To keep vigil on China, army seeks land in Uttarakhand for UAV operations
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles fitted with high resolution cameras will now keep a close watch on the 350 km India-China border touching Uttarakhand.
In that connection, the army has requested the state government to provide 60 acres of land in Pantnagar for landing and takeoff by UAVs, officials said.
The army put in the request to the Uttarakhnd Civil Aviation Department (UCAD) through the Airport Authority of India (AAI).
“The request has been made as part of the AAI’s master plan for upgrading the Pantnagar airport as an international airport,” Udham Singh Nagar district magistrate Neeraj Khairwal said.
“The AAI requested for 60 acres area so that the runway of the proposed international airport has enough space for landing and takeoff by both big size aeroplanes as well as UAVs.”
Khairwal refused to comment on reports that the army put in a request for 60 acres of land so that UAVs could keep a close watch on the movements of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the India-China border touching the mountain state.
“They (army) will use the proposed Pantnagar International Airport to facilitate their UAV related operations for strategic reasons,” he said.
Officials, however, said the army plans to deploy UAVs to keep a close watch on the India-China border touching Uttarakhand that has witnessed several transgressions by the Chinese army through land and air in the recent past.
The army also put in a request to UCAD for land to set up an airstrip in Chaukhutia in the hill district of Almora, another official said.
“The state government will put up both the proposals before the Cabinet in its next meeting. In all likelihood, the (proposals) will be approved,” he said referring to the proposed airstrip in Chaukhutia and the land the AAI has sought to facilitate its “UAV operations on the India-China border”.
Officials said the state government was likely to approve the army’s request for the 60 acre land for expansion of the Pantnagar airport.
“Its (army) request has been included in the AAI master plan for expansion of the Pantnagar airport following the Centre’s nod to upgrade it as an international airport,” an official said.
Chief secretary Utpal Kumar Singh along with state government officials and those from the AAI discussed the master plan at a meeting held here on May 3. The second meeting to discuss the master plan is scheduled on May 15.
In the proposed meeting, Udham Singh Nagar district magistrate Khairwal will make a presentation on the proposal relating to the land that will be required for upgrading the Pantnagar airport as the international airport.
Khairwal said that in the next meeting with the chief secretary, he would present before the latter a proposal relating to the land to be acquired for the expansion of the (Pantnagar) airport.
The Centre swung into action and started upgrading vigil on the India-China border touching Uttarakhand following the last year’s military standoff between both the nations in Doklam along the international border east of Sikkim.
Besides, frequent transgressions of India’s air and land space in Uttarakhand by Chinese army also prompted the Centre to mount military vigilance.
On July 25 last year, Chinese soldiers transgressed one km into Barahoti in the mountain state’s border district of Chamoli.
Almost a month later (on June 3), a suspected Chinese helicopter violated the Indian air space by hovering over Chamoli area, close to Sino-India border.
Superintendent of Police, Chamoli, Tripti Bhatt had said the chopper was not a military aircraft but admitted that it did violate the airspace because it had entered into the Indian territory without any prior permission.
Former chief minister Vijay Bahuguna is on record stating that Chinese troops intruded into Barahoti 35 times during his about two-year tenure that ended in 2014.