Chitra V. Ramani
HSR Layout Sector I shakes when shells are tested at the Iblur Firing Range
Bangalore: Windowpanes rattle and the ground vibrates every Friday when heavy shells are tested at the Iblur Firing Range. The residents of HSR Layout in the city, which adjoins the range, have got used to the weekly ordeal of an "earthquake-like situation." They do not know whom to blame the Bangalore Development Authority or the Iblur range. The Army says Iblur has been a notified range for the past 100 years. The layout, on the other hand, was developed only in 1984 by the BDA.
Nanjunda Swamy, a resident of HSR Layout Sector I, says residents have begun to dread Fridays, especially between 11.30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
According to B.R. Narasimhan, the walls of his house have developed cracks and residents are always jittery about windowpanes shattering. "Just down the street is the outpost of the firing range. Once when the firing was taking place, the windowpane in one of the houses shattered and rained on a man. We have now insured our homes," he said.
The residents have sent petitions to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Defence Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and George Fernandes, the Defence Secretary and the Commander of Headquarters Karnataka and Kerala Sub Area.
"We raised the issue in 2003 and sent memorandums seeking shifting of the range. However, there has been no response," says Mr. Swamy. So, did they not know about the proximity of the firing range when the sites were offered to them? Apparently not. "It was only after we moved into our new home in 1999 that we realised the gravity of the situation. It was too late to back out at that stage."
However, the Army, in a letter to the residents' welfare association, insists that the layout was formed with full knowledge of the situation. Unmindful of the decibel level produced by the firing activity, people bought land and constructed houses. Complaints at this stage are not warranted, the Army contends, adding that the current noise level in the range is well within the permissible limits.
It has suggested that the area may be decongested by creating a "no-man's zone" in a two-km radius around the range. The residents in these areas could be paid compensation and shifted to alternative areas.
`Don't blame BDA'
BDA Commissioner M.K. Shankarlinge Gowda refused to comment on the Iblur Range, as it "is a Defence issue". "The people should have exercised the option of refusing the sites in the layout when it was offered to them. They cannot blame the BDA," he said. But he conceded that if people found it hard to continue living there, the BDA would provide them alternative sites at Banashankari 6th Stage. "That is the only solution. But they should be ready to give up their sites at HSR Layout first," he added.
Residents, however, are lukewarm to the idea. Says Nirmala Basavaraj, a homemaker: "It is not possible for us to give up the land. How can we uproot ourselves suddenly?"