As the western front grabs attention following the Mumbai terror strikes, the army has quietly homed in on a strategic acquisition — an artillery firing range in the Himalayas near Tawang.
A major Buddhist pilgrimage boasting of historical links with Lhasa in Tibet, Tawang is the reason why China has been claiming some 90,000 sq km of Arunachal Pradesh.
Senior army officials on the northeastern frontier said the force deposited Rs 8 crore towards “compensatory afforestation” for the Gamrela field firing range at an elevation of 11,000 ft not far from the McMahon Line. This line marks the boundary between India and Tibetan Autonomous Region.
The Forest Department, which controls over 80 per cent land in Arunachal Pradesh, had in 2001 notified Gamrela as a temporary seasonal firing range. In view of Tawang’s strategic importance, the army had since made a move for acquiring the range.
“We are yet to receive the money for compensatory afforestation, which according to the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 is 10 per cent of the land considered for diversion to the army,” conservator of forests and nodal officer R. Kemp told HT from Itanagar. “The final approval for transfer of land will come from the Centre once the payment is received, but we have in principle given our approval.”
The land considered for diversion measures is some 6,000 hectares. The impact area, where actual firing is carried out, thus works out to 600 hectares.
In less than a fortnight, the army carried out two rounds of practice firing involving the indigenously developed 105 mm Indian field guns and 105 mm light field guns with a maximum range of 17 km. “What Gamrela means is battle readiness in snowy conditions and rarified atmosphere, since the nearest field firing range is in the humid plains of Assam 230 km away,” a senior officer said, refusing to be identified.
Notably, the Chinese army uses 122 mm and 130 mm field guns on the Tibetan side of the border.