After denied permission for a sit in at Municipal Park, hundreds of residents of Tosa Maidan, area reached press enclave and raised slogans in favour of vacating the Tosa Maidan on Wednesday. Members of a Srinagar based civil society group, Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), were with them and leading the protesters. Dozens of protesters were later arrested as they tried to march towards the residency road.
Speaking on the occasion, a KCSDS member, Shakeel Qalandar, said, “Tosa Maidan is a treasure and it should be handed over to the locals.” Professor Hamida Nayeem and Dr Mubin Shah were among other speakers apart from the Tosa Maidan Bachaw Committee members comprised of the locals from Tosa Maidan area.
Tosa Maidan is a magnificent meadow in Budgam district and it has become a bone of contention between local residents and the army. Tosa Maidan was leased to the army in 1964 for setting up an artillery firing range. With the 50-year lease ending today, the locals are up in arms against its further extension.
“The locals are living a miserable condition because of the firing range and they are compelled to live like animals,” Hamida said, “adding, “every human right is denied to the locals so it is a human issue and needs to be resolved on humanitarian grounds.”
Qalandar asked government of India to come out with the reason of establishing 12 firing ranges out of total 66 only in Jammu and Kashmir. “Uttar Pradesh is among the largest states of India with only 5 firing ranges for army, government of India has to answer as to why it has established 12 such firing ranges in a small state of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Qalandar further said that due to the Tosa Maidan firing range the locals are compelled to drink polluted water. “The silence of civil society members of India and its environmental experts is criminal,” alleged Qalandar.
Earlier, the protesters were denied permission of sit in at the Municipal Park, as already announced. “The state government is claiming to be a democratic one but we are even denied the democratic right like holding of peaceful sit in,” a Tosa Maidan Commiittee, member said.
The protesters raising slogans said that Tosa Maidan has become a grave yard for humans as 63 innocent people have lost their lives and hundreds have become handicapped.
“People have been demanding for demilitarization of Tosa Maidan since long but nobody paid any heed,” they said.
The speakers alleged that army has set afire 30 thousand trees using gun powder in the area to clear the mountains and the surrounding area.
“Army also encouraged jungle smuggling to clear the area,” they alleged further adding, “Trout fish has completely vanished from the area of Tosa Maidan only because of the army presence and intervention.”
“For centuries, Tosa Maidan had served as grazing land for the villager’s livestock. But, since 1964, the meadow witnesses scenes of simulated warfare carried out by the army,” the protesters said adding, “During this period, the villages reverberate with the barrage of shelling and deafening explosions, forcing the villagers to stay indoors most of the time.”
Later as the protesters started marching towards the residency road, large contingent of police swung into action and arrested dozens of them including many KCSDS member. Police sources said that they were later set free.