Govt gives Go-Ahead for Naval Air Base expansion in Andaman & Nicobar Islands

YB WEB DESK. Dated: 5/15/2017 4:26:54 PM



The expert forest panel of the Union environment ministry has recommended a green clearance for expansion of NAS Shibpur, an Indian naval air station in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands region, which is home to several important species of birds and mammals.

Besides strengthening India’s security and surveillance capabilities over the northern group of islands in Andaman and Nicobar, the project is also expected to give a boost to infrastructure.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands are highly important for India from both security and strategic perspectives. They are at the entrance to the Malacca Strait, the world’s busiest shipping route.

With China strengthening its navy and increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean Region, India has taken up the task of strengthening its defence capabilities in the area over the past few years. In 2012, the Indian Navy had commissioned the naval air station ‘Baaz’ at Campbell Bay on the Great Nicobar Island. It is the southernmost air station of the Indian armed forces.

The Shibpur project involves diversion of around 100 hectares (about 20,018 trees) of forest land for expansion of its runway.

NAS Shibpur is on the northern moist inhabited island in North Andaman. The airfield provides sustained detached operations for the India Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard Dornier, MI 8 and Chetak aircraft.

The project was discussed during the recent meeting of the environment ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) on 25 April.

As per the site inspection report of the environment ministry’s regional office in Chennai, which was considered by FAC, the present runway length is 1,000 metres, where only a few aircraft can land, but after expansion the length can be extended to 3,000 metres for operation of wide-bodied defence and civilian planes.

“This will not only help towards development of the northern Andaman habitat but will also help during calamity. Strategically also, the runway extension is important,” the site report had said.

As per the minutes of the FAC meeting, which were reviewed by Mint, the panel was informed that the “extension of runway will not only consolidate the security cover over northern group of islands but will also assist in rapid development of civil infrastructure which will immensely benefit the local civil population”.

“The Navy officials emphasized the strategic importance and the disaster relief impact of the project,” the minutes said. It was also stressed during the meeting that the project does not involve any displacement of people.

The local forest officials, in their report, also recommended the project. “...the area has immense strategic importance to enhance the security of Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as our as country,” they said. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration also recommended the project on the same grounds.

FAC, after hearing the “Navy officials and taking into consideration the strategic importance of the proposal recommended the project” for forest clearance. The recommendation will now have to be accepted or denied by the Anil Madhav Dave-led ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC). The environment ministry rarely overturns recommendations of the expert panel and with the project being a strategic project it is expected to be approved.

Animals found in the area include mammals like the north Andaman horseshoe bat, jungle cat, barking deer, spotted deer, dolphin, elephant, wild pig, Andaman Island spiny shrew, blue whale, false killer whale and sperm whale. It also has reptiles like the monitor lizard, leatherback turtle and saltwater crocodile.

The area is also house to birds like Wilson’s storm-petrel, red-tailed tropicbird, spot-billed pelican, red-footed booby, little egret, Andaman teal, black eagle, grey francolin, peregrine falcon, Andaman cuckoo dove, Siberian blue robin, Olive-backed sunbird, large Andaman Drongo and others.

There are 20,018 trees in the area which is sought for diversion and they would be required to be removed for the expansion.

To compensate for them, FAC stated that 100 hectares of degraded forest land will be identified and be earmarked for compensatory afforestation. “The degraded forest land will be planted preferably at the rate of 1000 per hectare for compensating the trees lost,” FAC said.

Apart from forest clearance, the project also needs environmental, coastal and wildlife clearance. It needs wildlife clearance as the project area is just 3.5 kilometres from the Saddle Peak National Park.

 

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