At a time when it’s fast losing control of many Field Firing Ranges (FFRs), the Army’s plan for having two spots -- where it can train to stay fighting-fit without much civilian hindrance -- notified as ‘manoeuvre ranges’ is hanging in the balance.
Senior Army officers told the Express that they had identified Shahgarh near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan with 1,500 sq km of area and Narainpur in Chattisgarh with 750 sq km area for ‘manoeuvre ranges’ but lost the plot to central ministries and state governments.
“Since we do not have manoeuvre ranges in the country, the Army’s battle preparedness is affected. Massive movement of troops and large-scale firing practice can be done only on long stretches of land that have no other civilian or environment related facilities. We cannot carry out such training at FFRs, where multiple firing practices happen at the same time within a smaller territory,” an officer explained.
However, its Shahgarh plan turned all gas, after the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas allotted a spot within the area to a private firm for oil exploration, officers said. In the case of Maoist-affected Narainpur, the Chhattisgarh government has no revenue or survey records for the territory, they said. Meanwhile, of the 104 FFRs across the country, 38 were de-listed in 2009, while another 15 were de-notified by the respective state governments. Of the remaining 51 FFRs, 12 were acquired by the Army, while 41 others were notified by state governments.
Of the 38 de-listed FFRs, the crucial Kolkata-based Eastern Command, tasked to defend against a potential Chinese attack, lost the highest number of ranges--14.
Giving details on the FFRs in the Lok Sabha recently, Defence Minister A K Antony said the Air Force and the Navy had not lost any firing ranges. “Simultaneous efforts are on for acquisition of more ranges. In addition, efforts are on by the Army to impress upon the respective state governments and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest for re-notification and acquisition of the FFRs,” he said. The issue was being taken up with the state governments during civil-military liaison conferences, too. The Central Command and the Southern Command have seven each of their FFRs de-listed, while the Western Command, Northern Command and South Western Command have got five, three and two FFRs de-listed respectively.