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Jayanthi cries fowl,blocks Navy missiles

Environment ministry says proposed island test range will destroy the rare Nicobar scrubfowl

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
October 6, 2012 2:05:36 am

To save the habitat of an endangered species of bird,Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan has rejected the Navy’s proposal to set up a missile testing site at Tillanchong Sanctuary in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The Navy has said it would ask the ministry to reconsider.

Natarajan said on Friday that she had accepted the recommendation of the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife that had said the missile testing project would destroy the habitat of the Nicobar megapode,also known as the Nicobar scrubfowl (Megapodius nicobariensis).

“The habitat of the megapode should not be disturbed and the missile firing range should not come up in that area,” the minister said in Delhi.

Only weeks ago,Natarajan had shot down a Coast Guard project to set up a surveillance radar in Narcondan,another island in the archipelago,to save the habitat of a rare endangered hornbill endemic to the region.

“It was a very difficult decision for me to reject the proposal for the temporary facility at the ecologically sensitive island as it involves security,and the missile range is important for the country’s defence,” she said on Friday.

The megapode — so called because of its large feet — “actually does not exist anywhere (else) and it is a very unique species”,Natarajan said. “It is too sensitive to withstand any such installation over there and as environment minister it is my mandate to make sure that wildlife,flora and fauna of our country are protected. So,it is an extremely hard decision but I decided that it is my mandate and I should stay with it.”

The scrubfowl,considered sacred by the Nicobarese people,was hit badly by the Indian Ocean tsunami that destroyed vast swathes of its habitat and nesting grounds.

Navy Chief Admiral D K Joshi said the firing range was critical to the force. “We will re-approach the MoEF and we know that they have their reservations. But the fact is we cannot do without our firing range,” PTI quoted him as saying.

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