Mirwaiz Calls For Shutdown In Kashmir On Saturday

9 April 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Ishfaq Tantry

Srinagar: The moderate Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq today called for a complete shutdown on April 12 against any attempt of the government to extend the lease of the Tosa Maidan field firing range in central Kashmir's Budgam district. The separatist leader told reporters here that the shutdown was called to draw the attention of the world community to the 'sensitive issue'. Mirwaiz threatened of a 'people's march' to the firing range and a 'sustained agitation for demilitarisation' of populated areas of Kashmir, if the government extended the Tosa Maidan lease to the Army. He was, however, evasive when asked what if the government relocates the firing rage to some other area. The lease of the firing range expires on April 18 and villagers surrounding the area have been opposing its extension. They have also been demanding shifting of the firing range from the Tosa Maidan. 'The meeting of Hurriyat today took stock of different issues, including the Tosa Maidan firing range. We are also in constant touch with the local villagers and today it was decided to launch a sustained campaign of information over the issue,' Mirwaiz told reporters after the after the meeting of the Hurriyat executive and general council members. He added the Hurriyat has constituted a committee to highlight the concerns of the villagers living in the vicinity of the firing range. Mirwaiz also contested the government records pertaining to the civilian casualties in the area due to the firing exercises undertaken by the Army and unexploded shells. 'As per our estimates, 150 innocent people have been killed in the area due to firing exercises and the explosion of stray shells,' he claimed. Government records claim that 67 people have been killed due to the firing range. 'Apart from being a constant threat to the lives of the local villagers, the firing range has also become an environmental hazard and has polluted the local water bodies and fresh water streams like Sukhnag Nullah,' Mirwaiz said. He added that if people don't react at this stage then every place in Kashmir would be handed over to the Army. 'Tosa Maidan firing range has huge ecological and environmental consequences. Therefore, we demand that populated areas in Kashmir be demilitarised and the influence of the Army in these areas be reduced,' Mirwaiz said. The contentious issue The J&K Government in 1965 had given a portion of Tosa Maidan on lease to the Army for artillery firing. The firing range remains operational from April to November every year The Army last year had applied with the DC, Budgam, for the re-notification of over 11,000 kanals of land in Tosa Maidan for another 20 years The government-appointed panel is yet to make any progress in identifying an alternative site for relocating the firing range, which has become a poll issue in the trouble-torn Valley The high-powered panel has asked the Army to come up with its requirements for the firing range in place of Tosa Maidan.