Jharkhand to not re-notify Netarhat Army firing range

The Jharkhand government on Wednesday said it will not re-notify Netarhat Field Firing Range, which is based on nearly 1,470 sq km across 245 villages in two districts, in keeping with decades-long demands of people from local tribal communities who wanted the notification cancelled.

Started in 1964, the range had the Army practice there until 1994.

Wednesday’s decision came on the heels of a memorandum submitted by gram pradhans of 39 revenue villages in Latehar and Gumla districts to halt renewal of the notification, which terminated in May 2022. In a release, the state government said, “The struggle of thousands of Adivasis for 30 years will come to an end. The Chief Miniser [Hemant Soren] decided not to re-notify the Netarhat Field Firing Range, which had started in 1964.”

The release stated that the memorandum submitted to the Governor mentioned that the area comes under Fifth Schedule Area and is governed under PESA Act, 1996, which says gram sabhas have the right to decide on community resources in these areas. It said local residents had decided to not let the field firing range remain notified for practice.

Jerome Kujur, general secretary of Kendriya Jan Sangharsh Samiti, which is leading the fight against the firing range, said the government in 1954 invoked ‘Manoeuvres Field Firing Artillery Practice Act, 1938’ and notified the area of seven revenue villages, on nearly 8 sq km area, for the Army to practice. “In 1992, the duration of practice [on the range] was increased to 2002 and the area was increased from seven villages to 245 villages,” he said.

In 1994, Kujur said, local people learnt from a report that the administration was looking to “permanently displace the villagers and acquire their land”. He said, “Since then, our struggle has continued…. We did not let the Army enter (the range) on March 22, 1994 for training. The Army had not come for practice since then.”

But the issue remained relevant, as soldiers “may come again for practice”, Kujur said.

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