Srinagar: The Army’s proposal to set up an artillery firing range at Bajpathri in the meadows of Yousmarg picturesque tourist destination in Central Kashmir is being strongly opposed by villagers, tour operators and separatist organisations.
Army had recently asked the state government to grant the lease of Bajpathri forest range to Army so that they could establish an artillery firing range there. Sources said the Army took up the case at the Civil Military Liaison Conference headed by J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Though the state government has not granted lease to the Army, government officials however said that the Army has been conveyed that their request could be considered.
Chairman of Tosmaidan Front, Sheikh Ghulam Rasool said that they will launch a campaign against the decision to save the picturesque Yousmarg and its neighbouring villages. “When the consequences of putting firing range in Tosmaidan has been already witnessed by the government where 65 people lost their lives and more than 300 got disabled then why government is making this mistake again,’’ said Sheikh, who had launched an agitation against army’s firing range in Budgam and finally forced government to cancel the lease. “It will cause devastation as this place is home to natural springs and water bodies and everything will get ruined there.’’
Travel Agents Association Kashmir (TAAK) member Manzoor Sidiq said that government should never grant lease of Bajpathri forest to army. “If the area is notified as firing range, it will destroy the environment and tourism sector in the area. Bajpathri is located close to Yousmarg a famous tourist resort. People associated with trade and tourism will oppose this move,” he said, adding that if the government has to give any land to the Army for firing range let them give the vast barren fields in Kargil, Zanskar or Leh.
The move also generated debate on social networking sites with users warning the government not to notify the area as firing range. “It is unfortunate if state government hands over the range to the army without seeking any opinion from technical experts. This place comprises of meadows, pastures and lush green forests which are being used by nomads and villagers. It will affect more people than Tosmaidan, as the area is double in size than the range in Budgam that was vacated by the army after series of protests,’’ Jalal-ud-din Shah, a senior citizen and an expert, wrote on a social network site.
Villagers of Kandimarg, Gadwali and Sangarwani has also warned the government not to notify the area as Army firing range and threatened mass agitation if the area is notified as a firing range. “Hundreds of villagers will get affected if the area is declared as artillery firing range. We have seen how much destruction was caused by the firing range in Tosmaidan. We don’t want the same devastation should happen to our area,’’ Shabir Ahmad, a villager of Sangarwani said.
Hurriyat Conference has also criticised the proposal. “By setting up army camps and firing ranges across the Valley, the Army is destroying the environment, forest, water sources and economy of poor villagers. Like Tosmaidan, this area will also become death trap for the people and it will be seriously opposed,’’ Hurriyat chairman, Syed Ali Geelani said.