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Security concerns force IMD to switch from Chinese radars

Security concerns force IMD to switch from Chinese radars
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First Published: Tue, Mar 30 2010. 10 19 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Mar 30 2010. 10 19 PM IST
New Delhi: Security concerns over advanced weather instruments imported from China are forcing the India Meteorological Department (IMD) to alter its Rs900 crore modernization schedule, two of its officials said.
The department had bought 12 Doppler weather radars in May from Beijing Metstar Radar Co. Ltd, or Metstar—a 49:51 venture of China National Huayun Technology Development Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of the China Meteorological Administration, and the US-based defence contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
At least two of these were to be installed by October, when the Commonwealth Games are to be held in New Delhi.
Now, following security worries over the Chinese instruments, IMD plans to replace some of those with radars from Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), said Shailesh Naik, secretary, ministry of earth sciences, which governs IMD. BEL is India’s largest listed public sector defence firm.
Last year, the Indian Navy had said no to a Metstar radar that was to be installed off a naval base in Mumbai.
This radar will be replaced by a BEL product that, incidentally, IMD had rejected when it had called for bids in 2008.
“Two of these BEL radars will be (installed in) Mumbai and Goa,” said Naik.
A third radar, to be installed near the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, is awaiting security clearances and would be delayed until next year, said the two IMD officials mentioned earlier, asking not to be identified
Naik said all the radars would be installed in time. “There were some delays, but these shall definitely be in place before the (Commonwealth) Games.”
IMD is also buying 550 automatic weather stations and 1,350 automatic rain gauge stations from various vendors as it shifts to a numerical weather prediction model, used globally to give more precise forecasts. India currently uses statistical techniques for monsoon forecasts.
Metstar had outbid BEL—which develops weather radars based on proprietary technology of the Indian Space Research Organisation—and Germany’s Selex Gematronik GmbH for the IMD contract to install radars in 12 cities, including Mumbai and New Delhi, and key ports.
The radars, to be supplied, installed and commissioned by Metstar, cost about $17.8 million (around Rs80 crore) each.
BEL radars, say experts, had not been selected earlier as their software needed improvements. IMD had planned to consider BEL radars for its second stage of modernization, in which 33 radars are to be installed across India.
“The BEL radars needed improvement in their software, and that’s why it hadn’t made the cut early on,” said P.S. Goel, former secretary of the ministry of earth sciences. “But I think security reasons hindering the radars’ delay is unjustified. They don’t pose a threat at all.”
Defence and intelligences agencies have raised objections to Chinese products in the past as well.
jacob.k@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Mar 30 2010. 10 19 PM IST