Govt writes to Army: Is Tosamaidan free of explosives?
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Govt writes to Army: Is Tosamaidan free of explosives?

Jammu and Kashmir Government has sought written assurances from Army on sanitization of Tosamaidan of unexploded explosive and artillery shells as State authorities plan to open the scenic meadow to tourists this year.

Jammu and Kashmir Government has sought written assurances from Army on sanitization of Tosamaidan of unexploded explosive and artillery shells as State authorities plan to open the scenic meadow to tourists this year. The meadow, which witnessed at least 60 deaths in the past due to littered shells, was used as field firing range by Army for 50 years before vacating it in 2014.

Sources said the matter was discussed at a high level meeting chaired by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Asgar Samoon earlier this year. The meeting was attended by senior officials from the Army.

The sources said although the Army has claimed to have cleared the meadow, located in central Kashmir's Budgam district, of unexploded bombs and artillery shells, there was no written confirmation from their side.

District Commissioner Budgam, Mir Altaf, said the Forest Department had sought "clearance certificate" from the Army some time ago about sanitization of the meadow.

"There was no response from their (Army) side. I recently wrote to them (Army) on the issue again," said the DC.    

After a month long agitation led by Save Tosamaidan Front in 2014, the Government had cancelled the lease of the meadow, located in the Pir Panjal forest range, to the Army. 

Of 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.'

Tosamaidan, which was also called as "Meadow of Death" witnessed more than 60 civilian deaths in the explosion of littered shells in the past – the victims were mostly those living in the villages around the meadow who would take their cattle for grazing to the meadow.

Also, in many villages around the meadow, scores of people, mostly children, have been left handicapped in these explosions.

The Army had undertaken an operation to clear the meadow of the explosive substances soon after vacating it.

"The initiative to clear the Tosamaidan field firing range of the unexploded bombs and other dangerous objects came to a conclusion after 83 days and 10,000 man-hours. We can confidently say now that we have kept our promise made to the people of clearing the field," the then Corps Commander of Srinagar-based Chinar Corps, Lt Gen Subrata Saha had told media on conclusion of the operation in October 2014.

Sources however said there was no official word from the Army on the issue. "We don't want to take any risk and that is why we have taken up the matter with the Army before bringing it on the tourism map," said a senior government officer.

The matter has already come under the notice of National Green Tribunal after social activist Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat petitioned the body, cautioning that several unexploded shells were still lying in the meadow.

"It is a looming threat there," Dr Bhat has said in the petition.

Defence Spokesperson Colonel NN Joshi said on Friday that he wasn't aware about the issue. "I will have to check it," Joshi said. On Saturday, the Spokesperson said he couldn't look into the issue as he remained preoccupied with work related to opening of Zojilla tunnel that connects Ladakh with Kashmir.

A senior official in the Tourism Department said the Government plans to incorporate the meadow within the jurisdiction of Doodpathri Development Authority without disturbing its fragile environment to develop it as full-fledged tourism destination.

"But for that to happen we need clearance certificate from Army," the official said.

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