PROPOSED IN 2006 and approved by the Maharashtra government soon after the 26/11 terror attack, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) Ratnagiri airbase will be finally functional by the year-end. The airfield is expected to provide key logistic support for the Coast Guard on the western coastal areas covering 3,500 km. The Coast Guard, which now has bases in Daman and Kochi, plans to station its Dornier planes and helicopters at Ratnagiri, sources said. “So far the Coast Guard has a fixed and a rotary wing squadron at Daman and a rotary wing squadron in Mumbai. Ratnagiri, being the only air station south of Mumbai before Goa, will be crucial for the maritime security,” a senior official privy to the development told The Indian Express.
According to sources, the state government has leased out 41,000 square metre of airstrip plot and two plots adjacent to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) in Ratnagiri to the CG for 99 years. The work on the airstrip is in its final leg and sources indicated that by December this year the CG can accommodate as many of 40 aircraft from the Ratnagiri base.
The proposal to moot CG Ratnagiri airfield was first mooted in 2006. However, it was sanctioned by the state in the aftermath of the November 2008 attack. In January 2009, the state government had issued a notification to urgently transfer the airstrip and the adjacent MIDC plots to the Ministry of Defence. The cost was pegged at Rs 20.47 crore — Rs 12.52 crore for the airstrip plot and Rs 7.95 crore for MIDC plots H-1 and H-2.
While in 2012, the airstrip and H-1 was acquired by CG, H-2 is yet to be transferred. This plot is necessary for maritime security agency for installing infrastructure system for operating other flights. “One of the clauses on which the land has been leased to the CG is that the airfield would also be used to operate government aircraft. For this the CG would require to set up an ATC tower.
So while 100 acres will be used for runway, additional 60 acres of plot is required to build taxi area to facilitate the smooth take off and landing of the aircraft. A state highway runs between the two plots and the CG has requested the state government to divert the highway and release the H-2 plot so that the airfield could be fully functional,” said a senior official from the home department.
Once operational, the Ratnagiri runway would be able to accommodate as many as 40 aircraft, including 72 and 80 seaters. The Coast Guard plans to station Chetaks and advanced light helicopters which are used for reconnaissance and rescue operations.
“The 26/11 Mumbai attack exposed the vulnerability of our coast and how it can be misused by terrorists to execute their deadly plans. We are planning to operate Dornier planes and helicopters at Ratnagiri. These planes are used for reconnaissance and rescue operations. A base in Konkan with refuelling facilities will enable the agency to conduct patrols. Now with the Ratnagiri airstrip going to be functional by this year end our dominance on the coast will increase manifolds. It will act as a valuable asset against asymmetric threat,” said a Coast Guard official.
“During any emergency situation, both man-made or natural, it could be used by other state or central agencies to carry out evacuation, search and rescue or facilitate relief operations,” the official added.
“On an average at least 12 aircraft can be pressed for surveillance or any emergency purposes from the Ratnagiri airfield. The location also gives us an advantage as we would be able to fly not only in Maharashtra but also the adjoining states of Goa and Gujarat. While the runway is slated to be functional by December, we are hoping to wrap the work before monsoon and start using it immediately,” said the official.
Other than the coastal police, securing the 7,500 kilometres of coastline is a joint task of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard. Maharashtra has a vast coastline that stretches up to 330 miles. Post 26/11, the three agencies work in tandem to keep the coasts safe.