Come clear on Tosmaidan lease issue, TBF tells govt

SRINAGAR: The protesting civilians in Budgam district on Friday demanded clarification from the state government on the “contradictory statements” coming from Army and civilian administration.
“We recently welcomed the government’s move of offering alternative firing ranges at Gurez and Wadwan to the Army, but we were shocked to read the Army spokesman Lt Col N N Joshi’s statement in (Kashmir Reader) that Army hasn’t been given any alternatives thus far. Army spokesman has also refused any kind of communication between Army and state government,” Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF), the umbrella body of various associations opposing the possible lease extension, said in a statement here.
“We seek immediate clarifications on these contradictory statements given by the Army and the state government. The government shall explain whether or not the Army have been given any alternatives,” it added.
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 the 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, under the banner of TBF, has been up in arms, opposing the possible extension of the deed.
The people 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.
“Establishment order of civil-military liaison committee should be immediately made public to avoid any agitation from the stakeholders; order of cancellation of the lease shall be issued before April 16 so that Tosmaidan can be handed over to the civil administration and people of the area; and all the meetings of high level panel constituted by Chief Minister and civil-military liaison meeting reports shall be made public immediately,” the office bearers of TBF said, reiterating that extension in the lease will be met “with mass agitation, resignation of panchayat members, and poll boycott.”