Army's Rider For Relocation From Tosa Maidan Puts Govt In Tight Spot

10 August 2014
Rising Kashmir
Asem Mohiuddin

Srinagar: Putting the onus on the state government for relocation of its field firing range from Tosa Maidan, Army has sought either an extension in its lease or an alternative place for artillery drills till the time it creates required infrastructure at the new site designated for the purpose. 'You have identified two places Bajpathri and Daksum where the Army can shift its field firing range. But both the places require minimum four years to create the required infrastructure like road and shifting of arms and ammunition. We will make best use of available resources and keep it ready for use in just two years. Till then you have either to identify the new place for the drill purpose or grant an extension of the same field,' reveals the latest secret communiqué accessed by this newspaper. It further maintains that the troops of artillery division which undergoes the training at the firing range needs to be further trained with the conversion of machinery and equipments after the change of place. 'As per the Standard Operation Procedures, the ammunition used at one place can't be necessarily used at another place. We have to study the impact of ammunition again at the newly identified place and train our men before using it formally which needs further time,' the army maintains. 'We have agreed on suggested places but the onus lies with the civil administration which has to take the decision positively,' the Army communiqué adds. Army had earlier turned down the proposal of shifting its firing range to Wadwan and Gurez valley citing its proximity with Line of Control and other logistical constraints. Defending its presence in Tosa Maidan, the army has attached a letter of the forest department with the communiqué which has ruled out any adverse impact to the meadow and forest cover due to the training. 'The protests of some of the adjoining villages of Tosa Maidan shall not be considered by the government since they proved more harmful to the green cover instead of army. They have caused huge disaster to the forests although there is no impact on the forests due to army training conducted here,' reads the letter issued by the forests department to the civil administration. Furthermore, the Army is seeking guarantees for trouble-free relocation. 'What is the guarantee that there will be no politics tomorrow over the newly developed firing range? Once we shift to that place the government has to ensure that no politics would be played over it by vested interests because it is not easy to develop the place for the same purpose again,' Army has conveyed to the committee constituted by the government to look into the matter. Chief Secretary, Muhammad Iqbal Khandey, who is heading the committee, had earlier expressed constraints in taking any decision over the issue in view of the Lok Sabha polls. 'Given the sensitivity of the issue and ongoing parliamentary elections, the decision can't be taken,' reads the earlier response from the chief secretary. 'The political quarters are totally against any such decision this time again which may damage their political prospects. They have told the committee to maintain a very solid stand in view of the upcoming Assembly elections to avoid any public outrage,' sources said. They said the committee which is facing relentless pressure from various quarters has been pleading with the Army to cooperate with it till the public outrage is defused gradually for the final decision. Last week, the Army launched Operation Falah (welfare) to clear the meadow of unexploded shells which have caused over 60 civilian deaths in the past. Tosa Maidan was leased to the army in 1964 for setting up an artillery firing range. With the 50-year lease ending earlier this year, the local residents and civil society groups had warned the government against its extension. The opposition to the firing range stems from the fact that in the past five decades, over 60 civilians have been killed and many others disabled in several accidents related to unexploded shells littered on the meadow's slopes. All the victims belong to the villages around Tosa Maidan.