Following a rap by CAG for over a two-decade-delay in commissioning a forward airfield and not activating another for fighter aircraft use, the Defence Ministry has asked the Indian Air Force to take steps to ensure such strategic projects are completed in time.
The CAG in its report on performance audit of Defence Services (2010-11) had questioned the "inordinate delay" in development of airbases.
It had said that despite sanctioning additional Rs 25.17 crore for speedy completion of the project on fast track basis, frequent changes in plans led to a delay of over two decades in commissioning a strategic forward base airfield.
The paragraph has been considered by Parliament's Public Accounts Committee for examination.
In its reply to the PAC, the Defence Ministry has said the airfield at Phalodi (Rajasthan) is now being optimally utilised by fighter aircraft.
The Ministry has advised the IAF headquarters to take "appropriate measures" to ensure that strategically important projects like development of airbases are taken up after "meticulous and comprehensive planning" so that they are completed within the schedule time and cost.
Citing increasing number of airfields in Pakistan, an approval was granted for the construction of a Fighter Base Support Unit (FBSU) in March, 1985 at Phalodi at a cost of Rs 29.33 crore.
Though the land was acquired in October, 1986, actual construction could not commence as the budgetary support for the FBSU was utilised for other "urgent and operationally important requirements".
After a gap of more than a decade in January, 2002, the proposal was once again moved for the construction of a full- fledged airfield instead of a mere FBSU which resulted in increased cost of Rs 227.38 crore.
Despite approval, the funds were released in August, 2004 defeating the purpose of sanctioning the project on a fast track basis, the document said.
"The ministry is in agreement with audit's conclusion that there have been changes in plans and delay of over two decades in the Phalodi project...," the document said.
Fighter aircraft operations have commenced from the airfield from April, 2010.
The second case pertains to an approval for an Air Force Station at Cholvaram near Chennai by inducting a squadron of fighters from the authorised force level in June, 1984.
The base was conceived to provide air Defence cover to certain sensitive installations. But since the state government was reluctant to approve an airfield at Cholvaram, in October, 1987 it was decided to relocate the airfield to Thanjavur where runways of 1942 vintage existed.
While the government approved setting up of an air wing at Thanjavur in December, 1989, the IAF changed its stance about the "nature and priority" of the base and without obtaining the approval of the competent financial authority downgraded it into a "care and maintenance" unit.