Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Strategic importance of Sethusamudram project

"India never lost her independence till she lost the command of the sea in the first decade of the 16th Century". ---Kavalam Pannikar the architect of India's naval doctrine

Maritime power represents military, political, and economic power, exerted through an ability to use the sea or deny its use to others. It has traditionally been employed to control "use-of-the-sea" activities undertaken by nations for their general economic welfare and, often, even for their very survival. Maritime power and naval power are not synonymous, the latter being a sub-set of the former. Traditional land powers are more and more focusing on developing their maritime capabilities to safeguard their economic interests and extend their sphere of influence.

India's fractious polity continues to limit its economic and military potential. Nor have been able to lend a strategic purpose to India’s foreign and economic policies.
  1. Now a days there is a lot of fuss around Sethusamudram project. Lot of protests but the government is hellbent to finish it why?

  2. India is now conducting naval excersise in Bay of Bengal regularly with US, Japan etc despite the protests from it ally Left front why?

To know the answers please read below.

The background

Asia’s two raising powers India and China are driving the economic, political and military strategies of various nations across the globe. Contrast to Chinese strategy India’s strategy is a reactive. Both countries have enormous energy demands. China a proactive nation, diversified its sources of energy from Asia, Africa, Latin America, China has got an energy security policy in place much longer than India. Competition for finding new energy resources is increasing between these two nations. China has found itself increasingly dependent on resources and markets accessible only via maritime routes. To safeguard its trade routes and flow of resources in a world in which the United States is the dominant naval power, ensuring a continuous supply of energy is most important prerequisite for China in building an advanced, industrialized state. 85 percent of China's trade is sea-based that passes through Indian Ocean. Also, with its 26 shipyards, China has emerged as the world's fourth largest shipbuilder. All the oil supplies to Southeast and East Asia that originate in the Middle East are shipped from ports in the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. The sea-lanes from here converge in the Arabian Sea and then pass through the Gulf of Mannar and curve off the western, southern and southeastern coast of Sri Lanka.

Taking advantage of a sharp downturn in India's relations with Bangladesh over issues ranging from illegal immigration to Islamist terrorism, transit and trade, Beijing has upgraded its ties with Dhaka to gain naval access to the Chittagong port, to establish a road link with Bangladesh via Myanmar and to acquire Dhaka's immense natural gas reserves. China is already the largest supplier of weaponry to Bangladesh. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's offer to provide Dhaka with nuclear reactor technology has led to speculation as to whether Beijing would replicate in Bangladesh the sort of military, nuclear and missile collaboration it has with Pakistan. Bangladesh and Nepal are also expected to join Pakistan in concluding peace and friendship treaties with China in the near future. Apparently, while India has been preoccupied with fighting cross-border terrorism on its own territory-courtesy China (through Nepali Maoists and their Indian connection Naxalites. China is the main source of weapons to Maoists and the Talibans) and Pakistan, China has been busy making significant inroads into India's backyard through cross-border economic and strategic penetration of Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives. China's support for India's smaller neighbours suggests that gaining access to markets and natural resources is not the only reason behind Beijing's South Asia policy: Beijing also wants to make a point on the limits of Indian power. After Myanmar and Bangladesh, to complete the "arc of influence" that would contain India in South Asia, China is determined to enhance military and economic cooperation with the Maldives and Sri Lanka. China's ambition to build a naval base at Marao in the Maldives, its recent entry into the oil exploration business in Sri Lanka, the development of port and bunker facilities at Hambantota, the strengthening military cooperation and boosting bilateral trade with Colombo, are all against Indian interests and ambitions in the region.

Although China claims that its bases are only for securing energy supplies to feed its growing economy, the Chinese base in the Maldives is motivated by Beijing's determination to contain and encircle India and thereby limit the growing influence of the Indian Navy in the region. The Marao base deal was finalized after two years of negotiations, when Chinese Prime minister Zhu Rongzi visited Male' in May 2001. Once Marao comes up as the new Chinese "pearl", Beijing's power projection in the Indian Ocean would be augmented.

