The Ministry of Defence said the denotification of Tosa Maidan Firing range by the Jammu and Kashmir government and the lack of suitable ranges in the Valley has adversely affected the internal security in the state and also impacted the military response to ceasefire violations.
“As on date, a large number of restrictions have been imposed on the Indian Army with respect to availability of ranges in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Whereas our adversary on the western borders is not constrained with any such restrictions and has a number of ranges available to him,” the ministry said in response to a notice of National Green Tribunal (NGT), adding, “This is likely to have an adverse impact on the preparedness of our Armed Forces vis-a-vis our adversaries.”
The NGT in January this year had issued notices the J&K government and Defence Ministry, over the proposed decision of setting up an artillery firing range in the Bajhpathri meadow of Yousmarg in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. A petition filed by a Budgam resident and social activist, Raja Muzzafar Bhat, had asked the tribunal to direct the state government and defense ministry to not handover the meadow to Army for artillery practice as it would “damage the environment, forest and wildlife in the area.”
The ministry has said the non availability of a firing range has compelled the Army to move the troops and heavy equipment to ranges in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. “All this is likely to cause an adverse impact on the security preparedness of our Armed Forces,” it said in the affidavit filed before the tribunal earlier this month.
J-K government had not renotified the lease agreement of Tosa Maidan firing range in 2014 owing to public pressure, forcing the Army to look for alternative firing ranges in the state. According to the Ministry of Defence, the State government had offered the Bajpathri area that falls in the meadows of Yousmarg tourist destination as an alternate firing range.
“The detailed study and reconnaissance was carried out by Army alongwith Air Force followed by Joint study with the various state government authorities to study the requirement of land, the environment impact and effect on tourism,” the ministry said, adding the final decision to notify was that of the government of J&K.
The proposal too had run into a rough weather and both separatist camp and civil society groups had opposed it. “Bajpathri is adjacent to famous tourist spot of Yousmarg and if firing and artillery practices are allowed in the area it will gravely impact the tourism activity and livelihood of the local population,” Bhat, who has petitioned against the proposal before the tribunal, told The Indian Express.
The ministry in its response has said the troop and equipment movement for training purposes to other states has also lowered the training standards and reduced the response to ceasefire violations. “It will also affect military response to a major military threat posed by our adversely due to the time required for return of equipment,” it said.