New government works on defence and dam projects
The new government kicked into gear this week, clearing billions of dollars worth of long-delayed defence projects, including a big navy base, as well as approving the scaling-up of one of the country’s biggest dams.
The decision to give the projects the go-ahead despite concern about their environmental and social impact signals Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s no-nonsense approach to issues he considers to be important for national security.
The clearances were made over several days and were the first major decisions from the government that swept to power on May 16 on promises of getting Asia’s third-largest economy moving and building a stronger country.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the government could not compromise on efforts to build military and civil infrastructure on the border with China as well the west-coast naval base in as an alternative to crowded Mumbai port.
As well as the $2 billion extension to the Karwar base Karnataka, Javadekar approved a radar station in the Andaman and Nicobar islands in the Bay of Bengal. A defence source said he also planned to fast-track road building along the disputed border with China.
Javadekar said China had built infrastructure in the Coco Islands, which are controlled by Myanmar and just to the north of the Andamans.
“If you have a situation where China is sitting in front and we won’t do anything, how can you run the country like this,” he said in comments made available to Reuters on Friday.
The radar station proposal had earlier been turned down because the Environment Ministry under the last government saw a threat to the Narcondam Hornbill, an endangered bird species.
The radar on Narcondam island is one of 18 that the military has planned, running north to south along the Andamans, which straddle the strategic seaway leading to the Malacca Straits. This year, India’s patchy radar meant it was unable to say whether missing Malaysian airlines flight MH370 had passed over the islands.
Modi met China’s foreign minister this week and is likely to visit Beijing this year, but he is also keen to quickly build up border defences that have fallen far behind India’s neighbour.
The 63-year-old’s first foreign foray will be on Sunday to tiny Bhutan, a Himalayan buffer between India and China that has long been a close Indian military and diplomatic ally.