New Delhi: Clearing the decks for a new naval base at Rambilli in Andhra Pradesh, an expert panel of the Union environment ministry has recommended granting the project, pending since January 2010, “in-principle approval".
The project for setting up the Naval Alternate Operating Base (NAOB) involves diversion of 676.12 hectares of forest land in Rambilli and Kalavalapalli regions of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.
It was first submitted to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) in January 2010. Subsequently, it was discussed by FAC in its meeting in April 2013, February 2016, September 2017 and then in its latest meeting, last week, on 20 December.
“After careful consideration of the facts placed before it, FAC recommended granting in-principle approval for the project proposal with general conditions and standard conditions along with specific conditions," said the minutes of FAC’s meeting on 20 December, which were reviewed by Mint.
Once FAC recommends or rejects clearance to a proposal, it is rare for MoEFCC to go against the recommendation.
The naval base was planned for commissioning by 2018, but it may take more time to complete. The base is expected to house several conventional and nuclear warships as well as nuclear submarines. A new base in the eastern region has become crucial for India with China rapidly expanding its naval power and increasing its influence in the South China Sea.
Though FAC recommended “in-principle approval", it noted that “construction and non-forestry activities will be restricted to within 1.94 hectares as per the undertaking provided by the user agency and remaining 674.18 hectare will be maintained as forest."
“Large-scale plantation will be undertaken in remaining 674.18 hectares," said the FAC while directing that no activities will be undertaken in the forests which may “cause deleterious effect on the ground water regime of the area".
The FAC also held that “compensatory afforestation shall be raised over double the forest land diverted, and at least 1,000 plants per hectare diverted (676,120 plants) shall be planted over identified degraded forest land".
“No other activities including mining, quarrying activities or construction of commercial/residential buildings will be taken up in the area under diversion and an undertaking to this effect shall be furnished," said the minutes of the meeting.