When President Patil checks in, quite a lot have to check out
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I stand here today as the Republic's first servant, said President Pratibha Patil, after assuming office in July this year. Perhaps, the officials at Andamans didn't take her seriously.
As Patil and her family land in the Andamans tomorrow for what is billed a three-day "official tour," a few things have been brushed under the red carpet: at least 60 trees have been cut to prepare a helipad for her so that she and her 10-member family entourage don't have to take a 40-minute road trip.
And two Government-run tourist resorts have issued notices to all tourists cancelling their bookings — the Christmas-New Year's Eve is the peak holiday season for the islands — to accommodate her delegation.
Sources have told The Indian Express that the trees were cut to make way for a helipad for Patil's entourage — which includes her husband Devisingh Ramsingh Shekhawat — in Wandoor village, about 30 km south-west of Port Blair.
Wandoor is home to one of the most environmentally protected areas in the country, the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, spread over 15 islands and creeks and has a rich diversity of flora and fauna across 280 sq km.
The President is there to hand over 200 eco-friendly houses to tsunami victims at Kinyuka village in Car Nicobar.
Officially, on "Revenue Department land", the helipad has been built in Wandoor, close to the jetty so that ferries can take Patil and her family to the nearby coral islands in Jolly Buoy, Red Skin and Twins Islands.
When asked to comment, Chief Secretary Chhering Targay told The Indian Express: "Some trees had to be cut for the helipad, I have no idea how many. For that you will have to ask the Principal Conservator of Forests."
Principal Conservator of Forests, who is also Environment Secretary in the Andaman administration, S S Chaudhary said: "Trees were cut for the construction of the helipad, the trees which were cut were in the funnel area. While take-off or landing of the choppers, all directions have to be cleared of any obstruction, that led to the cutting of trees. The Indian Air Force was monitoring the helipad project, while the Andaman PWD executed it."
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