Panel backs forest nod to expand air force station
New Delhi: In view of India’s strategic concerns on its northern borders, mainly with China, an expert panel of the environment ministry has recommended forest clearance for expanding and developing a World War II-era Indian Air Force (IAF) station at Panagarh, West Bengal.
The project includes extension of runway and infrastructure development of the “Air Force Station Arjan Singh” at Panagarh, about 150km from Kolkata. It is a strategically important airbase for India and is home to Super Hercules C-130J military transport aircraft that are capable of take-off and landing on short runways and carry out special operations. The airbase was also used during the India-Pakistan wars in 1965 and 1971.
The decision is significant as during the 73-day military stand-off between India and China in Bhutan’s Doklam plateau a lot of attention was drawn to the poor security infrastructure on the Indian side. Development of such a key base is expected to add teeth to India’s defence capabilities.
The forest clearance for diversion of 170.32 hectare of forest land, which involves regularization of 60.29 hectare and 110 hectare of additional forest land, was discussed at a 25 January meeting of the forest advisory committee (FAC).
During the meeting, the FAC was informed that 60.29 hectare area proposed for regularization has been under the control of the air force station since 1942.
“This station was strategic air base at the time of World War II. Presently considering the security concerns of the country on northern borders, ministry of defence is planning to expand the air strip length as well as other facility,” said the minutes of the meeting, which were reviewed by Mint.
FAC observed that, “the area is of strategic defence importance and the user agency will maintain the green cover intact.”
“It was also reported that the area is suitable from the strategic point of view as remnants of some World War II structure are visible in the site, which shows the importance of area historically,” noted the FAC and recommended forest clearance for the project.
FAC’s recommendations are rarely overturned by the environment ministry.
The expert panel, however, held that compensatory afforestation shall be raised over degraded forest land equivalent to double the diverted forest land and at least 170,320 plants (170.32 hectares X 1000 plants) shall be planted.
“25% of the revised compensatory afforestation cost will be deposited extra by the user agency for soil and moisture conservation activities,” it added.
The panel also said that a large part of the area outside the proposed forest area, within the possession of Indian Air Force authority, appears to be dense forest.
“If the Air Force authority wants to utilize the forest land for any non-forest purpose in future, they have to apply for a fresh diversion proposal for the same. No non-forestry activity shall be carried put by the Air Force authority in the area in anticipation of approval in future,” FAC cautioned.
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