speech are as follows:
Inauguration and sanction
This project (SSCP) of historical significance commenced in Madurai on 2nd July 2005, formally inaugurated by Manmohan Singh, who was then the Prime Minister. The Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee who was present at the event hailed that it was an essential project for the defence of the country too. As the Union Highways Minister in 2005, I had already approached the Ministry of Shipping urging them on probing into the implementation, analyzing all the related aspects. The project was accorded sanction during that inaugural event itself, by the Ministry of Environment.
It is told that large vessels cannot sail through the Sethusamudram Canal, but it is not true. Among the vessels launching at all the major ports in India and sailing from them, 80 per cent of the vessels can pass via the Sethusamudram navigational route. It is certainly a feasible project which can help thousands of youngsters in the southern parts of Tamil Nadu secure direct and indirect employment and various job opportunities for livelihood. Some vested interests are bent upon getting this vital project shelved forever. Since religions and castes are powerful arms in India, these toxic forces are trying to create a stumble block under the pretext of religious bias and disparities.
The trouble makers argue that the ‘Ram Sethu’, so-called bridge built by Ram of Ramayana, should not be demolished for Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project which had been in existence before 17 lakh years, According to scientific facts, the human race itself is 2.5 lakh year old. People who are against this ideal project thus continue to hinder the restart of the work.
The length of the Sethusamudram Canal is totally 167 km, of which the dredging work was pending only for about 89 km. As the rest of the segment has sufficient depth, the dredging work is not required there. This canal is 300 metres broad and 12 metres deep. Navigational route was properly designed to enable ‘to and fro’ sailing of vessels. Hence, there would be no practical difficulties.
The BJP Ministers and Others
Infact this project was planned for by the BJP Ministers. The navigational route for this was also determined by them. Shatrughan Sinha, who was then a union cabinet minister, had written about this to the Member of Parliament Sankaralingam. In May 2001 the ADMK had specified in its election manifesto that the sand dunes of Rameswaram posing a hurdle would be removed to facilitate Sethusamudram Shipping Canal construction. This project and its implementation were stressed and assured even in the election manifesto of the BJP.
Environmental Assessment by ‘NEERI’
National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) conducted a survey and submitted in October 2002, its Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment Report to Ved Prakash Goyal, the Union Minister for shipping and allied projects. On 10th October, 2002, there was a discussion on this NEERI report in the meeting convened under the presidency of Thirunavukkarasar, who was then the State Minister of Shipping. He had confirmed that the navigational route invented to be laid beyond Dhanushkodi was the best for the sailing of vessels from the point of view of environment, nature and oceanography. Hence, the project was ratified and formally approved after the discussion.
Public opinion polls and Progress
From September 2004 to February 2005, opinion polls were conducted in six coastal districts. In 14 vital spots the survey was conducted in three rounds and public opinions were obtained. On 31st March 2005 the Ministry for Environment and Forests, examined the project plan thoroughly and sanctioned implementation.
On 8th May 2007, BJP MP Dharmendra Pradhan reviewed the issue in the Lok Sabha. Attention was drawn towards the stage of the project and the disputes related to the navigational route. I offered my explanation that a canal route for vessels is to be laid linking the Mannar Gulf and the Bay of Bengal. I pointed out that the objective of the project is to lay the navigation path within the sea limits of India, on the marine track. I further said that 424 nautical miles and 30 hours of sail could be reduced and saved by this project. I added that it would, in a way, be of great importance even for the defence of the country.
Following this meet, on 29th October, 2009 a navigational path was laid, not exceeding a depth of 9 to 10 metres. Orders were issued to implement the project rapidly and a monitoring committee was also formed, headed by the Secretary of the Shipping Department. Later, Shatrughan Sinha of the BJP, who assumed office as the Minister for the Shipping Department, assured that the Sethusamudram Canal route would be laid towards the eastern part of the Pamban Bridge, through the Adam’s bridge.
Advanced Research and Analysis
According to the geological survey, the sea surface beside the Adam’s Bridge indicates that it is nearly five to seven lac years old. Ms. Uma Bharati, the Union Minister for Coal Mines Department in the BJP headed cabinet arranged for an analytical study of the climatological changes that could have possibly occurred in the vicinity of the Adam’s Bridge. A vigorous research was conducted. Marine engineers conducted several researches from December 2002 to March 2003. Underwater excavations proved that there was no evidence for the so called ‘Ram Sethu’. The satellite pictures showed naturally formed limestone shoals. The remnants of a bridge could not be found. A meeting was convened inviting religious sages and saints and it was explained clearly to them. They were convinced by the rational truths and scientific facts. They left the venue conveying consensus with the researchers. Vajpayee, who was then the Prime Minister, wrote to the Defence Minister George Fernandes urging on the early completion of the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project.
Plans for National Heritage Mounument
Former Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy wants ‘Ram Sethu’ to be declared as a national heritage monument and the process is underway as per media reports. Courts of law cannot declare so, since out of the 32 km long Adam’s bridge, only 16 km long segment belongs to India and another 16 km long part is that of Sri Lanka. Eminent historian Romila Thapar has also announced that remnants of a bridge do not exist. It is only a chain of limestone shoals between Pamban island, off Tamil Nadu, and Mannar island, off SriLanka.
Let us await change of rule
Scientific spirit has been thrown overboard by the Union Government headed by the BJP. They have adamantly rejected a rational outlook and have given the vital Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, a very deep burial. But the Constitution and Judiciary will not let us down. This project has already been ratified and approved by a Union Government. Hence it cannot be shelved for ever by any Chief Minister or Prime Minister. All hope is not yet lost. Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project would certainly be restarted and successfully accomplished after the change of rule at the centre in 2024.