Indian army to get firing range in J&K measuring that of Maldives land mass
Srinagar: At a time when the government of India (GoI) has declared nominal halt in anti-militancy operations in plains of Jammu and Kashmir, the Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP state government has identified land, measuring 5, 69,911 Kanals and 17 Marlas (71238 acres) — an area nearly equal to the total land mass of Maldives — to lease to the Indian army for field firing and artillery practice, for five years, in Kargil district.
The area can accommodate 647 Vatican Cites and is 23 times bigger than erstwhile firing range in Tosa Maidan in Budgam district. Maldives is an Islandic-nation in deep Arabian Sea, south of India.
In a notification, the state government has asked the public that any objections in this regard may be communicated to the Kargil District Magistrate within a period of two months.
“The Additional Deputy Commissioner Kargil has informed the general public that the Home Department Government of Jammu and Kashmir has through a notification dated 18th of May, 2018 has given notice that vide SRO 217 in exercise of the powers conferred by sub section 3 of Section 9 of the Maneuvers, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir intends to authorize carrying out of the periodical Field Firing and Artillery Practice through an area notified vide SRO 216, dated 18-05-2018 or any specified part thereof for a period of five years,” an official handout said.
In November 2014, the fifty-year lease period of nine firing ranges in Jammu and Kashmir had expired. Since then the Indian army has been pursuing the case for their extension.
These firing ranges included four in Ladakh region — Mahe (Nyoma, Leh), Khurbarteng (Kargil), Tartar (Leh) and Kulum (Upshi) in Leh — falling under 14 Corps of Indian army.
In Kashmir, it was Tosa Maidan (Budgam) which came under the jurisdiction of 15 Corps or Chinar Corps of Indian Army.
Other ranges were in Jammu region – Chorkhud in Poonch, Jhallas in Rajouri, and Garhi (Nowshera) in Rajouri district — falling under the Command of 16 Corps of Indian Army.
In 2014, the army vacated the firing range in Tosa Maidan meadow in central Kashmir following massive public pressure. Occupied from 1962 by forces, the locals and activists started protest demonstrations against the renewal of the lease agreement. A front was also created by activists and locals which was called as The Tosa Maidan Bachao Front (TBF).
Official figures state that since the lease was granted, 63 people have died and 150 have been disabled from the littered shells in Tosa Maidan, surrounded by nearly sixty villages. Locals have been claiming that number is much higher, so much so that Tosa Maidan is also called The Meadow of Death by villagers.
By October 22, 2014, after an 83-day operation, the army said it had finished demining the fields. However, some more deaths by the explosion of mines were reported, later.
Meanwhile, the government in 2016 had granted land to the army at Nowshera in Rajouri district for the firing range.
In March 2017, 4,80,000 kanals of land was allotted by the state government to the army at Mandalthang, Shayok in Durbuk sub-division in Leh district of Ladakh for setting up field firing and artillery range with the lease agreement for five years.
Later, in October 2017 the state government extended the lease of army’s field firing and artillery range in Akhnoor area of Jammu by 10 years.
The Indian army has been raising the issue time and again on pretext that heavy losses are incurred to the state exchequer and defence budget as the artillery units deployed in Jammu and Kashmir had to move to Mahajan and Pokhran firing ranges in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh for practice and training along with lock, stock and barrel.
In January 2018, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti revealed in Legislative Assembly that over 4.30 lakh kanals of land in Jammu and Kashmir is under the unauthorised occupation of the army and other security forces agencies.
Of this land mass, as per government data, 51116 kanals are in Jammu and 379817 kanals in Kashmir and Ladakh.