New Delhi: Environmental issues are increasingly coming in the way of the Indian Navy carrying out live fire testing of various weapons on board ships.
Naval sources say that even for testing small weapons, ships have to move far out to sea. This not only means extra expense in terms of fuel but also time. Then there’s the fact that in the event of rough seas and during the monsoon, smaller vessels cannot risk leaving harbour. As a result, training suffers.
The environmental reasons are many. For the last three years, the Navy has been fighting a case in the Karnataka High Court over a rocky outcrop near Nethrani island off Karwar. Environment groups have won a stay on the Navy’s live fire tests there on the grounds that it is destroying underwater life. The Navy, however, suspects the environment angle may only be a ruse, that commercial interests see value in Nethrani’s location and may have plans to put up a tourist resort there.
The Navy is also facing environmental ire over plans to use Narcondum island in the Andaman chain as a site for targeting dummy missiles. The Navy says it is an isolated island and therefore ideally suited. But environmental groups say the island is the habitat of the rare Narcondum Hornbill and therefore the island should be preserved. In other words, the Navy should look elsewhere.
Add to that energy and pipeline issues. Live fire testing disrupts the flow of tankers and risks damage to undersea pipelines carrying oil and gas.
The Navy is frustrated. Senior officers admit that environment concerns cannot be ignored but they need space to test weapons. They cannot do it on land as finding unpopulated areas is difficult.
These problems are not unique to the Indian Navy. Other navies are similarly hamstrung. The US is able to use its position to carry out tests in the seas of small countries but the Indian Navy doesn’t enjoy the advantage that comes from superpower status.