A petition has been filed in State Human Rights Commission, seeking directions to the Jammu and Kashmir government not to extend the lease of Tosmaidan pasture in favour of Indian Ministry of Defence.
The petition, likely to come up for hearing next week, has been filed a delegation of RTI Activists lead by Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat and it suggested that ‘firing range’ should be shifted from Tosmaidan meadow to uninhabited area in Ladakh.
“The state government may be direct not to extend the lease of the area in favour of Union of India through Ministry of Defence as the life and property of the local residents is at stake,” the petitioner demands, according to KNS.
“(Locals of the area) are not able to earn livelihood through tourist trade and exploitation of admissible forest produce (medicinal plants, herbs etc) could be the important source of their income,” the petition further demand.
At present, the petition says, due to abject poverty and non availability of jobs, many local people are involved in severe timber smuggling which has lead to death and destruction of the forests in Tosamaidan area.
The petition seeks the protection of basic human right to live of the inhabitants of villages Chell, Brass, Shonglipora , Drang , and other villages located beneath and around Tosamaidan meadow in tehsil Khag and Khansahib of district Budgam.
The RTI activists have highlighted that the Tosamaidan is a vast beautiful pasture located under the foothills of Pir Panchaal mountain range in Khag- Khansahib area of Budgam.
Gulmarg is located nearby this place towards its north western side and one can trek to Poonch via this place. “But from mid 1960’s this area has been used as a firing range by Artillery regiment of Indian Army,” the petition says.
“The firing drills have lead to death and destruction in the area which was never a deliberate attempt but has been always accidental but these deaths have indeed been caused by the military presence in the area.”
The RTI activists said that they were not exaggerating the things at all, “but this is a hard fact which many of our security experts won’t like to hear.”
‘The Government could have developed Tosamaidan as a tourist hub but this couldn’t be done due to heavy artillery, mortar shelling in the area during summers, many unexploded shells remain scattered here and there and in view of all this how can tourists go to such a place?”
The petition has prayed that the further agreement should not be extended as the present agreement between J&K Government & Indian Army comes to an end in 2014.
“It is submitted that the villages are under continuous threat from the Mortar/Artillery shelling being undertaken by the Army since last many decades. Scores of people have been killed due to bursting of unexploded shells. In addition to it more than 20 people of have been turned permanently disabled.”
The petition has been filed a day after a “Joint Front’ was formed by the locals including Panchayat members, members of J&K RTI Movement, civil society groups, senior citizens. The Joint Front— Tosmaidan Bachao Front (Save Tosmaidan Front)— has been shaped up in order to mount pressure on the government for shifting the Tosmaidan firing range
Chairman Hurriyat Conference (G) Syed Ali Geelani has warned the government against any move to extend lease agreement of 3000 kanals of land in favor of the Army, underlining that it was “unacceptable.”