Defence Minister failed to heed State's counsel, lost firing range

Karnataka government says it kept Centre in loop over inability to lease out private land

The significant reduction over the years in the number of firing ranges under the Indian Army may be a reason for worry for the men in olive greens. But the latest loss — the Baghdad Asmara Firing Range at Savagaon in Belgaum district — seems like a crisis of their own making.

Senior officers in the Karnataka and Kerala Sub-Area have been maintaining that the decision of the State government to withdraw the lease granted to the Maratha Light Infantry Regiment in Savagaon is unilateral and they were not taken into confidence.
However, well-placed sources in the Vidhana Soudha said the Army had been informed about everything.

The issue, one of them said, has been in the fore for over two years now and that the matter has been taken up with the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which has failed to respond.

“We have held several meetings with them. The chief secretary has written a couple of letters to the Union Defence Secretary and has also met him. Even the chief minister had written to A K Antony. However, there has been no real response from the Centre,” a senior IAS officer, who has been part of the dialogue between the State and the MoD, told Deccan Herald.

The officer said the State government officials, after an inspection, had found that the land was privately held and that it  was not legitimate for the government to lease out land which it did not own. to begin with.

“The matter is simple. We cannot lease out the land as we do not own it. If the MoD wants to continue its activity here, we have asked them to notify the land and acquire it by paying appropriate compensation. The problem will be solved. But the MoD is not initiating any action in this regard and the Army wants us to lease the land out. It is not possible,” the officer said.

Source said the government had no choice but to withdraw the lease, as there had been no reciprocation from the MoD or the Army in this regard.

“Not only are they using private land, but they also impose conditions that there should not be any construction or other activities on the land,” the officer said.

“We are talking about 7,000-odd acres of privately held land. Will any one of us be okay if the Army takes over our house without paying any compensation and begins to restrict our activities?” he asked.

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