A lease to the army to use vast meadow Tosamaidan in Budgam district as firing range has become emotive election issue in the Valley. Political parties across the divide are opposing the extension of lease to grab the votes. The lease is going to end on April 16.
J&K government in 1965 had given a vast chunk of land in meadows of Tosamaidan in Peer Panchal belt to the Army for artillery firing.
From past four decades every summer army units have been firing artillery shells from villages of Budgam towards the picturesque Tosamaidan meadow. At times these shells fall outside the firing range causing civilian causalities. Even government had acknowledged that more than 63 villagers have died in Tosamaidan and hundreds of civilians especially children have suffered injuries due to abandoned shells and misfiring.
From past one year the villagers in Budgam district have launched an agitation vehemently opposing the renewal of lease to the army.
As the villagers in the Budgam have been actively participating in the elections despite separatist boycott call the mainstream political leaders with an eye on the votes have also started opposition to the extension of the land lease.
Aam Adami Party’s Srinagar candidate Raja Muzuffar Bhat said that he has made it an election issue. “We are opposing this extension of land lease and even if lease is extended then our party will launch vigorous campaign against it,’’ he said.
Opposition Peoples Democratic Party has also opposed the extension of lease and even raised the issue in the assembly.
Ruling National Conference eying on the large chunk of votes in belt have said that party will never renew the lease. And in case, these villages will boycott NC will be loser as majority of these villagers had voted in favor of the ruling NC – Congress candidate. And for NC these votes are very crucial as these villages fall in the Srinagar parliament seat where NC patron Farooq Abdullah is seeking his re-election.
The local assembly member and chairman of Peoples Democratic Front – Hakeem Yasin is also opposing the lease and as he has been getting good chunk of votes from the belt. On its part Congress has announced that area will be developed into a tourist spot.
People of around 8o villages have constituted – Tosamaidan Save Front – the committee comprising local villagers, students and RTI activists.
Tosamaidan Save Front have been holding protests in the villages on everyday basis even some non governmental organizations have joined them. “We have asked all the mainstream political parties that people of 80 villages will vote for that party which will cancel the lease otherwise we will not allow any politician to enter in our area,’’ Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool who is heading Tosamaidan Save Front told The Indian Express.
He said that area has around one lakh votes and in case lease is not cancelled these villages could even boycott the polls. “We have kept our options open as we are suffering not the politicians,’’ he said.