SRINAGAR: Of the 11, 200 hectares of Tosmaidan meadow leased out by the state government, around 6400 kanals of the land have been transferred to the Indian Army, the Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF) claimed on Monday. The government, however, denies it.
“Apart from the Tosmaidan leased to the Army, a vast area adjacent to the firing range has been notified as ‘danger area’ where civilian movement is not allowed. Besides, 6400 kanals of the meadow have been transferred completely to the Army. They have violated Article 370,” chairman of TBF Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool claimed in the roundtable conference organized by Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies (KCSDS) here.
Dr Rasool gave an account of the devastation caused by use of Tosmaidan as a firing range. “There is no record of deaths or injuries before 1984; 40 per cent of the civilian population in the district has turned depressive and 20 per cent has turned deaf; and around 30, 000 trees have been destroyed by the Army in the forest area using gunpowder.”
TBF, an amalgam of various civilian groups from central Kashmir’s Budgam district, has been spearheading an agitation against extending lease to the Army. Besides organising protest rallies and awareness camps over past several months, it has been gaining possession, mostly by using Right to Information (RTI) Act, of the documents related to the Tosmaidan lease agreement, which was signed by the then state government and the Army in 1964.
However, TBF may not be carrying a documental evidence of the claim it is making regarding the land transfer.
“We tried to get the documents (of the transfer), but unfortunately the government didn’t provide us the documents,” Dr Rasool, who is also the chairman of J&K RTI Movement—the body of RTI activists in the Valley, told Kashmir Reader on sidelines of the conference.
The government denies TBF’s claim.
When Kashmir Reader asked Deputy Commissioner Budgam Khursheed Shah about the alleged transfer, he said: “No, the land hasn’t been transferred to the Army.”
In past few weeks, row over Tosmaidan lease extension has intensified with the expiry date of the lease deed inching closer. The lease is to expire on April 18 before which the government committee headed by the Chief Secretary Mohammad Iqbal Khanday is to decide on whether to accept the Army’s application for extending it. But so far, the government hasn’t come up with its final decision.
While TBF has been holding more rallies and involving more civil society groups in its campaign, a Valley-wide shutdown was observed on April 12 on the call of Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to oppose the extension.
Meanwhile, the roundtable by KCSDS was attended by traders’ bodies, tourism players, academicians, NGOs, and civil society groups who extended support to the campaign being spearheaded by the TBF. Prominent among the supporters were Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK), KHARA, KHAROF, TAAK, EHSAAS, Valley Citizens’ Committee, Lawyers Club Kashmir.
The participants passed a resolution to be part of the protest sit-in already announced by TBF for April 16.
“All civil society organisation including tourist and trade bodies present here will protest with TBF at the ‘Haqeeqat Kashmir’ (Municipal) Park here, and the further programme will be decide there and then,” they resolved.
“In no case should the lease of Tosmaidan be extended beyond its expiry on April 18; firing ranges in ecologically fragile J&K state with green forests, glaciers, water bodies, valleys and inner valleys and flora and fauna shall be relocated at other location outside the state,” the further resolved. “(Presence in J&K) of 12 out of 66 firing ranges in India is incomprehensible and unacceptable preposition in a situation where such firing ranges do not exceed 2-3 in all states except Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan which have seven and six firing ranges respectively.”
The participants expressed concern over the “the administrative pressures being exerted in the area” to let the lease continue, deciding to resist it “tooth and nail.”
They decided to constitute a working group to prepare a research based white paper on adverse implications of Tosmaidan, and to form a high level commission of jurists, academicians, civil society activists, and environmentalists to ascertain overall losses due to Tosmaidan firing range.
“The propagated official figure of 63 dead and 43 handicapped is a gross under estimation as per what the local sources relate. The commission may be empowered to fix due compensation for the losses suffered,” they resolved.