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Army, Firing Range and the Farmers

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There are a total of 66 ‘Field Firing Ranges’ (FFR) in the country that are being used by the Defence Ministry according to the information provided.

Several of these ‘FFRs’ are on fertile agricultural land which can be ‘notified’ for field firing, military manoeuvres or artillery practice according to an anachronistic, colonial Act of 1938 (the Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938).

The provisions of this Act were used by the British Army to use someone else’s land, without having to spend vast sums of money to acquire it.

This Act has been pressed into service by the Indian Army in Belagavi, which from 1970 utilized 10,639 acres of land (reduced to 7,469 acres in 2000), – without having to pay a single rupee by way of rent or compensation.

It also enabled the Army to circumvent the acquisition cost and other conditions of the ‘Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013’.

In simple words, it was a ‘freebie’ to the Army, (courtesy the farmers, via the State Government !).

In Belagavi, the Army had acquired two firing ranges in 1873 known as the Baghdad and Asmara firing ranges. There is no problem with these.

In 1970, they wanted land for field firing so the State Government ‘notified’, 10,639-36 acres of land across nine villages for that purpose. These lands were notified again and again (in 1980 and 2000 for 20 years) but the acreage was reduced to 7,469-11 acres. Not one rupee was given to the farmers for the use of their lands for 40 long years.

For decades the patiently suffering farmers of nine villages to the west of Belagavi protested. In 2002, the State Government of Karnataka notified to the Army vast acreages of inhabited forest land in two areas (13 acres and 28 kms from Belagavi) for field firing.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi, stipulated that field firing be rotated and that part degraded by firing each year be replanted with the same trees as part of the compensatory forestry programme, paid for by the Ministry of Defence, which assented to this arrangement.

In 2012, the Karnataka State Government withdrew its Notification of 2000, which was to run till 2020, and requested the Army to move their field firing to the forest land notified.

The farmers of the 9 villages were overjoyed, but their joy was shortlived.

The Army, which has used the forest area for field firing, refused to pay the amount for reforestation despite 18 reminders by the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Belagavi and returned to the lands of the farmers – saying that they intended to ‘acquire’ this land – for which the Deputy Commissioner assented.

Then, finding the cost of this acquisition almost prohibitive, they prevailed upon the Deputy Commissioner to ‘Notify’ 370 acres of land once again in their favour.

Completely at the end of their patience, the farmer approached the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka in a P.I.L. (W.P. 49245/2015 (P.I.L.)) which was disposed off today (23rd August 2016), with a permanent injunction against the Army using the lands of the farmers in the nine villages.

Three factors weighed heavily in favour of the farmers:

  1. They had received not a single rupee by way of compensation from the Army for use of their lands for 46 years.
  2. The velocity of the projectiles fired, according to the information supplied under oath by the Station Commandant, Belagavi, enables the projectile to travel – 3.3 kilometres with a ricochet range of 2.8 kilometres. This could cause massive “collateral damage’ to vast, populated areas of western Belagavi, since the range is less than 1 kilometre from the City Corporation’s western limit. Indeed, two former Commandants of the Maratha Light Infantry Regimental Centre (MLIRC) have built their ‘farmhouses’ next to the 370 acres sought to be notified and the Army Welfare Housing Organization (AWHO’s) Housing Colony is right next to this land.
  3. The alternate acreage notified by the Karnataka State Government, in a very handsome gesture, is enormous – 123 acres for actual impact and 11,441acres for a safety zone in the case of Ukkad Ramdurg (13 kilometres away) and 358 acres for actual impact and 46,529 acres for a safety zone in Marihal (some 28 kilometres away).

For a fully mechanized Army, the Hon’ble Chief Justice found that this distance was not ‘too far’ as the Army had claimed, as even school children of Belagavi go near the spot for school picnics.

The verdict of the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka on 23/8/2016 in WP49245/2015(PIL) is a historic Judgement of inestimable value to the farmers all over this country, who have suffered silently. It will serve to wipe out the tears from the eyes of tens of thousands of farmers right across this country.

The Judgement has balanced the slogan – Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.”

2 thoughts on “Army, Firing Range and the Farmers”

  1. If this verdict is taken into consideration for a true farmer, then belgaumites will be truly happy but hope the poor farmer benefited from this should not be our poor MLA farmer and his institution setup around the same location.

  2. This verdict of the Hon’ble High Court concerns not one institution but thousands of farmers and their families spread across 10,639 acres and nine villages. These farmers have suffered for three generations now and have received no compensation for the use of their fertile lands for the last 46 years. There is opposition to the construction of modern schools, modern hospitals and modern colleges in this entire area. Perhaps its time for us city dwellers to wake up and feel the pain of these villager who need some of the facilities that we enjoy for the benefit of our children.
    From now on thousands of villagers in this area will go into their fields with their bullocks and till the land without fear. Let us be magnanimous enough to share their joy .


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