The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Monday issued notice to Government of India as well as the state government for filing objections within six weeks to a Public Interest Litigation seeking compensation to the families whose kin died or were injured in Tosamaidan firing range in central Kashmir’s Budgam district over the years.
The PIL by Lubna Sayed Qadri also seeks directions to the government for taking steps to save the water bodies, forests, wildlife and flora and fauna of Tosamaidan and its adjoining areas.
Hearing the PIL, a division bench of Justice Muhammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice Janak Raj Kotwal issued notice to Union of India through Secretary Ministry of Home, J&K government through its Chief Secretary and Home Department, Director Social Welfare Kashmir, Chief Conservator Forests Budgam, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and Deputy Commissioner Budgam.
In the PIL, the petitioner seeks directions for conducting a detailed survey of the Tosamaidan area to assess the loss and damage caused to human beings and the environment of the entire area due to artillery drills and other military exercises. She seeks compensation to the families of deceased and injured persons and owners of livestock.
Seeking to de-notify the area with immediate effect, the petitioner pleads that the state government be directed to frame the guidelines for firing ranges in accordance with the provisions contained in the Maneuvers Field and Artillery Practice Act 1938.
“The respondents have failed to do their lawful duty in order to protect the life, liberty and dignity of citizens. Moreover, the environment, wildlife, water resources, flora and fauna and the natural environment of the area has been devastated putting the life and liberty of thousands of people at risk,” the petitioner pleads, seeking protection of the rights of the thousands of residents of Shunglipora and adjoining villages of Tosamaidan.
“The Government of Jammu and Kashmir authorized the execution of military maneuvers over the area of Tosamaidan in 1965. Due to the field firing and artillery practice carried out by army from 1965 to 2014 in and around Tosamaidan, innocent people have lost their lives or were left maimed,” reads the petition.
The PIL states that besides thousands of cattle including sheep, cows, goats, horses that have died, property worth millions was ruined. “The firing has also caused great loss to the environment, water channels and sources, ecology, forests and the area suffered great loss,” the petitioner pleads, adding an area of 11200.48 hectare was handed over to Army for conducting military exercises in the year 1965.
“The authorities are bound to follow the mandate of law while conducting any military exercise, field firing or artillery practice in any given area that is governed by Maneuvers Field and Artillery Practice Act 1938”.
Underlining that Section 2 of the Act lays down that “the State Government may authorize the execution of military maneuvers over an area for a period not exceeding three months and the same area shall not ordinarily be specified more than once in any period for three years, the petitioner pleads:” In blatant violations of the law the entire region was used for military exercises for a period of almost 50 years and all kinds of weapons and artillery were used in the area putting at risk the entire region, its ecology and the lives of thousands of residents”.
The PIL states that a “large number of people have lost their lives and numerous people have received serious injuries causing temporary or permanent disablement due to scattered live shells left after the artillery firing.”
It said government of Jammu and Kashmir issued a preliminary list of people who have died due to artillery firing in the area from 1974 – 2014 while as another list was also prepared by it in which number of injured and dead people was also mentioned.
“The actual number of deaths and disability caused by the artillery firing in the area is yet to be ascertained. However, no compensation or relief has so far been granted to the people who have already been identified. No independent survey has ever been conducted in order 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 & aquatic life is yet to be ascertained,” pleads the petitioner.