SRINAGAR: The district administration in central Kashmir’s Budgam has begun ground level assessment of the Tosmaidan row ahead of the government-constituted committee’s meeting expected in the coming days.
On Thursday, the district administration and Army officials held a detailed meeting in the former’s office. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) Budgam described the meeting as an “internal assessment” of the issue.
“It was just an internal exercise in which we were to make some assessments at our own level,” DC Khurshid Shah told Kashmir Reader, confirming that Army too participated in the meeting.
While Shah remained tightlipped about what transpired, Kashmir Reader has reliably learnt that besides DC and the Army, officials of Public Health Engineering (PHE), Irrigation and Flood Control, and Forest Department were also present in meeting. And that the meeting was called to feed fresh inputs to the government committee, which is set to meet on the issue in the next two days.
“The committee set up by the government is due to meet on Friday or the day after. And there is a brief to the district administration to provide fresh inputs to it,” official sources told Kashmir Reader.
The row over Tosmaidan firing range has been catching pace in the past week with the residents of Budgam intensifying their agitation.
Under a 1964 lease agreement between state government and the Army, the picturesque 11,200 hectare meadow has been serving as an artillery training ground for the Indian Army. However, as expiry of the lease deed is drawing near, the civilian populace of the district has been up in arms, opposing the possible extension of the deed.
The civilians have been demanding relocation of the firing range and subsequent conversion of Tosmaidan into a tourist destination. The resentment from public forced the government to set up a high level committee for deciding on whether to extend the lease.
So far, however, the committee’s activities have been kept out of the public knowledge, prompting the people to intensify their agitation. They have already started a large scale awareness campaign to gain more support to their agitation, besides threatening a boycott of the upcoming Lok Sabha polls and mass resignation of Panchayat members.
While the committee is clandestinely at work, the Army’s proposal to the government departments concerned for a no-objection certificate has been put at a halt.
“As per the proposal, the rent to be paid by the Army, the compensation it has to pay for land use in the previous years, has all been calculated. But it wasn’t submitted to the authorities concerned because the government set up the committee to review the lease deed,” senior officials said.
“It will be submitted to the committee as soon as the need for it arises,” they added.
Reportedly, the Army was offered two alternatives sites for use as firing range—one close to Line of Control in north Kashmir and the other in Kishtwar region. But the Army claims that nothing was communicated to it officially.
“It is all media reporting,” Army spokesman Lt Col N N Joshi told Kashmir Reader. “We haven’t been communicated anything by the government, and we are waiting for the committee’s final report.”
Joshi also refused to share any information on Thursday’s meeting. “We don’t keep minutes of the meetings,” he said.