Srinagar: The state government has declared nearly 5 lakh kanals of state land as a firing range in a desert region of Ladakh district that borders China, for five years.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (1) of section 9 of the Maneuvers, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act 1938, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir hereby declare the area measuring 4,80,000 Kanals situated at Mandalthang, Shayok under Khasra No. 1803 located in Durbuk Sub Division, District Leh, as an area for purposes of the said subsection for a period of 05 years from the date of publication of this notification in the Government Gazette,” reads SRO-93 issued by RK Goyal, Principal Secretary to Government Home Department, which is headed by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
The army had been demanding over 4 lakh kanals of land for setting up an artillery firing range at Leh even as it had been occupying 182,865 kanals of land in Ladakh for years. A Civil-Military Liaison Conference in 2013, chaired by then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, had decided that the “army and the civil administration will reconcile figures so that further course of action could be initiated in the matter (regarding 182,865 kanals of land in Ladakh with army).”
Sources said that the army has been provided the land at Mandalthang Shayok after the government refused to renew the lease of 10 firing ranges in the state which expired in 2014.
Of its total 66 firing ranges, the army had been operating at least a dozen in Jammu and Kashmir, the highest in any state.
The army has not agreed completely to give up its demand for a large chunk of land in Kashmir, which it has been insisting on since 2014 when the Omar Abdullah-led government decided not to extend the lease of Tosa Maidan meadow to the army.
The army had been using the meadow as artillery firing range for over five decades since 1964. The government’ decision against extending the lease came after stiff public resentment to the army’s use of the land by local people.
Nearly 50 residents living around the Tosa Maidan meadow are said to have lost their lives while hundreds of others were rendered crippled for life allegedly due to stray or unexploded shells left by the army.
As soon as the army vacated Tosa Maidan, it sought a new spot for lease: another meadow called Bajpathri in Bandipora which is also surrounded by tiny villages. This demand, after public protests, was shelved along with a similar proposal to set up an artillery firing range near the Line of Control at Tulail, in Gurez area of north Kashmir. The Tosa Maidan meadow officially opened to public as a tourist destination last year.