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INS Kadamba commissioned

Ravi Sharma

Strategic depth of defence in the Arabian Sea; new base to help decongest Mumbai

DEDICATED TO THE NATION: (From left) Karnataka Chief Minister Dharam Singh, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Chairperson of the National Advisory Council Sonia Gandhi and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash after the commissioning of INS Kadamba in Karwar on Tuesday.

KARWAR: In a colourful yet poignant ceremony, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee commissioned on Tuesday the Navy's long-awaited, futuristic, state-of-the-art operational base on the western seaboard at Karwar (Karnataka). Christened INS Kadamba (after the famous fourth century dynasty) the base will provide the Navy with its first exclusive harbour (all others are essentially enclaves within a commercial port), a strategic depth of defence at sea, especially in the Arabian Sea, and its third operational base after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam.

Ships to be relocated

It will also help decongest Mumbai, the Navy's premier base, with at least 10 ships that are now based at Mumbai being relocated at Kadamba. But the decision on which ships are to be located at Kadamba will only be based on a policy that is being formulated by the Navy. Sources told The Hindu that it was likely that the Navy's more modern surface ships such as the Mumbai class of destroyers would be based at Kadamba. Facilities, especially at the base's fledgling Naval Ship Repair Yard, will also need to be built up before ships are relocated at Karwar. At present 43 officers and 200 sailors will be stationed at Kadamba.

The emotional high point of the commissioning ceremony was the "breaking of the commissioning pennant" and the unfurling of the naval ensign. As per naval traditions the pennant will never be lowered until the base is decommissioned.

Berthed in the base's ample anchorage during the impressive commissioning ceremony were six of India's frontline ships: the aircraft carrier INS Viraat, the stealth frigate INS Talwar, two Delhi class destroyers INS Mumbai and INS Mysore, and two Godavari class guided missile frigates INS Godavari and INS Gomati.

Speaking during the commissioning ceremony the Defence Minister said that Kadamba would help the nation defend its maritime and strategic interests at sea and help the Navy discharge its responsibilities. Terming the commissioning (the first phase of the project should be completed early next year) an important milestone towards the operationalisation of the naval base and a tribute to the vision of Rajiv Gandhi who had laid the foundation stone for the project in October 1986.

To spur development

Mr. Mukherjee admitted that the project (known as Project Seabird) had to overcome many impediments since it was sanctioned by the government in 1985. But he added that its commissioning would spark the all round economic development of Karwar. "Hopefully Karwar and the surrounding areas would become part of the mainstream of the national economy."

In his speech the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) Arun Prakash said that the first phase of the naval base would support and coordinate all the activities that take place at Kadamba. He added that the warships and submarines based at Kadamba would help the country extend its hand to friends, safeguard the country's vast maritime interests and strike a lethal blow to the country's enemies at or from the sea. Terming the base a bastion of national security, the CNS said it would also prove beneficial to the people of the region and the general development of Karwar. According to the CNS, Project Seabird was the most ambitious infrastructure project of the Indian Navy.

Sandwiched between the craggy Western Ghats in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west, deep bays which offer natural protection and a depth of water hardly half a mile into sea, Kadamba is an ideal location for a naval port.

Set to be prime naval port

Over the next two decades the base which is spread over 11,200 acres of land along a 26-km sea front from Karwar Head in the North through Baitkol, Kamath, Binaga, Kwada and Balekeri Bays, Kadamaba will not only overtake Mumbai as India's prime naval port but also turn out to be the biggest in Asia. Kadamba is also be the first port in India to have a shiplift and transfer system, thereby allowing ships (both military and merchant) to be berthed, lifted on to land, repaired and re-sailed in relatively short spans... crucial elements if the Navy is to keep its assets sea worthy. The 10,000 tonne 175 by 28 metre shiplift can lift all of the Navy's ships excluding tankers and the Viraat.

Speaking to reporters after the commissioning Commodore K.P. Ramachandran, INS Kadamba's first Commanding Officer (CO) said that 11 ships could be berthed at Kadamba once the first phase of construction was complete, with the figure going up to 22 after the second phase of construction, which should take two years, was completed. Kadamba's harbour is designed to ultimately berth 42 ships. He said submarines could operate from Kadamaba if need be.

The CO said the second phase would include a naval air station, naval research institute and a naval armament yard.

The chairperson of the National Advisory Council Sonia Gandhi unveiled a plaque naming the base as INS Kadamba. In a break from tradition the invocation was read out in Sanskrit.

BJP protest

While the Navy celebrated a project which has taken almost two decades to fructify, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular) staged a protest before the Karwar Deputy Commissioner's office. The Janata Dal (Secular) criticised the poor compensation and rehabilitation package that was given to the 4,000-odd families which were relocated because of the project and is demanding that one member from every family be provided with a job by the Navy. (The State spent Rs. 126 crores towards rehabilitation costs).

The BJP was protesting against both the presence of Sonia Gandhi as the chief guest and the non-inclusion of the names of the local elected representatives (MP and MLA) in the invitation for the commissioning ceremony.

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