The Indian Army is facing a crippling shortage of field firing ranges that could blunt its operational readiness.
The number of firing ranges available to the Army has consistently shrunk over the last two and half decades, with the figure recording a steep decline from 104 ranges to an all-time low of seven by 2014. Defence ministry sources told Hindustan Times that the army currently has only 40 notified firing ranges for carrying out field firing.
The scenario will only worsen in the coming years as state governments remain disinclined to re-notify firing ranges in their jurisdiction citing provisions of the Forest Conservation Act and Supreme Court orders. These provisions make it mandatory for any state government to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests to divert forest land for non-forest use.
Some 600 cadets of the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun almost lost out on crucial battlefield training this April with the Uttar Pradesh government denying them the use of Asan field firing ranges. Fortunately, the matter was sorted out after some last-minute maneouvrings but delayed clearance pushed training behind schedule. The firing range was made available to IMA for three days.
A senior army officer said, “Shortage of firing ranges can have serious implications. If fighting formations do not have access to nearby ranges, they will have to travel huge distances for training. It’s a matter of national security and needs to be resolved at the earliest.”
Field firing is not classified as a non-forest activity under the Act but is deemed to be so. The army is liable to shell out exorbitant amounts as compensatory afforestation for obtaining re-notification of the firing ranges. At one stage the army had 104 firing ranges consisting of 12 acquired and 92 notified ranges. The notification of over 50 ranges has expired.