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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 40

Letter to President, PM, Sonia Gandhi on Ram Setu and Sethusamudram Project

Wednesday 26 September 2007, by S G Vombatkere


Dear Madams/Sir,

The issue at hand in the current Ram Setu controversy is whether the strip of submerged land connecting India with Sri Lanka is natural or created by human intervention, and not whether Lord Rama is a real or mythological character. The scientific data shows that the strip of land is natural. Anybody who denies the existence of Lord Rama in the minds of the people is certainly misguided and perhaps also ill-motivated.

It is piquant that those who now oppose the Sethusamudram project on religious grounds have gained media attention and those who have from the outset been opposing it on grounds of human displacement, ecological reasons and even on economic viability grounds have been sidelined and forgotten.

The displacement of thousands of fisherfolk and their loss of livelihood and the undoubted environmental damage that will occur due to dredging the channel to create a canal do not need elaboration, except to say that if these costs are taken into consideration, the project may actually prove economically unviable.

However, there is another economic argument that has been neglected—the canal will permit passage of only low-draft vessels (under 36,000 tonnes displacement) which constitute only about 30 per cent of the shipping traffic that sails around Sri Lanka. Even these vessels may not be able to pass under their own power because of turbulence that their propellers will create that will cause the canal to fill up quicker with sand, and will therefore have to be towed by tugs. Further, while a vessel is passing in one direction, it may not be possible to pass another vessel in the opposite direction, and therefore negotiating the canal will take time.

The actual traffic management and operation of the canal needs to be carefully studied before the claimed time-saving advantage of the project can be established. There is no evidence that a comprehensive economic feasibility study considering these factors, the cost of maintenance dredging and the user charges to the cargo shipping lines has been done.

Pushing the Sethusamudram project forward for political reasons or short-term economic gains that over-ride sound long-term economics will do great disservice to the people and the nation.

I urgently urge you to order a comprehensive economic viability study, and have the human and environmental issues re-examined in the best interests of the people.

Yours sincerely,

September 16, 2007

- Major Gen S.G. Vombatkere VSM (Retd)
- 475, 7th/..Main Road,
- Vijayanagar Ist Stage
- Mysore - 570 017
- (Ph.: 0821-2515187)

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