Tosmaidan: 3 more shells found as army distances itself from minor’s death

SRINAGAR: A day after a minor girl was killed and her brother lost limbs in an explosion caused by unexploded live shell near Tosmaidan firing range of the army, the villagers on Tuesday found three more live shells, which they say the civil or military administration is showing no intent to defuse.
According to Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF), a people’s amalgam that has been spearheading agitation for shifting of the firing range from Tosmaidan, at least three live, unexploded shells were found at Drang after the Monday’s incident. However, it said, the civil and the military administration has made no efforts to defuse the shells.
“We clicked pictures of the shells and showed it to civil administration. Besides, both civil and military officials themselves saw the shells when they arrived in the village after the Monday incident. Yet, no effort has been made to defuse the shells,” TBF’s chairman Dr Ghulam Rasool told Kashmir Reader.
“If the shells explode like the one on Monday, we may witness a triple tragedy,” he added.
Tosmaidan, 11,200 hectare picturesque meadow in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, has been a firing range with the Indian army since 1964—the year in which the meadow was leased out to military by the state’s civil administration.
Around 52 villages surrounding Tosmaidan have been demanding end to the lease and immediate shifting of the firing range. And their committed agitation, which was launched by TBF and later supported by many other civil society groups and trade bodies from across the Valley, forced the state administration to set up a committee for reviewing the lease and relocating the firing range.
However, while the lease has ended officially, the army continues to hold control of the meadow and the committee is yet to show any progress on relocating of the firing range.
Amidst silence over the issue, the explosion consuming 9-year-old Simran and both legs of her 5-year-old brother Fayaz Ahmad, has attracted renewed attention towards the firing range.
Reports said the schoolmates of Simran staged a protest at the Government Middle School Lassipora, demanding an end to the incidents occurring due to littered explosives.
“Drang, Lassipora, Shunglipora, and Sitaharan villages in particular are vulnerable to mishaps due to these explosives. Rain water carries the unexploded shells to these villages, which are at foothills of Tosmaidan, and then children or even adults come in contact with them and become victims,” Dr Rasool said, demanding a “comprehensive survey” to locate and destroy the unexploded shells lying scattered in the area.
“In absence of a comprehensive survey, we will continue to lose precious lives,” he said, announcing that a protest demonstration would be held at Budgam on Thursday—the fourth day of mourning over Simran’s death.
Tehsildar Khaag, Mohammad Sahfi Lone, confirmed the presence of at least one unexploded shell in the area.
“I informed the SHO (Station House Officer) concerned, and he has assured me the bomb disposal squad will defuse it in a day or two. I have instructed the locals not to go near the site until the shell is defused,” Lone told Kashmir Reader.
The army, however, said it has no information about any littered explosive at Drang.
“We have no information of this kind. We usually receive information about littered explosives from police, but as yet we haven’t received anything,” army’s spokesperson Lt Col N N Joshi told Kashmir Reader.
The army, in a statement issued separately, said the Monday’s explosion didn’t occur due to artillery shell.
“Army clarifies about the allegations reported against artillery firing in some sections of media. Firstly, the location of incident was house instead of nallah. Secondly, the explosion cannot be related to an artillery shell because explosion of even a smaller caliber artillery shell would have caused the room or the house, to collapse or get damaged. There was only a small crater of few inches in this case,” it said.
“Thirdly, artillery shell could not have drifted from the impact area and come to Lassipora as there is no nallah connecting impact area and the village. In fact the intervening features are such that no amount of rain could cause this,” it added.