Protest over land lease for Army firing range in J&K

Protesters say shells fired over past years have claimed lives

At least 20 persons were taken into preventive custody on Wednesday when a group of people protested against lease extension to Army for using a ground in Budgam district in Jammu and Kashmir as a firing range.

Activists from Jammu and Kashmir RTI Movement, Tosamaidan Bachao Front and Rural Voice gathered at Pratap park in Srinagar demanding that the State government should not extend the lease to Army for Tosamaidan. 

As the protestors tried to take out a march, police swung into action and took  20 persons into preventive custody, an official said.

Tosamaidan, a vast exapnse of lush green meadows in Budgam, was given on lease to Army in 1954 for use as artillery firing practice range. The lease was extended for 10 years in 2004 and will end on April 18 this year. 

According to the protestors, more than 60 persons have been killed and 40 other injured due to shells fired from the firing range over the years. 
“We have given a deadline to Government for making the order public by April 18. Till then protests will continue and we request all people of the State to observe April 18 as Black day,” chairman of Jammu and Kashmir RTI Movement Ghulam Rasool Shaikh said.

Sarpanch of Chill village Mohammad Maqbool Magray said the grassroots level Panchayat representatives from surrounding villages of Tosamaidan will tender mass resignations if the government failed to issue formal orders for cancellation of the lease. 

“If Government failed to issue a formal order by April 18, the local panchs and sarpanchs will start mass resignation in the 52 villages of Toasmaidan,” Magray said.

Union minister and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah had said in an election rally on Tuesday in Khansahib area of Badgam district, that the state government would not extend the lease of Tosa Maidan firing range to the army. 

Abdullah also told the people that vacating the firing range would in a way start the process of revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state.The army here, however, said nothing has been decided as a committee headed by the state chief secretary to look into the issue is yet to submit its report.

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