New Delhi: The shortage of land in India is well known but it's also now affecting the army which is running short of firing and manoeuvre ranges to train on. It's not only illegal encroachment, even state governments are reluctant to notify firing ranges given in demands from their own people.
India's million man army is running short of firing ranges to train on and perfect doctrine and tactics as expanding population is putting pressure on land. Firing ranges in sensitive areas like Kashmir are already feeling the heat. People living outside the Toshe Maidan range, 50 km from Srinagar, want it shut down.
“Many youngsters have died, many have been injured. We haven't gained anything out of this. Our Toshe Maidan is very beautiful. We want tourists,” says a local. However, the army says Toshe Maidan can’t be shut as it sits on traditional infiltration routes into the Kashmir Valley.
In two other firing ranges, private operators are active. In Belgaum, an MBA institute is coming up close to the Bagdad Asmara firing range in complete violation of law. Then there's the Shahgarh firing range in Jaisalmer, just 10 km from the Pakistan border, a private firm is exploring for oil there.
Add to those modern guns, tanks or artillery have longer ranges which means existing ranges like Babina in Uttar Pradesh are already short on space. The Mahajan range in Rajasthan, Deolali in Maharashtra,Kargil in Kashmir, Gamrala in Arunachal Pradesah and Hema and Bircha in Madhya Pradesh are other problem ranges.
On paper, the army has an impressive 66 firing ranges but has acquired only 12 so far. The status of others is uncertain. Government lethargy, delays and legal obstructions means even the notification of some areas as firing ranges have expired.
However, defence analyst Colonel Ajay Shukla, says that there are two kinds of firing ranges – one operated directly by the army and the other notified where the forces move in and ask the villagers to leave the area. “There are two kinds of ranges. One is acquired ranges which is directly in control of the army and the second is notified ranges where army first tell villagers to vacate the place,” he said. “But here you have the army deployed on the border which cannot be pulled out. The ranges have to be in the close vicinity of the rangers,” he added.