LIVES CONTINUE TO BE ON STAKE AT TOSAMAIDAN

With National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordering Army to clear Tosamaidan Field Firing Range (TFFR), a former firing range, of all kinds of shells and unexploded ordinance, the locals and petitioners are alleging that Army has not taken any step to remove the scattered ammunition at the scenic meadow.
LIVES CONTINUE TO BE ON STAKE AT TOSAMAIDAN
GK Photo

With National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordering Army to clear Tosamaidan Field Firing Range (TFFR), a former firing range, of all kinds of shells and unexploded ordinance, the locals and petitioners are alleging that Army has not taken any step to remove the scattered ammunition at the scenic meadow.

On July 11 NGT while hearing a petition on Tosamaidan filed by RTI activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat had ordered the Army to ensure that the meadow is clean before 1August 10.

"Ministry of Defence – submits that they have cleared the field from firing equipments and disposal in 2014. He further states that they would clear the entire field from any waste and remnants expeditiously and in any case not later than 10th August, 2016…" reads the order. "We dispose of this Application with a direction to the Respondents to ensure that the field is not only clean but is kept clean and free for any waste and environmentally and ecologically friendly. All steps should be taken prior to 10th August, 2016."

However locals and the petitioners claim that Army has not undertaken any exercise to clear the field of the remnant explosives. "Army has been long claiming that it had cleared Tosamaidan from explosive shells under the Mission Fallah, but infact that is a farce," said Muzaffar Bhat. "We have photographic evidence of explosives still being there."

Bhat said that he along with a local team had been waiting for the arrival of any army team to clear the remaining left over shells, "but they never came." He said that the meadow continues to remain a death trap for locals and tourists alike.

Off late government has taken an initiative to develop Tosamaidan a new tourist destination but petitioners and locals say that their lives can be under jeopardy due to these unexploded shells. According to Bhat, more than 1000 un-exploded shells still lie scattered in Tosamaidan that is spread over an area of 11200 hectares.

The range was not re-notified by the state government on 18 April 2014 thus effectively ending its life as a firing range.

 The petitioners had also submitted latest pictures of live shells, taken by them in the area on 24th and 25th of June 24th 2016 before the final hearing at the NGT.

The Forests department too confirmed that during the turmoil period no team from Army has undertaken any new exercise to clear the area. "As per our records are concerned during the turmoil period no team from army or any other agency came to undertake any kind of activity including clearing of unexploded shells in Tosamaidan," said an Official of Forests Department Budgam.

When contacted the Army Spokesman said that he will look into the matter and gather the latest update in this regard.

BACKGROUND

On 29 January 2016 National Green Tribunal (NGT) admitted the case regarding using of meadows and green forests for Filed Firing and Artillery practices. NGT's five member bench headed lead by its Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar issued notices to Ministry of Defence and Jammu & Kashmir Government and sought their response by March 1. When the case was listed for hearing on March 1st 2016, the respondents ie Ministry of Defence, J&K Government sought more time to file their replies. Time was again granted by the Tribunal and now the matter is listed for the next hearing on April 7th 2016.

On 10 May 2016 the Army in its reply said, "Army took a decision to clear of Tosamaidan Field Firing Range (TFFR) of all unexploded ammunition from 01 August to 22 October 2014 in the form of "Mission Fallah" as a goodwill gesture towards the local populace of in vicinity of TFFR The same was widely covered in the Print Media at that time." The petitioners however filed the reply complete with photographic evidence that showed unexploded shells lying attended in the TFFR area.

The Army further stated that "a total of 2062 blinds were destroyed in the 83 days Mission Fallah."

According reports, since 1984, 60-70 people had been killed and over 150 disabled in Budgam district due to the unexploded shells at the site.

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