Notifying Bajpathri? The Defence Ministry Responds

Muhammad Raafi

SRINAGAR

Tosamaidan KL Image: Bilal Bahadur
A view of Tosamaidan. (KL Image: Bilal Bahadur)

After National Green Tribunal (NGT) gave last chance to J&K Government, Ministry of Defence (MoD) and army to file its responses viz-a-viz Tosa Maidan and Bajpathri, the MoD on May 10 filed a detailed response before the appellate authority.

Army vacated Tosa Maidan firing range after over 50 years of its lease, however, it has been asking J&K Government to allot an alternate place for the field firing range.

The MoD in its response said that state government offered the Bajpathri area as an alternate field firing range. But the reported move of state government came under severe criticism across the ideological divide.

Bajpathri in central Kashmir’s Budgam district is potentially tourist rich and environmentally fragile place.

The locals led a campaign following which previous PDP-BJP government had to make it clear that “there was no such plan in offing”.

Later Kashmir based social activist, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, filed a petition before NGT making state of Jammu and Kashmir, Ministry of Defence (MoD) and others as respondents. He sought details of Tosa Maidan and if army had cleared all the shells and ammunitions from the area; notifying of Bajpathri as an alternate firing range.

In response to the petition, the Ministry of Defence through its respondent Colonel Vinod, officiating brigadier General staff (training) Headquarters Northern Command said that the non-availability of “suitable firing” ranges in the “Kashmir theatre of operations”, had an “adverse” impact on the working of Army.

NGT its April 10 order had given ultimatum to J&K Government and MoD to file its responses as they hadn’t replied the notice since its first hearing in February.

“The non-availability of a range in the Kashmir region has now compelled army to move the heavy equipment to far of ranges at Babina, Madhya Pradesh and Mahajan, Rajasthan,” Colonel Vinod said in MoD’s response to NGT notice.

“As a result,” the ministry stated, “73 officers, 149 junior commissioned officers and 1367 other ranks of units moved out for their practice camps during the training cycle (1 Jul to 30 Jun) during the year 2015-16.” “This is likely to cause an adverse impact on the security preparedness of our armed forces.”

The response stated that an amount of Rs 43 Crores had to be expended for the movement of the troops for training outside J&K. It added that the movement had adversely effected the wear and tear equipment.

Apart from expenditure on fuel, oil and lubricant movements, the respondent stated that “the alternate field firing ranges had affected the internal security” (overall). “Depletion in manning levels of counter infiltration grid deployment. Reduced levels of retaliation to ceasefire violations due to non-availability of essential weapon and war like stores for prolonged duration.”

“It will also affect military response to a major threat posed by our adversely due to the time required for return of equipment,” the response stated.

Besides, the ministry said, “Training troops in terrain and climatic conditions completely different from those prevailing in strategically important Kashmir and other reasons.”

The ministry said that the state government has offered the area of Bajpathri for notifying as an alternative field firing ranges. “The detailed study and reconnaissance was carried out by Army along with Air Force followed by joint study with the various state government authorities to study the requirement of land and the environmental impact and effect on tourism. The final decision to notify the ranges will be that of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir.”

The ministry further said that the Tosa Maidan field firing range was utilized “as per the laid down provisions of Manoeuvres, field firing and artillery practice act 1938 with caution and adhering to all the safety precautions and procedures including care to preserve the environment”.

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