The State Forest Department and local administration has red-flagged a proposal for allowing army to set up an artillery firing range in forest area of Gurez in Bandipora district, raising environmental concerns.
An official said that army had moved the proposal following resentment to its earlier plan for shifting field firing range from Tosamaidan to Bajpathri near Yusmarg tourist resort in central Kashmir's Budgam district. The Army had withdrawn from Tosamaidan meadow after the then Government had refused to extend its lease for use by the forces in April 2014.
"The new firing range has been proposed in Tulail tehsil comprising of both forest and wildlife areas," said the official. "However the Forest Department has raised objections stating that the entire area is eco-sensitive with rich diversity of flora including unique herbs. The area is also home to a range of wildlife animals including musk deer," the official said.
The official said the Gurez proposal had also gone to the office of District Commissioner Bandipora for his views.
"They (district administration) have also opposed the proposal on the basis of the report from the Forest Department. The proposed area also includes part of Kishenganga Wildlife Sanctuary in Khuihama forest range which has rich diversity of wildlife," the official said.
Sources said there was however no proposal for setting up the firing range at Tragbal meadow which is located on way to Gurez.
The army is already having a facility at Tragbal with more than 25 hectares of land under its possession, said the sources.
"There is no proposal for Tragbal as of now," the sources said.
The official said that around 90 percent of Gurez was forest area. He said the under-construction Kishenganga hydropower project has already led to "huge destruction" of environment in the area.
"The firing range would be a serious threat to life in villages around the proposed area and it would adversely impact the environment," said the official.
Talking to Greater Kashmir, District Commissioner Bandipora, SajadHussainGanai, said no proposal for firing range has been cleared yet.
The DC also informed that there was no proposal for firing range at Tragbal.
While most of the area in Gurez falls under jurisdiction of Forest and Wildlife Departments, the latter has however reportedly shown willingness to pave way for setting up of the firing range.
Wildlife Warden North Kashmir, Muhammad Maqbool Baba, however said the Department has not received any communication from Government or army regarding the proposed firing range.
"Once the proposed area is notified then only we can give our opinion if the area proposed would fall under our jurisdiction," said Baba. "That exercise is possible only once the road opens and the area becomes accessible."
A senior official in the Home Department said though Forest Department and District Administration have given their opinion on the issue, the government was yet to take the final call.
"There are three to four areas under consideration including Gurez for the proposed firing range," the official said.
But, he said, a high level committee with members from Home Department and other State Government Departments and army would take the final call on the issue.