4 yrs on, Coast Guard Ratnagiri air station yet to take off

By now, Coast Guard (CG) Chetaks and Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) should have been taking off from Ratnagiri for surveillance of the 700-km Maharashtra coastline.

Proposed in 2006 and hastily sanctioned by the Maharashtra government after 26/11, the CG Ratnagiri airfield is yet to take off. With two of the three plots for which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) made full payment being transferred only this year, and the third yet to be handed over, CG officials say commissioning of the air station before 2014 is doubtful.

The CG has a fixed and a rotary wing squadron at Daman, to the north of Mumbai, and a rotary wing squadron in Mumbai. Ratnagiri being the only air station south of Mumbai before Goa, is crucial.

The Defence Estates Office (DEO), Pune Circle, is pursuing the land transfer.

On May 17, 2006, Mumbai-based Western Naval Command requested the Maharashtra government to hand over the airstrip at Ratnagiri for naval operations. On December 1, 2006, the decision to hand over 41,000 square metres of the airstrip plot and two plots, H-1 and H-2, measuring 1.58 lakh square metres was taken by the state government.

It remained in cold storage until 26/11 made security of the western coast a crucial issue.

On January 19, 2009, within two months of 26/11, the state government issued a GR to urgently transfer the airstrip and the adjacent Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) plots to the MoD.

The GR was followed by land measurement that determined its cost to be Rs 20.47 crore, Rs 12.52 crore for the airstrip plot and Rs 7.95 crore for MIDC plots H-1 and H-2.

On August 4, 2010, T C Sharma, under secretary, GoI in a letter sanctioned payment of the Rs 20.47 crore. The payments were made on September 29, 2010. On October 28, 2010, the Ratnagiri collector ordered the transfer to CG.

"The order came with conditions the original GR did not have. It made CG secondary holder of the plot. Further, MIDC imposed a token rent of Re 1 per annum. We fail to understand why CG should pay rent for land for which they have paid in full. Additional charges of Rs 39.87 lakh were sought for road widening. All this is unacceptable. MIDC is delaying the process without thinking about national security," said an official of the DEO, Pune Circle. These issues were mentioned in a letter to MIDC by DEO, Pune Circle G S Rajeswaran in October last year.

On January 12 this year, airstrip land was handed over to commander B H Kumbhare, CO, Indian Coast Guard Station, Ratnagiri. H-1 was acquired only last month but H-2 is yet to be transferred.

"The airfield requires the entire land. A state highway runs between the two plots. We have approached the state government to divert the highway. Negotiations are on. The plans are ready and the airfield is expected to have the ATC, hangars, officers' accommodation, equipment and machinery. All this has not come up because MIDC has not handed over the land. Chartered, corporate flights land but without an ATC communication is done through mobile phones. If a military aircraft, either rotary wing or fixed wing (CG has Dorniers, Chetaks and Dhruvs) is to land, we are supposed to carry out runway carpeting, extension and repair. We have not yet been able to as land acquisition is stuck. Constructing a hangar itself takes about a year. Given that, the air station won't be ready before 2014," said a CG spokesperson.

A R Kale, Ratnagiri MIDC Regional Officer said, "MIDC is a Government of Maharashtra undertaking. MIDC land belongs to Industry, Energy and Labour departments of the state government. MIDC lands are not sold, but leased on an annual rent of Re 1 for 99 years. The DEO was aware of this and it was made clear right at the start. Their issues have been presented to MIDC Board of Directors and the remaining land should be handed over within a month."

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