SRINAGAR: In absence of any directions from state government to the army for vacating Tosmaidan meadow in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, the army on Thursday said it will control the firing range beyond April 18 till it gets final marching orders.
Army’s Srinagar-based spokesman Lt Col N N Joshi told Kashmir Reader that the “range will stay as it is” till a government committee constituted over the issue passes directions for the army to leave.
“We are waiting for the committee’s directions. And till the time we receive any order, the status quo will be maintained at the meadow,” Joshi said.
“It is just a range that is used by the army for only a few months to carry out the artillery drills. There are a few bunkers over there, but what happens to the structures will depend on the directions of the committee,” he said, adding “we must not rush into conclusions. Let the committee decide.”
The army lease over 11,200 hectare of Tosmaidan is ending on Friday with the final decision on relocation of the firing range still awaited.
The army had last year approached the state government for extension in the lease, agreed upon between the two sides in 1964. Forced by the massive public outcry against allowing use of Tosmaidan as a firing range, the government had constituted a committee to review the lease agreement and find an alternative site for the army to carry out artillery drills.
However, after several meetings, the committee is to yet to arrive at a decision on whether to extend the lease or relocate the firing range. In the latest meeting held on Wednesday, the committee is said to have authorized Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Shailendra Kumar to identify the alternate sites.
“The process has started, but it will take time,” Kumar told Kashmir Reader.
Kumar, who is administrative head of the Kashmir division, however, gave vague answers to what happens after lease ends on Friday.
“There are many things. Army hasn’t taken position there (at Tosmaidan); there may be a paper work required to do or going on; and thirdly there is a lot of nazool land already in possession of the people here.”
According to legal experts, the army’s presence at Tosmaidan from Friday onwards will be illegal.
“Legal stand on this is simple. As lease ends on Friday, army’s further occupation of the meadow will be illegal,” said Zaffar A Shah, Kashmir’s prominent legal expert and former president of the High Court Bar Association.
“It (army) should have already started preparing to vacate the land,” Shah told Kashmir Reader.
Meanwhile, the Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF) is all set to observe Friday as a ‘black day’.
TBF spokesman Farooq Kathu told Kashmir Reader that there has been no communication to them from the government, forcing them to go ahead with their programme.
“All we hear about the issue is via media. The government hasn’t conveyed anything to us directly. So we will observe Friday as black day in protest against possible extension of the lease. And our campaign will continue till the lease ends,” he said.
Meanwhile, residents of Budgam are all set to take out rallies from various mosques after the Friday prayers. The shops, houses, and buses will hoist black flags while the civilians will be wearing black bands as a mark of protest, Kathu said.
“Our programme will be peaceful,” he added.