BALASORE: Wheeler Island, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam’s “theatre of action,” gets his name. In a tribute to India’s Missile Man, Odisha Government on Friday announced that the strategically located island will now be called Abdul Kalam Island.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who made the formal announcement at the State Secretariat here, described it is as “a humble tribute of the State to the People’s President.” Wheeler Island, located about 15 nautical miles off the Dhamra fishing harbour in Bhadrak district, boasts of a missile launching complex. One among the cluster of five islands in the Bay of Bengal, it was Kalam who was instrumental in locating the missile launching facility at the small Wheeler Island.
Naveen’s father and former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik had allotted the island to Ministry of Defence on the request of Dr Kalam in 1993. The story of how the island got on the national map itself is an interesting one. After facing stiff public resistance to acquisition of land at Balasore’s Baliapal block where the National Test Range (NTR) was proposed to be sited in the 1980s, the defence authorities were forced to set up the interim test range (ITR) at Chandipur.
In October 1993, after development of Prithvi missile, the Army wanted a confirmatory test on a land range to validate circular error probability (CEP) of the missile. However, the DRDO’s efforts to conduct the tests in the desert range could not take off due to range safety problems. To overcome the issue, the defence authorities were on the lookout for an uninhabited island in the eastern coast.
In Kalam’s own words, “On the hydrographic map supplied by the Navy, we saw a few islands in the Bay of Bengal off Dhamra coast indicating that there was some landmass. The range team comprising SK Salwan and VK Saraswat, carrying a directional compass, hired a boat from Dhamra fishing harbour and went in search of the island. The geographical location of Wheeler moved us,” he had said at a lecture later.
While Wheeler Island later turned out to be the launching pad for India’s missile defence systems, Kalam also played a key role in ensuring that the island, a nesting ground for the endangered Olive Ridley turtles, remained safe by changing the illumination structure.
Renaming the island after Dr Kalam, Naveen said, will inspire the younger generation to work dedicatedly for scientific research.