PITHORAGARH: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is planning to set up a firing range at Khalia Top, a popular tourist spot close to the India-China border near Munsiyari in this district of Uttarakhand.
It will be the first major strategic infrastructure project to come up on the Indian side close to the border after the India-China war of 1962, officials associated with the proposal said.
"The IAF needs a firing range in this area because of security reasons and Khalia Top near Munsiyari town fits the bill with its perfect altitude," Air Marshal Devender Singh Rawat said.
Located at a height of 12,500 feet which is the standard parameter set for firing ranges, Khalia Top is the ideal site for the project, he said.
Rawat had visited the spot recently along with a team of IAF officers to get the feedback of locals on the proposal.
The aerial distance between Khalia Top and the India-China border is around 41 km.
Khalia Top, a meadow around 7 km from Munsiyari town, is the main attraction for tourists visiting the town.
However, locals have opposed the proposed project as they feel an IAF firing range will destroy the popular tourist spot and render hundreds of local youths jobless besides harming the Himalayan flora and fauna.
The locals, who met Rawat, said Khalia Top is the only tourist attraction in Munsiyari town that attracts over 50,000 people every year.
"Khalia Top is not just a tourist attraction, but home to over two dozen rare Himalayan animal and bird species," Ram Darmashaktu, resident of Munsiyari town, said.
The locals also told the IAF team that the tourism industry in Munsiyari was providing employment to over 3,000 persons from 41 nearby villages.
The IAF officer, however, maintained that the project will not be harmful to the ecology as target practice with low-intensity dummy bombs, weighing only three kgs, will be carried out at the range for only two months (October-November) during the year.
Smoke emanating from these dummy bombs dissipates within seconds and will cause no harm to the ecology, the IAF team said.
"Only low-intensity dummy bombs are dropped during practice at such ranges that make noise like crackers and their smoke stays only up to five seconds. This practice of the Air Force will take place only during the months of October and November," Air Marshal Rawat said.
Sub Divisional Magistrate, Munsiyari, K N Goswami said the IAF's proposal and the opposition of locals is being forwarded to the state government for clearance.