Srinagar: The Peoples Democratic Party-led government seems to be risking human lives by officially throwing open Tosmaaidan as tourism destination, though no official has given any safety clearance for public movement in the central Kashmir meadows, which remained Armys firing range for 50 long years.
While former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on June 2 raised concerns over wellbeing of tourists visiting the area recently thrown open by his successor Mehbooba Mufti, none of the concerned authorities have given undertaking over the safety.
Officials said apart from a formal consent from the Army, the District Commissioner Budgam was bound to give a written undertaking that the area was safe for tourist activities and the administration would be responsible in case of any eventuality.
But the DC Budgam confirmed that he has not given any such undertaking. I have not given any such undertaking (over the safety) but a portion of the area, where tourists are allowed, is believed to be safe, DC Budgam Altaf Ahmed told Kashmir Observer.
The DC said the Tourism department might have issued any such clearance and they were the “right people” to be contacted. The Tourism department, however, clarified, that it was not its responsibility to issue such certificates. But the area is safe, trust us, said a Tourism official.
Officials said in the absence any formal undertaking from the authorities, public life was at risk. In case of any eventuality, who will be responsible? How can you take human lives easy? There needs to be a formal undertaking from the authorities concerned, said a top official asking not to be named.
While the civil administration has not given any clearance, same holds true for the Army, which occupied the territory till two years ago, when the 5-decade lease ended during the then Omar Abdullah regime.
Though thereafter, Army reportedly started sanitization of the area, through demining and other efforts, the process is yet to be completed.
Just last month, soon after Mehbooba Mufti took oath, the state government sought written assurances from Army on sanitization of Tosamaidan. The Army hasnt responded to the government queries, hinting that the area was still unsafe, deadly.
A vast meadow, Tosamaidan, witnessed at least 60 deaths in the past due to littered shells, while hundreds lost their limbs.
But responding to Omar Abdullahs apprehensions, the government on Thursday informed the Legislative Assembly that Army has demined Tosamaidan in central Kashmirs Budgam district, which was officially opened as new tourist destination last week.
If the Government is not sure about demining of the Tosamaidan then why are you putting lives of people in danger by holding tourism festivals there, said Omar referring to the recent visit of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to the meadow where she was informed by officials that Army was yet to provide clearance to State for using the meadow for tourism purpose.
The Chief Minister recently visited the Tosamaidan and raised apprehensions that the Army hasnt completely demined the meadow. We want assurance from the Government on the demining, said Omar.
Responding to the queries, Education Minister NaeemAkther said: The Army has informed us that 65 sq kilometers of Tosamaidan has been completely demined and is safe for tourism activity.
Akther was speaking on behalf of Chief Minister who also holds Tourism portfolio. We are conscious about this and it is only after ascertaining that the area is safe and secure, our Government has opened it for tourists, said Akther.
The government said the 11200 hectares of land at Tosamaidan that were used by the forces for firing range, 1809 hectares were the actual impact area while the remaining 9390 hectares were safety zone.
Sources said some politicians from within the ruling coalition and a coterie of RTI activists having vote bank politics at stake in central Kashmirs Budgam had been lobbying hard for throwing open of Tosamaidan as a tourist destination for their personal gains. Things finally clicked when Mehbooba assumed power.
On May 30, the picturesque Tosamaidan was officially thrown open for public by her as a new tourism destination in the state.
She declared the meadow open for tourism activities with the inauguration of 3-day Tosamaidan Festival in the midst of the sprawling pasture, which is circled by sky-touching Deodars.
During the 3-day Tosamaidan Festival activities like horse riding, trekking and mountaineering will be organized by the Tourism Department to promote the area as a new Adventure Tourism Destination.
Speaking on the occasion, Mehbooba said Tosamaidan will be brought on the tourism map of the state as an independent and distinct resort without disturbing its fragile environment. She stressed the need for promoting the historic meadow through community driven adventure and rural tourism initiative to facilitate the turnaround of the socio-economic profile of the locals, especially the youth.
The CM also announced a new Tourism Development Authority for Tosamaidan to ensure development of the area.
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