SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Thursday said the lease on the Army’s Field Firing Range at Tosa Maidan meadow in central Kashmir won’t be renewed and the area would be developed into an attractive tourist spot.
“The lease of Tosa Maidan firing range won’t be renewed and we are holding discussions with the Army in Kashmir to provide them an alternative place for the firing range,” Omar told media persons at Tosa Maidan on Wednesday.
GoC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt Gen Subrata Suha, other top Army and civil officials were also present on the occasion.
Omar said that the state government had identified two places to relocate the firing range. According to him, the functions of the state government had been hit for two months due to the floods and (because of this) land could not be provided to the Army.
“Had Valley not been hit by the worst-ever floods, we could have decided in the Cabinet and handed over the land to the Army”.
The J&K Government had given Tosa Maidan meadow on lease to Army for firing range in 1964 for a period of 50 years. The lease period expired in April.
The Tosa maidan meadow was used by the Army, the IAF and the CRPF as firing range for conducting weaponry training from 1964 to 2014.
At least 64 civilians have been killed in explosions triggered by unexploded shells in Tosa Maidan since 1964.
The locals, civil society members and separatists groups had been demanding that the government should not extend the Army’s lease.
Omar said that though no artillery drill will be conducted in the meadow now, Army presence will continue there due to security reasons. “However, the Army won’t use it as a firing range,” he said.
He said the area would be opened to tourism and developed as a snazzy tourist resort in the state. “The focus will be on developing Tosa Maidan for tourism related activities to generate employment opportunities, trade and business in the area,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Army ended its “Operation Falah” to clear the Tosa Maidan firing range comprising 69 sq km of unexploded shells and other explosive devices.
“In a first of its kind initiative, the Army has made an unprecedented effort employing men and machine for over 83 days, facing the vagaries of extreme weather at high altitude to clear the entire area of 69 sq km of any unexploded material,” Lt Gen Saha said.
He said Operation Clean Up, which was launched on August 1, was completed within three months. “It had gone on uninterrupted even during the days of floods in Kashmir”.
Saha said although the area has been completely cleared of dangerous material, if any suspicious object is found, the locals should report the matter to the Army.