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Thursday, September 6

MoEF puts down Coast Guard Radar project to save endangered Narcondam Hornbills

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In the face of severe protest from the environmentalists and a thumbs down from the standing committee of the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL), Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has decided to put down the proposal from the Indian Coastguard to divert 0.637 hectare of forest land at the Narcondam Islands in the Andaman sea to install a coastal surveillance RADAR, since the project will adversely affect the life of the endangered Narcondam Hornbill (Aceros narcondami ) which is endemic to the island.

Narcondam Hornbill (Aceros narcondami)
Image Courtesy: Kalyan Varma
According to an official memorandum (F. No. 6-73!2011.\X/L) from the wildlife division of the MoEF, the nests of the birds are located at 200 meters height and the females hornbills usually sheds their flight feathers during egg laying and chick rearing season. This will wipe out the birds in the island even if the proposed area for the project is just 0.7 hectares. Despite its endangered nature, the bird was included in the Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.

“Even If the area to be used for the project is less than 0.7 hectares, disturbances and damage caused to the habitat due to cutting of road through the area, and because of the regular functioning of RADAR system, is likely to cause irreversible adverse impact on this unique bird, and can even wipe out the whole population”, says the memorandum issued by MoEF.

Strong opposition from NBWL and the greens
According to MoEF, the report submitted by Dr. A. Rahmani, member of NBWL who was entrusted to make an inspection of the site, proposed that the project should not be recommended since it may affect the unique status of the habitat. The other members of the NBWL have also opposed the project when the proposal came for its consideration.

Narcondam Island, Location of Narcondam Island, Narcondam Island map
Location of Narcondam Island
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Moreover, several green organizations including BNHS, Conservation India, Kerala Birder have raised alarm calls that the project may affect the remaining population of less than 350 birds in the island. 

"Since this was not a battle fought in Court, it was public sentiment that swayed the decision.", said a BNHS member. Though many of the activists who have fought against the project have not seen the bird directly, they have stood for its life. "Ecologically, this is totally defensible. This is also a win for the idea of keeping an animal alive, even though we don't see it or experience it, in the way we experience other species", said she.

The project was part of installing a chain of static RADAR sensors in the Indian coast to monitor activities in coastal sea. The project was earlier approved by Andaman and Nicobar Island Administration.

 The memorandum has suggested that the coastguard can explore other technologies or areal, satellite, off shore, ship -based or land based surveillance alternatives for the purpose by constituting a committee of experts from various fields. 

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