Khan Sahib (Budgam): Senior minister in the National Conference (NC)-led coalition government Abdul Rahim Rather on Tuesday said the state will not extend lease of Tosmaidan meadow to the Indian army.
“After various deliberations over the issue, the state government has taken the decision not to extend lease on Tosmaidan to the Army,” Rather, who is Minister for Finance and Ladakh Affairs, announced at a public rally here.
Tosmaidan meadow has been serving as a firing range for the army since it was given on lease by the state government in 1964. The lease deed is ending on April 18 and, given that the army has already asked for an extension in the lease, the local population at Budgam has been vehemently demanding relocation of the firing range.
The protests, rallies, and awareness programmes organised by the civil populace, under the banner of Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF), have gained intensity in past weeks. The civil society groups, trade fraternity, tourism players, and NGOs have now joined hands with TBF to further intensify the campaign. Besides, a Valley-wide shutdown was observed on April 12 on call of Hurriyat Conference (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq to oppose extension in lease.
The government has already constituted a committee to decide on the lease extension, but its final decision hasn’t come yet.
Rather, however, hinted that the committee was only tasked with finding army an alternative firing range.
“The government has framed the committee under Chief Secretary Mohammad Iqbal Khanday to look for alternative firing site for the army,” he said.
“I visited Tosmaidan and talked to the Chief Secretary about the relocation of the army’s firing range. He (Chief Secretary) accepted that the people were suffering due to the firing range,” Rather said, accusing opposition People’ Democratic Party (PDP) of having extended the lease previously.
“It was during PDP’s rule under Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed that the lease was extended. It is for this precise reason that PDP has chosen to talk in hushed, apologetic tone about this issue rather than categorically opposing the extension of the lease,” he said.
While speaking to reporters on sidelines of the rally later, NC president and Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah said the end of lease on Tosmaidan “shall serve as a first step in the revocation of the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in the state.”
“As our party leader (Rather) said there is no possibility of extending Tosmaidan lease and that a committee has been formed to identify alternative firing ranges where their (army’s) guns can fire without affecting people and harming peace,” he added.
He also said that Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has spoken at all platforms about the need to abrogate AFSPA and it should go, and revocation of AFSPA is already on the mind of the government.
‘Mufti fielded candidates to help BJP’
Farooq also alleged that PDP patron Mufti Sayeed has fielded candidates for Jammu and Udhampur parliamentary constituencies to help the rightwing Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).
“Mufti fielded a Hindu, Yashpal Sharma for Jammu parliamentary constituency against Madan Lal Sharma of Congress to divide the votes and help BJP,” he said while addressing a gathering at Rawalpora village here. “Similarly, he (Mufti) fielded a Muslim, Arshad Malik against senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad to divide the Muslim votes so that BJP would win.”
He said PDP patron had no confidence of winning any seat in the Lok Sabha elections that is why he did not contest the elections from any seat himself.
NC patron also lambasted at Mufti for exhibiting “double standards” by talking of Kashmiri aspirations on one hand and on the other hand preparing to ally with BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, “who is anti-Muslim and wants to inhale Muslims.”
Farooq also said that the main agenda of BJP is to scrap Article 370. “I will not allow them to touch Article 370 even if have to sacrifice my life to protect it,” he said.
Cautioning Islamabad not to pin hopes on Modi, he said, “If Pakistan is hoping that Modi’s coming into power will help in the resolution of Kashmir issue then they are mistaken.”
“I don’t see India resolving Kashmir, particularly not Modi. BJP wants our land, not us.”
Farooq claimed that he had not intentions to fray for the parliamentary elections but jumped into the poll arena “only to save the country from Modi.”
“I only prayed to God to give me more strength so that I will fight the communal elements in our country,” Farooq, who ruled J&K thrice, said.