CS-led committee seeks ‘resettlement plan’ for people living in Bajpathri
A panel of the J&K Government has asked the State Forest department to work out a “resettlement plan” for people of Bajpathri—one of the two places the Army had identified as alternate location to its Tosamaidan firing range—in the vicinity of Yusmarg hill resort in central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
“Chief Conservator, Forests, shall workout a resettlement plan for the dhoks in the proposed area in consultation with all stakeholders and submit the same to the Forest department,” the panel headed by the Chief Secretary Muhammad Iqbal Khanday has directed in its last meeting. Dhoks are traditional huts build of wooden logs and mud where Gujjars live.
The panel was set up by the Government last year to recommend relocation of the Army’s firing range in Tosamaidan.
“The Forest Department after examining the report of the CCF Kashmir will submit the same along with its considered views for consideration of the committee within 15 days,” read the minutes of the meeting, copy of which is with Greater Kashmir. The meeting was held on July 31.
Sources said Bajpathri along with another site between Hathungali and Sinthan Top were proposed by the Army to the CS-led panel for relocating the Tosamaidan firing range following weeks of protests in Kashmir against re-notifying it for artillery exercises.
About 11,200 hectares of land in Tosamaidan were leased out to the Army in 1964. The 50-year lease expired in April this year. At least 60 people including children, have been killed and hundreds injured and some of them handicapped for lifetime due to littered explosives in and around Tosamaidan. The killings, over the years, led to massive protests.
In its July meeting, the CS-panel decided that the Army authorities and administrative head of the Public Health Engineering and I&FC Department would undertake a joint survey in the proposed firing range (Bajpathri-Thambri) to ascertain the impact, if any, on water supply schemes running through the proposed area.
The CS-led panel also sought views of the Commissioner/Secretary Tourism Shailinder Kumar on a report by the Director Tourism Kashmir about the possible impact of the proposed relocation of firing range.
“Army authorities in consultation with Forest Department authorities will undertake a joint survey of the proposed area and keep papers ready for placing a formal indent to the Forest Department for consideration of the Forest Advisory Committee,” reads the record note.
Though the Chief Secretary-led panel had suggested two other sites to the Army to choose from, the proposal didn’t mature as Army cited “lack of connectivity and other infrastructure issues” at both the places, sources said.
Sources said officials from Army along with then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Shailendra Kumar made a number of visits to the proposed area, located in the vicinity of Yusmarg, a picturesque meadow. A separate committee led by Kumar in his capacity as Divisional Commissioner had later reportedly cleared Bajpathri for relocation of the Tosamaidan firing range.
“Army authorities visited the area along with senior officials from PHE and I&FC, Forest and Tourism departments prior to the July 31 meeting,” the official said.
The picturesque Yusmarg meadow, which is visited by over three lakh tourists annually, is part of Pir Panjal forest range that stretches from Kashmir to Jammu. The green meadows, fresh water streams feeding scores of villages in the entire belt and thick pine forests make it an attractive tourist destination. Bajpathri is located at a walking distance of five to six kilometers from Yusmarg.
THE PROPOSED FIRING RANGE
An official said initially the proposal involves setting up the firing range at Bajpathri with the impact area at Thambri. “A vast forest area spread in two districts of central Kashmir’s Budgam and south Kashmir’s Shopian would form the proposed firing range,” he said.
But a survey by the J&K government has warned that over 220 families comprising about 1400 souls would be affected if the firing range is relocated in the Yusmarg forest belt. “These are the people living in the proposed range and they will have to bear the direct impact of the move. But there are scores of villages like Sangerwani and Nagbal surrounding the proposed range wherein a large population is settled. The sorrow tale of villages surrounding Tosamaidan will now repeat itself in Yusmarg villages,” an official said.
A separate assessment has cautioned that seven to eight water supply schemes feeding people in the entire belt, up to Charar-i-Sharief on one side and Pakherpora on the other side, could be affected as the shells could end up in the streams.
The move would also give a blow to Yusmarg as a tourist destination, a senior Tourism Department official said.
Sources said the Chief Secretary led panel discussed in detail the report submitted by the Departments concerned about the impact of relocating the firing range in Yusmarg forest belt. “The fresh views sought by the committee from Tourism, PHE and I&FC and Forest departments will form the basis for any forward movement on the proposal,” sources said.
ARMY authorities in consultation with Forest Department authorities will undertake a joint survey of the proposed area and keep papers ready for placing a formal indent to the Forest Department for consideration of the Forest Advisory Committee
–Record Note of Meeting