Indias first underground strategic naval base that was to house its nuclear-armed submarine has run into a tangle over green norms with the regional office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) opposing the diversion of over 600 hectares of reserved forest land citing a strong possibility that it may affect the water table and soil moisture content in the area.
The proposed expansion of the base at Rambilli near Visakhapatnam,that will consist of underground pens to house nuclear-armed submarines and protected harbours for warships,is currently under the scanner of MoEFs Forest Advisory Committee.
The project for setting up of a Naval Alternate Operating Base (NAOB) involves diversion of 676.12 hectares of forest land in Rambilli and Kalavalapalli reserved forests of Visakhapatnam division. It would be similar to Chinas base at Hainan Island that houses nuclear-armed submarines and first came to light four years ago through satellite imagery.
The Indian project involves a number of strategic constructions of undisclosed cost and nature. In the non-technical area,several buildings administrative wings,communication buildings,technical storage ares,hardware rooms,water supply pumps,fire fighting pumps,garages,accommodation and transit facility will be built.
The Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF decided in a meeting last month to seek the views of Andhra Pradesh government on the issues raised in the Southern Zone site inspection report before taking a final decision.
The Southern Zone site inspection report points out that the two reserved forests,covering the reserved forest area in question,is spread across two large-sized hills which also constitute the catchment areas for the agricultural land under cultivation in the region. If the two hills,consisting of natural forests,are diverted,it may have deleterious effect and impact on soil moisture content and water table in the surrounding areas having housing colonies as well as cultivated agricultural lands, the report says.
It may also have a tangible,intangible as well as untenable effects on the wells,borewells,tube wells,water tanks/water bodies etc,the report adds. It further says that the degraded land proposed to be utilized for compensatory afforestation is also not suitable as these forests are full of natural native species and in parts already covered under forest plantations through various state and Central government schemes. Still other sections of this degraded land are either prone to shifting cultivation or encroached upon.
The environmental impact of the project will entail a diversion of over 53,000 trees. The forest land is also home to over 300 peacocks,common native birds,lizards,rattle snakes,cobras,significant native avi-fauna and flora like sandalwood trees.
The regional forest officers also point out that the user agency has failed to consider the alternative revenue land available on the sea shore along the east coast in Visakhapatnam district for NAOB Phase II. It adds that while NAOB Phase I is a rather massive integrated plan,NAOB II has been added suddenly as an afterthought.