Panel to probe firing range row
A grab of The Telegraph report that appeared on April 13
Guwahati, April 22: The Assam forest department has constituted a five-member committee to examine the matter of the army’s short firing range in Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary in its entirety.
Sources said members of the committee which was constituted yesterday would visit the sanctuary soon to gather details of the firing range at the army’s Lama camp in a bid to get a “firm” hold on the issue as the forest department takes on the army.
The committee, comprising A.H. Laskar, T.V. Reddy, S.P. Vashishth, N. Anand and S.S. Rao, has been asked to file the report within 15 days.
The committee is likely to visit the firing range in the wake of the army’s claim that there has been no firing practice there lately.
It would also like to see the Lama camp as three elephants had died “unnatural deaths” behind the camp within a span of 10 months, between August 9, 2006 and July 27, 2007.
A letter written by S.P. Vashishth, the divisional forest officer, western Assam wildlife division, to the army on January 29, 2011, says three sub-adult elephants were electrocuted as a temporary barbed wire fencing, constructed outside the permanent multi-wire barbed fencing, was connected to a 220-volt line through an inverter. The letter alleged that elephants were killed to save the ration of the army’s horses and mules. The army had not replied yet.
The forest department had launched a dismantling operation at the range on April 13 but the army stopped it. The operation had been on for about an hour when some army personnel reached the spot and said they had spoken to their superiors at Missamari camp (2-3km from the sanctuary).
“The department is taking up the issue seriously and will not compromise on it. The law clearly says there cannot be a firing range in a wildlife sanctuary and the army authorities should know it clearly. We will keep up the pressure,” a senior official in the forest department said.
“A firing range inside a wildlife sanctuary is totally against the law. It has to stop,” Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman of Wildlife Trust of India, told The Telegraph.
Sources in the forest department said the army was unwilling to commit that no firing practice would take place at the range in future though it has stopped it for the time being following protests by the forest department.
The army has been saying that a small arms firing range is mandatory in national interest as it helps train troops.