Subramaniam Swamy’s Letter to the “COMMITTEE OF EMINENT PERSONS” -SSCP

published on October 29, 2007

October 28,2007.

Secretary,
The Committee of Eminent Persons
On Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project,
“Malligai”, 30/95 P.S. Kumarasamy Raja Road,
Chennai, TN 600 028.

Dear Sir,

Kindly place the following objections and suggestions to, and for the implementation of the Sethusamundrum Channel Project (SSCP). I reserve the right to question the objectivity as also raise the matter of heavy bias and prejudice against the historicity of Sri Rama afflicting this Committee later before the Supreme Court.

I. OBJECTIONS:

1. It is false as declared by the Chairman of the Committee, Prof. S. Ramachandran to the media in a written statement, on June 11, 2007, that “There is no doubt that this chain of islands (i.e., Rama Setu) formed due to natural process” (Annexure 1). This creates an apprehension of bias and pre-judgment by the leader of this Committee on the issue whether or not a ship channel in the Palk Straits can safely and without causing public disorder, be dredged by cutting through the Rama Setu. The report prepared by the former Director of the Geological Survey of India, Dr. S. Badrinarayanan, is available with the Government and should be accessed by the Committee, to correct this erroneous view of the Chairman, which view has profound consequences. The President of India, on a reference to the Earth Sciences Department had received an opinion, submitted in March 2007, holding that the Setu is constructed and not “formed due to natural process” as the Chairman has held publicly. I am enclosing extracts of both these reports (Annexures 2 & 3). The media had made this disclosure on the basis of these reports as far back as May 8, 2007 (Annexure 4).

2. It is false as stated by the Minister of Culture, Ms. Ambika Soni in answer to a question in Rajya Sabha, that there is no “scientific evidence” to establish that the Rama Setu qualifies to be an ancient monument and that it lacks the essential ingredients required under law to be considered for inclusion in the list of ancient monuments. The evidence in Annexures 2 to 4 is sufficient under Sections of the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites & Remains Act (1958) requiring an investigation by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in association with the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), to decide this question.

3. It is false as stated by the Minister of Shipping and Transport Mr. T.R. Baalu that the SSCP is environmentally sustainable, and cleared by the NEERI and other scientific establishments. The NEERI had conveyed in writing in a letter dated April 8, 1999 to the Government that prima facie the Institute was not in favour of the SSCP project at all. The NEERI also specifically rejected the Alignment No.5, circling Dhanushkodi because then the coral reef rocks beyond east of Dhanushkodi would have to be blasted by explosives, which would completely de-stablilize the marine environment and life.

On June 17, 2002, the NEERI did revise it’s opinion, in order to support the presently chosen Alignment No.6, but on the condition that explosives will not be used for cutting through the Rama Setu. However, the Minister of Shipping, Mr. Baalu has made a public statement that the Government (having failed repeatedly to cut through Rama Setu with dredger machines) proposed to use explosives to create a breach in Rama Setu. This is in violation of NEERI’s considered opinion.

Moreover, as Chief Minister, Ms. Jayalalitha publicly disclosed on September 2, 2005, an expert committee headed by the former Director of the NIOT, Mr. M. Ravindran in a report submitted on May 30, 2005 to the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, well before the SSCP was inaugurated, had recommended more studies, tests and research as the NEERI 2002 study was shoddy, made without consulting the GSI, and professionally inadequate. Moreover, the NEERI failed to take into account as brought out by Shipping companies (Business Line, October 2007) that fishing activities in deep sea cannot be carried out after the SSCP becomes operational. That is, fishing and SSCP are mutually exclusive activities. This will cause monumental distress to the poor sections of Tamil society.

4. It is false to state that the SSCP is economically profitable. The rate of return calculation, the estimated time saved by ships in using the Sethusamudram Ship Channel, and the interest rate to be paid for loans to finance the project, are grossly wrong because these are based on contrived or bogus data. The studies of Captain H. Balakrishnan, and infrastructure consultant Dr. Jacob John may be referred to for more accurate calculation (See Annexures 5 & 6).

On the best and most favourable assumptions, the rate of return on the SSCP cannot exceed 2.75%, at which rate no public sector project can be sanctioned. It is then better to put the project funds in a fixed deposit and provide subsidies to ships to encourage them to dock at Thoothukudi port. Further, no ship of tonnage more than 30,000 DWT will be able to use the Channel, thus excluding the majority of ships plying on the Indian Ocean from the alleged benefits of the SSCP.

5. The Minister of Shipping Mr. T.R. Baalu, through relatives and benamis has commercial interests in the shipping industry through a company which charters ships of less than 30,000 DWT, which raises a serious question of conflict of interest on part of the Minister.

II. SUGGESTIONS:

1. If the Committee would want to be objective and just, then it ought to recommend to the Government to set up a multi-disciplinary agency (MDA) to re-calculate the economic returns, maintenance costs, environmental implications and social benefits of the Sethusamudram Shipping Channel Project. This MDA consisting of experts from GSI, NIOT, and overseas Indian origin consultants, should explicitly recognize that issues of public order and national security will matter in making its final recommendation.

2. The Committee in view of the irrefutable objections given above, has to rule out Alignment No.6 as impossible to implement, in view of the Rama Setu being an inalienable legacy of the nation that cannot be in the slightest desecrated and that too merely to satisfy perverse desires of a few atheistic persons in office or those ignorant or unaware of how deeply the nation worships Sri Rama.

The nation-wide public order will be jeopardized if the Rama Setu is damaged in any way. Moreover, if the ASI finds that Rama Setu is indeed qualified to be an ancient monument, the SSCP cannot touch it under law. Hence Alignment No.6 must be abandoned forthwith as impossible to implement in Indian democracy. I have however no objection to Alignment No.1 being chosen (Annexure 7).

3. The Committee ought to recommend to the Ministry of Culture that it may immediately declare and notify the Rama Setu as an “Ancient Monument” within the meaning of the law laid out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act (1958). The Committee should also recommend to the Government to approach the UNESCO to declare the Rama Setu as a ‘World Heritage Site’, and take necessary steps to provide the essential infrastructure to render Rama Setu as a ‘Tirthstan’ and ‘Divya Kshetra’.

Yours Sincerely
(Subramanian Swamy)

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