Recently, Sri Lanka allocated an exploration block in the Mannar Basin to China for petroleum exploration. This allocation would connote a Chinese presence just a few miles from India's southern tip, thus causing strategic discomfort. In economic terms, it could also mean the end of the monopoly held by Indian oil companies in this realm, putting them into direct and stiff competition from Chinese oil companies. At Hambantota, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka Beijing is building bunkering facilities and oil tank farm. This infrastructure will help service hundreds of ships that traverse the sea lanes of commerce off Sri Lanka. The Chinese presence in Hambantota would be another vital element in its strategic circle already enhanced through its projects in Pakistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

It is Sri Lanka's strategic location that has prompted Beijing to aim for a strategic relationship with Colombo. Beijing is concerned about the growing United States presence in the region as well as about increasing Indo-U.S. naval cooperation in the Indian Ocean. China looks at using the partnership with Sri Lanka to enhance its influence over strategic sea lanes of communication from Europe to East Asia and oil tanker routes from the Middle East to the Malacca Straits. China has been consolidating its access to the Indian Ocean through the Karakoram Highway and Karachi, through the China-Burma road to Burmese ports and through the Malacca Straits, especially once they have established their supremacy over the South China Sea.

As a rising maritime trading power, Beijing is also seeking to once again project force into the Indian Ocean in the manner of the fleets sent out under the command of Admiral Zheng nearly 600 years ago during the Ming dynasty.

With China's growing naval expansion in the Indian Ocean the ever reactive New Delhi, much like China, has increased its military engagement in the region. India now conducts naval and military exercises with the United States, Japan which is opposed by left parties who has got Chinese affliation. India has signed a defense agreement with Singapore and has cooperative arrangements with many nations stretching from the Seychelles to Vietnam. It has participated in mechanisms to protect maritime traffic passing through the strategic Malacca Straits. After the success of its tsunami diplomacy, India is looking forward to evolve new channels of naval diplomacy with the countries in Indian Ocean.

India's geographical location at the natural junction of the busy international shipping lanes that crisscross the Indian Ocean has had a major impact upon the formulation of it's maritime strategy. The sea area around India is among the busiest in the world, with over 100,000 ships transiting the shipping lanes every year. The Straits of Malacca alone account for some 60,000 ships annually. India itself has a 4,670-mile long (7,516 km) coastline and several far-flung island territories. The 13 major and 185 minor ports that mark India's coastline constitute the landward ends of the country's sea lines of communication. The development of additional ports is a high-priority activity and is taking place all along the western and eastern seaboards of the country. India, today, has a modest, but rapidly-growing merchant-shipping fleet, presently comprising 756 ships and totaling 8.6 million "Gross Registered Tonnes," with an average age of around 17 years, as compared to the global average of 20 years. The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard are major stabilizing forces in the movement of energy across the Indian Ocean, not just for India, but for the world at large.

Sethusamudram Project

To limit Sri Lankan advantage to China and to gain a firm grip on one of the world's most strategic and busiest sea-lanes India started “The Sethusamudram Project”.

Ships from the east coast of India to the west coast have to circumnavigate Sri Lanka. This is because of a Sand Stone Reef called Rama Setu or Adam's bridge, at Pamban, near Rameswaram, where the depth of the sea is hardly 11 feet. After the canal is constructed, the distance between Cape Comorin and Chennai would be reduced to 402 nautical miles from the present 755. Further, the canal would considerably reduce the distance between the east and the west coasts with travelling time coming down by 36 hours. It will also avoid circumnavigation of ships around Sri Lanka, thereby resulting in savings in fuel costs and standing charges associated with extra period of voyages. The canal would help make coastal shipping operations from the east coast to the west coast and vice-versa more competitive. The greatest beneficiary of the project would be Tuticorin harbour in Tamilnadu or Vizhinjam port of Kerala, with a potential to transform into a trans-shipment hub such as those in Singapore and Colombo. Vizhinjam port in Kerala is a natural harbour where as Tuticorin port has to dredge. Regional politics would also come into play ahead of National interest.
On the otherside, the project is put up with stiff opposition from fishermen and environmentalists, followers of Hindu faith and some political parties who have raising their voices against it for different reasons.

The entire coastal belt of Tamilnadu around the project area is dependent on fishing. Therefore the fishermen fear loss of their livelihood.

Environmentalists demand several studies such as baseline studies covering three seasons, environmental management Plan, assessing the impact due to dredging and dumping with specific reference to the dumping areas, impact during operation of the canal, impact of oil spill, etc to ensure that proper management plans are drawn to protect sea life, valuable coral reefs and the livelihood of fishermen.

Followers of Hindu faith believe that Ram Setu or Adam’s bridge has got association with Ramayana hence it should be protected.

Other political parties who are wary that DMK would benefit from this project argue that without addressing the concerns raised by environmentalists and fishermen TR Balu the DMK union minister from TamilNadu acted in haste to gain political mileage.

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