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Seabird flies, other bird’s fate at stake

New Delhi, June 9: The Modi government has begun implementing its policy on defence modernisation by clearing a major naval project on the west coast and taking up two sensitive projects for clearance that environmentalists had objected to.

Union minister for environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, said here today that the government had given the go-ahead to the expansion of Project Seabird, a naval station in Karwar, on the north Karnataka coast, where the Western Ghats roll into the Arabian Sea.

Phase I of the naval base, which will eventually be the largest on the west coast, has already been completed. Karwar is the only port where the Indian Navy’s largest vessel — the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit on Saturday — can be berthed.

Javadekar also said his ministry was looking at a proposal for setting up of a radar station in an island in the Bay of Bengal that is the only home to a rare species of bird — the Narcondam Hornbill.

It is also considering another proposal to set up a chain of security stations, listening posts and monitoring centres on the west and east coasts for the Coast Guard and maritime security agencies.

The minister said the government would continue to give top priority to defence projects. Pending with his ministry are issues such as clearances for border roads that were holding up development of military infrastructure along the ecologically-sensitive Himalayan frontier with China in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and in Ladakh.

Javadekar claimed, though, that his ministry would balance environmental concerns with public welfare. “We have been meeting officials to look into the pending projects for environment clearance, and pending defence matters will be given priority,” he said at the Indian Womens’ Press Corps here today.

The Narcondam Island project has been cited by the Andaman and Nicobar unified command of the armed forces as a strategic one. It has been pointed out that the Chinese have set up a listening post in the Coco Islands of Myanmar just north of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Narcondam, 114km east of Andaman Island, is dominated by a volcano that has been categorised as dormant by the Geological Survey of India. Also a favourite haunt of scuba divers, Narcondam’s hilltop offers a prime spot to locate a radar station from which the Coast Guard would be able to track the movement of ships and aircraft for miles around.

“There is an island called the Coco Island in the Bay of Bengal which is under Myanmar. However, China has put has infrastructure there. So it is strategically very important for us. There is a project pending to set up a radar on Narcondam Island, which is just opposite to the Coco Island. We are looking into the project,” said Javadekar.

Project Seabird in Karwar, though begun before 2008 (when terrorists attacked Mumbai), has gained in importance since then. It is being designed not only to shelter naval assets but also to de-congest the naval dockyards in Mumbai.

The minister also said that post July 1, all applications for environmental clearances will be filed online, and the developments could be tracked online.