A strategically important Coast Guard Air Enclave project that was proposed to carry out air surveillance in and around the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea has been hanging fire for over four years.
The then Congress-led UPA government had first given an assurance in 2012 that a ‘Coast Guard Airport’ would be set up in the Lakshadweep Islands. The project would have given the Indian Coast Guard extra teeth to take on terror elements seeking to disrupt peace in the coastal states.
The move to set up a Coast Guard Airport came in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in which terrorists from Pakistan used the sea route to illegally enter India’s commercial capital in 2008 to carry out mass killing and terror strikes.
In September 2010, the Ministry of Defence gave its approval for setting up the Coast Guard Air Enclave (CGAE) at Minicoy for developing infrastructure for Indian Coast Guard (ICG) flying operations. The Lakshadweep administration and ICG identified 20 acres of land to stage and operate Dornier aircraft for ‘extended surveillance’ from the proposed airfield at Minicoy.
The Airport Authority of India and Defence Ministry declined to undertake any civilian or military airport project in Lakshadweep on some pretext or the other. However, a joint visit by top government and Defence Ministry officials from the Navy wing in April 2015 after considering the huge infrastructural cost, environment issues and feasibility of ICG’s surveillance needs, approved acquisition of 20 acres of land to set up the airport at Minicoy Island. But no notification in this regard was issued.
The Indian Coast Guard in September 2016 submitted its requisition for acquiring land at Minicoy for setting up the Coast Guard Air Enclave.
A Parliamentary panel which has probed the delay in implementing the Coast Guard airport project has been informed that the project is unlikely to be implemented before 2019-20. The panel has noted with concern that with the delay the country’s strategic needs are being compromised.
“In particular, there is no airstrip or air base at such strategic Island as Minicoy which does not augur well for the country’s coastal security and development of coastal tourism…the matter should be pursued vigorously as it plays a crucial role in development of the Island’s economy through tourism and enhancing the country’s defence preparedness,” the panel stated.
The parliamentary committee has asked the Defence Ministry to lay a part implementation report detailing efforts being made by them till date towards implementation of the coastal airport project. It also urged the ministries of Defence, Home and Union Territory administration of Laskhadweep to finalise a clear timeframe for starting and implementing the airport project.