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The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has approved a proposal to upgrade the Indian Air Force base in Ladakh to an area of 508 hectares in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary near the Line of Actual Control. Apart from this, the board also approved nine more strategic projects in Changthang and Karakoram wildlife sanctuaries as India seeks to strengthen defense infrastructure along the LAC.
The Air Force first submitted a proposal to upgrade the air base to the State Board for Wildlife on December 12, 2020, months after the border standoff with China. Recognizing its importance for national security, the state panel approved it in a meeting on June 29.
The board’s standing committee chaired by Bhupendra Yadav approved
The Air Force had informed that it is an existing operational airbase and approval is being sought to upgrade the existing base. The Standing Committee of the Board, headed by Union Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav, approved the proposal in a meeting on July 29. The Air Force is yet to apply for environmental clearance for the project. The Standing Committee has also approved the proposal to remove 1259.25 hectares of land from Changthang Sanctuary for re-notification of Mahe Field Firing Range (MFFR) in Eastern Ladakh, about 40-50 kms from the International Border.
Re-notification of MFFR is 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 approved proposals to upgrade three major road stretches in the strategically important area – 107.406 hectares from Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary for construction of T-Salu Changchemo Road, Karakoram Wildlife for Upgradation of Khalsar-Agham Road 27.5 hectares from the sanctuary and 6.875 hectares from the Karakoram sanctuary to upgrade the Leh-Chalunka road. Apart from this, permission has been given to lay optical fiber cable in both the sanctuaries.