The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has approved a proposal for the "upgrade" of an Indian Air Force base in Ladakh in a 508-hectare area in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary near the Line of Actual Control.
Apart from this, the NBWL cleared nine more strategic projects in the Changthang and Karakoram wildlife sanctuaries as India looks to bolster defence infrastructure near the LAC.
The IAF had first submitted the proposal to upgrade the air base to the State Board for Wildlife on December 12, 2020, months after border standoff with China. The State panel cleared it in a meeting on June 29, acknowledging its importance for national security.
The IAF had informed that it is an "existing operational airbase and approval is being sought to upgrade the existing base", the minutes of the June 29 meeting read.
The Standing Committee of the NBWL, chaired by Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, approved the proposal in a meeting on July 29.
The IAF is yet to apply for environmental clearance to the project.
The standing committee has also cleared a proposal to divert 1259.25 hectares of land from the Changthang sanctuary for the re-notification of the Mahe Field Firing Range (MFFR) in eastern Ladakh, around 40-50 km from the international border.
The re-notification of the MFFR has been pending since 2014. At present, it is the only firing range in the entire eastern Ladakh sector where all types of weapons can be fired.
The standing committee also cleared proposals to upgrade three key road stretches in the strategically important region — 107.406 hectares (ha) from the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary for the construction of T-Salu Changchemo road, 27.5 ha from the Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary for the upgrade of Khalsar-Agham road and 6.875 ha from the Karakoram Sanctuary for the upgrade of Leh-Chalunka road.
Besides, permission has been granted for laying optical fibre cables in the two sanctuaries.