SrinagarThe Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Tuesday asked government to find out and provide compensation to those injured or killed due to artillery and other military exercises in Tosamaidan in central Budgam district
Hearing the PIL filed by one Lubna Sayed Qadri, a division bench of Justices Justice Ramalingam Sudhakar and M K Hanjura directed the authorities to complete the exercise by 12 weeks.
The Court also ordered Forest Department to ensure that the area was properly maintained while keeping in mind the guidelines of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
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.
Meanwhile, army informed the court that separatist movement in Kashmir necessitated large deployment of Armed forces including central armed police force in Kashmir.
Accordingly, the army said, need arouse to train the force in 1964. Tosa Maidan was made available to the army for the purpose of training and field firing practices by the Government of J&K, the army said.
The training field firing range was last notified by the J&K government on 19 April 2004 for a period of 10 years. (It) was used by army include artillery, Indian Air Force and other security forces like BSF and CRPF. Army processed the case for re-notification since 2010 with the State Government, however, no action materialized on the subject and automatically on completion of 10 years lease, the area came under the State Government on 18 April 2014, the army said, adding, no firing was conducted thereafter by the Armed Forces.