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The Geo-heritage value of Ram Setu

  • Published
    26th Nov, 2022

The Supreme Court (SC) has given the Centre four weeks’ time to file a response clarifying its stand on seeking national heritage status for the ‘Ram Setu’.

What is Ram Setu?

  • The Ram Setu or the Adam’s Bridge is a limestone trail connecting Pamban island off the coast of Tamil Nadu to Mannar island off the coast of Sri Lanka.
    • Coral reefs are massive structures made of limestone deposited by coral polyps. Often referred to as the “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs support approximately 25 percent of all known marine species.
  • The limestone-based bridge is 48 kilometres long. 

Mythological angle

  • It is believed that this bridge was constructed so that Rama could go to Sri Lanka and find Sita, who had been kidnapped by Ravana.
  • As a result, it is revered by those who closely adhere to Hinduism. According to legends, the Ramayana, which Valmiki wrote, also includes information concerning the Ram Setu.

The proposed project and issues

  • In 2005 the Sethusamudram Ship Channel Project (SSCP) was inaugurated.
  • Under the project, an 83-km-long deep water channel was to be created, linking the Gulf of Mannar with Palk Strait, by extensive dredging and removal of limestone shoals.
  • Two channels will be created –
    • one across Ram Setu, south-east of Pamban Island
    • another through the shallows of Palk Bay, deepening the Palk Strait

  • The SSCP is expected to considerably reduce the navigation time between the east and west coasts of India.
  • However, the project has been surrounded by several comments arguing the stability of the proposed channel and its environmental impact.

So far, ships going to the Gulf of Mannar, Indian Ocean, from Palk Strait have been going around Sri Lanka.

Concerns Highlighted:

  • Religious beliefs: The main opposition to the Sethusamudram project came from religious believers.
  • Threat to livelihood: Fishermen from the Rameswaram region also opposed the project.
  • Impact on biodiversity: The Gulf of Mannar region is a protected biosphere reserve and marine national park (notified in 1989). The project would have an impact on the region’s biodiversity because it is home to numerous rare marine species (fish, lobsters, shrimps and crabs).
  • Other Concerns:
  • Emissions from ships traversing the narrow channel will pollute the air and water.
  • The ship carrying oil or coal is grounded or strays from its course within the canal; it could cause an ecological disaster.

Challenges for the Project:

  • The area is also vulnerable to cyclonic storms. A cyclone in 1964 was so powerful that it wiped out the town of Dhanushkodi in the region.
  • No space to dump the dredging material from the sea.
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