Firing Range, Civilians and What next?

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Fully comprehending that firing ranges were incompatible with normal civil life in populated areas, the British in 1873, located the MLIRC’s firing range in Belgaum in a remote area far away from the city.

On the eve of the 2nd World War, when it became apparent that military manoeuvres may also need to be practiced over a wider area, the British enacted ‘The Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938’, under which large areas could be notified by a ‘Provincial’ (now ‘State’) Government, subject to the provisions such as give notice before 3 months conductiing any Manoeuvres, no area may be notified more than once in 3 years, domestic animals be moved before the manoeuvres, compensation be paid to the inhabitants for loss of crops and damage to property etc.

Expecting compliance with the provisions of this Act, i.e., ‘The Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938’ and bearing in mind that the preparedness of the Armed Forces is of paramount importance to the nation and that the fighting fitness of the Infantry can only be ensured through continual firing practice and military manoeuvres, the Government of the State of Karnataka notified 10,639.36 acres of land in Belgaum for use by the Army in 1970 (vide Notification No. RD 1 TRT 70, dated 01.11.1970) under Section 9 of ‘ The Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act 1938’.

Subsequently, this land was again notified for Army use for a further period of 20 years in 1981 (vide Notification No. RD 5 TRT 70 dated 08.01.1981).

With the inexorable urban spread of the city to areas bordering the notified land, the State Government once again in 1998 (vide G.O. RD 41 LGL 1998 dated 24.5.2000) notified the same area for Army use but had to reduce the acreage to 7469.11 acres (from the original 10.639.16 acres).

However, with the exponential urban growth of the city of Belgaum, which has been conferred the ‘second city of Karnataka’ status, the land notified came to be engulfed by residential colonies on all sides. Further, the villages it covers have also begun to expand rapidly.

Farmers are no longer content to stay indefinitely in huts and seek pukka houses for themselves and their children. Besides, they seek good schools, hospitals, colleges and other modern facilities without which their children face a bleak future.

10,639 acres of their lands having been ‘notified’ from 1970 to 2020 – i.e., for a stretch of 50 continuous years was felt to be an unjustified burden imposed upon the poor farmers of this entire area.

Farmers agitated that they could not postpone their children’s future for such an indefinite period of time – since no pukka construction was to be allowed in this vast stretch of land. Farmers asked why they should have to travel long distances each day for good education or medicine ? Indeed, the Army even blocked several roads leading from the city to this area and no public transport, like buses and rickshaws even for students were allowed even when these roads were opened, by the orders of the High Court and Supreme Court (in 1996). Were these rural children supposed to come to the city’s schools and colleges in Maruti cars ?

Delegations of farmers from this area have repeatedly requested the State Government to release them from this intolerable burden.

Meanwhile, the Station Commander of Belgaum also held a Press Conference on 5th October 2012 and admitted that manoeuvres or field firing in the notified area could not be conducted more than 18 times a year.

Even on those occasions, the explosions have caused cracks to appear in the houses within and around this notified area. Farmers, residents and their representatives have repeatedly agitated these changing ground realities before the State Government.

The Government of the State of Karnataka, being alive to this fast changing scenario, has notified two vast alternate field firing ranges in Marihal and Ramdurg – in forested and depopulated areas – and the Department of Forests, Ecology and Environment has, by two separate G.Os dated 28.06.2012 and 03.10.2012, agreed to the use of this land for manoeuvres and field firing with the proviso that upon completion of the exercise, damaged trees will be replaced by saplings of similar species.

The Government of Karnataka has now recognized the basic fact that allowing military manoeuvres, field firing and artillery practice over private lands that are neither properly acquired under the provisions of ‘the Land Acquisition Act, 1893’, nor compensated for fully under the provisions of ‘the Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938’ , could be considered violative of the Right to Property, which is one of the corner stones of our Constitution.

After a long consultative process the State Government has notified the unpopulated forest areas of Ramdurg and Marihal, just about 20 kms. from Belgaum for a period of 10 years , during which the growth of the city, or of the nearby villages is not expected to conflict with the requirements of military manoeuvres, field firing and artillery practice.

Private lands adjoining any Defence establishments cannot be encumbered in any way by any Defence department norms, except under the ‘The Works of Defence Act, 1903’ (Act VII of 1903).

Under this Act “restrictions may be imposed upon the use and enjoyment of land in the vicinity of works of defence in order that such land may be kept free from buildings and other obstructions”. Absolutely no such declaration has ever been made in respect of the land in Belgaum notified for military manoeuvres, field firing and artillery practice.

Hence, every construction that has taken place on this land with prior permission from a local competent civilian authority may be deemed to be within the four corners of the law.

An area of 722 acres 32 gunthas and 13 annas of the Turkmatti area in Belgaum, has, since 1873 and 1875, been used for fodder for the Military Dairy Farm.

This land is prime kooran land which has been reserved as Sarkari Kooran in all existing land records. The RTC’s also stand in the name of the State Government. The Army Authorities here, who have been asserting some claim to this land on the basis of Government Resolution No. 493 of 1873 and 3242 of 1875, have been unable, for close to two decades to produce any evidence of these Resolutions. It is another matter that land in British India was not ceded on the basis of ‘Resolutions’ but only on the basis of legal instruments like leases, grants, licences, etc.

Since the Military Dairy Farm has downsized its operations considerably and now has only a limited head of cattle, and since most defence units are obtaining milk from various Government and private dairies, the Karnataka State Government has requested the Defence Department to allow grazing rights to revert to the State Government and also to hand over possession of this kooran land. In view of the urgency of the matter the Deputy Commissioner of Belgaum is now authorized to initiate action under Sec. 94 of the Karnataka Land Revenue Act to recover possession of this land.

2 thoughts on “Firing Range, Civilians and What next?”

  1. slightly one-sided version of the issue.
    while the records of revenue authorities may show that the turkmatti land is a state govt land, that in itself does not become a gospel. the revenue authorities also need to establish how it came to be recorded as a state govt land, when the possession had always been with the army, whether of the Indian or its predecessor, British Indian army.

    the other issue is availability of land and logistics. can we expect our army to be fighting fit if we dont give it the basic requirements for training? Has anyone given a thought the amount of logistics it requires for the ranges to be shifted from belgaum to say, Ramdurg?

    do we know that when British left this country of ours, a lot of damage was done to the documents including land records? many lands of army don’t have records because of this shifting of records. that doesn’t mean that we should take away what is legitimately given to the army.

    in case it is felt that the farmers have not been properly compensated, it is a fit case for asking the govt to make compensation adequate. now.

    and, right to property is not available to a majority of indians. to my understanding of the constitution of India, absolute fundamental right to property is not available to a vast majority of us. it can be curtailed or restricted by law.

  2. At a time when India faces threat from China and Pakistan, How can we expect the Army to be fighting fit if it doesnt have land to practice? We can build an alternative road which takes traffic away from the Army range. We must remember that shifting of the Army area is a massive logistic operation involving crores of rupees.
    On one hand we want to be a superpower and on the other hand we take away the firing ranges from the Army.


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