Govt considering Bajpathri as alternative to Tosmaidan firing range

Moazum Mohammad
SRINAGAR: The state government is considering Bajpathri area in central Kashmir’s Budgam district as an alternative site to Indian army’s artillery firing range at Tosmaidan.
Official sources revealed to Kashmir Reader that the government had asked Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Shailendra Kumar to study and prepare a report on Bajpathri. And Kumar, they said, has already asked the Forest and the Tourism departments for their feedback.
“Being away from human population, the place is ideal for a firing range. Feedback from concerned departments has been invited already, so the final report will take some time,” the sources said.
Kumar, for his part, told Kashmir Reader that the final report would be tabled before the Chief Secretary-led committee, which was tasked to identify an alternate site.
“We are doing everything in favour of the public. Every angle is being looked at so that both public and the army don’t come up with objection. The report will take time,” Kashmir said.
Spread over 3000 kanals of land, the Tosmaidan meadow, also in Budgam, in Pir Panjal mountain range, was leased to the army in 1964 for a period of 40 years for setting up the firing range. The lease was later extended for 10 years by the PDP-led coalition government in 2004.
Under the agreement, the army has been using the site each summer for practicing with heavy artillery. Around 60 lives were lost indirectly due to shelling over the years while flora and fauna of the region has faced huge damage.
Since last summer, people of the district have been up in arms to have the firing range shifted. Their sustained campaign forced the government not to extend the lease to the army beyond expiry of the previous agreement in April this year. Subsequently, the government had started search for an alternative.
The army has not conducted any drills at Tosmaidan since April. On top of it, the locals spearheading the campaign against the lease last month trekked to the faraway meadow to ‘declare it open’ for tourism. They have also invited tourists to the otherwise restricted meadow ahead of autumn season.
The officials privy to the development, however, said that army is reluctant to shift to Bajpathri and is instead demanding extension in Tosmaidan lease for two more years.
“The army has reservations in shifting to Bajpathri, which is underdeveloped and inaccessible. It is seeking extension in lease of the current firing range. But the public pressure has stalled chances of extension while the government has maintained silence as it doesn’t want to go against public mood ahead of the Assembly polls,” the sources said.