Srinagar: The J&K high court on Monday issued a notice, calling Indian Home Secretary and state’s chief secretary, to file response within six weeks to a Public Interest Litigation, seeking directions for a detailed survey to assess loss and damage to human life and the environment of the Tosa Maidan due to artillery and other military exercises.
Hearing the PIL filed by one Lubna Sayed Qadri, a division bench of Justices Mohammad Yaqoob Mir, and Janak Raj Kotwal also directed other respondents—state’s Home department,
Director Social Welfare, Chief Conservator forests Budgam, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and Deputy Commissioner Budgam—to file the objections.
The Army had been using 11200.48 hectare of meadow for artillery firing range for over five decades since 1964 and the state government decided against extending lease in 2014 after stiff public resistance.
“Due to the field firing and artillery practice carried out by army from 1965 to 2014 in and around Tosa Maidan, innocent people have lost their lives or were left maimed. Besides thousands of cattle including sheep, cows, goats, horses have died during this period,” says Lubna, a resident of Ompora Budgam.
The firing has also caused great loss to the environment, water channels and sources, ecology, forests and the area suffered great loss, she says.
However, she says, no independent survey has ever been conducted to assess the actual loss in the area caused from 1965 to 2014.
“The impact of firing on environment, health, and mental health, education, economy of the area and aquatic life is yet to be ascertained.”
Unofficial reports suggest that nearly 50 residents living around the Tosa Maidan meadow lost lives while hundreds of others were rendered crippled for life allegedly due to stray or unexploded shells left by the army. The Tosa Maidan was officially opened to public as a tourist destination last year.
“The livelihood opportunities have reduced in comparison to other areas and over all development of area has affected. The eco- fragile zones have been used as firing ranges in violation of the guidelines issued by Supreme Court of India. War drills and mortar shelling has developed cracks in the villagers houses living in the vicinity. No estimate has been made about the loss to livestock in the region. What happened before 1974 is also not known,” she says in support of her demand for the independent survey.
The petitioner also seeks directions to the government to pay ‘individual compensation’ to the families of deceased and injured persons, owners of livestock and ‘community compensation’ besides compensating the lost already estimated with immediate effect.
She has also urged court to pass directions to find out ways and means to replenish the ecology and take steps to save the water bodies, forests, wildlife and flora and fauna of the area.
She also seeks directions to the state government to provide, frame the guidelines for firing ranges in accordance with the provisions contained in the Maneuvers Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act 1938.
She said the area was apparently given to be used for light weapons. However, she says, all the heavy artillery and high altitude military exercises were conducted in the areas, resulting in huge loss.
“The only way to compensate and replenish the area would be to through Community driven measure. The area is fit for community driven adventure and tourism.”
Lubna says that she is not claiming any relief in her favour but for the people whose near ones have died due to the alleged negligence of the state authorities.