New Delhi: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has received approval from the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife, which is led by environment minister Prakash Javadekar, to build a missile launch testing facility in Andhra Pradesh at a nesting site of Olive Ridley turtles, an endangered species.
The DRDO project seeks diversion of around 155 hectares of forest land for setting up a test site, a technical facility, a road connecting the test and technical facility.
DRDO’s justification for setting up a new test facility is that their earlier testing facility was set up in Odisha around 20 years ago, but when Dhamra port came up close to it, the facility was restricted.
However, Andhra Pradesh’s wildlife officials were not in favour of the project coming up at the site, according to a report submitted to the committee. The mangrove forest with rivulet estuaries at the site forms a distinct ecosystem in the Krishna Delta complex and is a habitat for various endangered and threatened species such Olive Ridley turtles, smooth Indian otter, painted stork, spot-billed pelican, oriental white ibis and others, the report said.
The Olive Ridley turtle is a protected animal under Schedule 1 of India’s Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and is a vulnerable species as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The state’s wildlife officials were of view that the “area identified for test facility is adjacent to sea beach where Olive Ridley turtles nest every year" and the noise and light by human activities after the test facility would seriously affect that.
During the inspection of the site, it was noted that “nesting activity in the area is on rise" and hatcheries are being established every year to protect their nests. For instance, during 2011-12, about 164 nests were protected and a total of 16,685 hatchlings were released into the sea.
“Any test facility set up here will adversely affect their nesting habits, damage the habitat and also the food chain and food web of the particular area," said the site report.
The report said construction of the test facility and the road would also affect the movement of animals such as foxes and wild boars. They further cautioned that the facility could threaten survival of certain mangrove species in the area and would badly affect livelihood of local fishermen.
The standing committee, however, cleared the proposal with certain conditions such as restricting activities at the test site to daytime only, no activity during the turtles’ nesting season, regeneration of mangroves and others.
However, the final nod would be given by the Supreme Court of India as some part of the land needed falls inside the Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary. The remaining part of the area sought for diversion is forest area and thus the DRDO is separately seeking forest clearance to go ahead with it.