After a delay of six years, Union Environment Ministry has given its approval to Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to establish infrastructure facilities for strategic surveillance system, including land-based long-range missile facility at South Andaman’s Rustland Island.
At a meeting on September 27, Regional Empowered Committee of Regional Office (South Eastern Zone) of the ministry has recommended for clearance to divert 49.978 acres of forest for the project, which is being conceived at a cost of `1,000 crore. In 2013, the then Defence Minister AK Antony told the Rajya Sabha that DRDO had proposed to set up a missile test range each at Rutland Island in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Nagayalanka in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh.
Defence officials say the project is crucial as Rustland Island is located at a vintage location of about 200 km from the Strait of Malacca that connects Indian Ocean with South China Sea. The standing committee of National Board of Wildlife had already given approval in May last year with conditions, including preparation of marine and terrestrial wildlife conservation plan, placing essential deflectors and anti-radiation screens around satellite antennas, as the proposed area is close to ecologically-sensitive Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park.
Now with the major hurdle of land acquisition cleared, DRDO will have to obtain environment and coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearances before commencing the project. The proposal has been cleared at all levels of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration.
DRDO has submitted the Environment Impact Assessment study report and joint inspection carried out by DRDO and District Forest Officer of Port Blair. The DFO South Andaman Forest Division has reported that the requirement of forest land for diversion was unavoidable and barest minimum for the project. “To compensate the forest loss, an extent of 100 acres of degraded forest area at Burmachad, Paschimsagar range, Diglipur has been identified for compensatory afforestation” MRG Reddy, Additional PCCF (Central) and Chairperson of REC said.