Why use Meadows for Artillery drills!

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Why use Meadows for Artillery drills!Around two years back extension of lease agreement between Jammu & Kashmir Government and Army for Tosamaidan filed firing range had created lot of tension and disturbance in Kashmir. The move was being resisted not only by the villagers surrounding Tosamaidan meadow but people in general were against the lease extension. Kashmir based Civil society organizations, political parties, writers, elected panchayat representatives, NGOs, tour and travel associations and many more groups had continuously lodged their protest against using Tosamaidan as a filed firing range. The sustained struggle finally forced the then Government led by Omar Abdullah not to extend the lease agreement with Army.  In November 2013 when the Tosamaidan movement had gained momentum an extra ordinary Civil Military Liaison conference was held  at headquarters of 16 core located at Nagrota. During that meeting which was chaired by the then CM Omar Abdullah,  the Tosamaidan issue was discussed in detail. A high level committee headed by Chief Secretary was also constituted. The said committee was supposed to  suggest viable options i.e., alternative locations. If the alternative location suggested by that committee is again a green meadow surrounded by forests, then this is an act of treachery with people of Kashmir.  Sources say that  previous Government had assured Army an alternate place called “Bajpathri”  a meadow located near famous tourist resort of Yusmarg in central Kashmir.

Environmental Institutions silent
From the last many years Institutions and NGOs working on environment in different parts of the world have been raising issues of global warming,  greenhouse gas emission, melting of glaciers, construction of dams & oil refineries, coal mining etc.  Unfortunately I have never heard about any international environmental NGO, or an academic institution, that has touched the issue of environmental destruction due to Armed Conflict and heavy military concentration. Some years back I had discussed this issue in one of my write-ups. The heavy military concentration in J&K is seriously affecting our environment and wildlife. The recent incidents of leopards coming down to  populated areas is a matter of concern. The wildlife experts relate these incidents with construction of roads in dense forests and heavy military presence on LoC and other areas of J&K.

UN has a role:
The United Nations (UN) has in-fact declared November 6th of every year as  International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.  This is the day aimed to educate people about the damaging effects of war and armed conflict on the environment. But this day is merely observed as a formality and not a single step has been taken to conduct a survey vis a vis Armed Conflict and Environment in Jammu & Kashmir by UN’s Environment Programme Office (UNEP).  People of Jammu & Kashmir are the worst affected people due to wars and armed conflict and this conflict continues to destroyed our environment and wildlife. This issue has to be taken up at international forums.

Conclusion:
It is the conflict between India and Pakistan that led to forcible extension of Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practices Act of  1938 (MFFAP Act) into Jammu & Kashmir. Pertinently MFFAP Act was enacted by the British India Government’s Imperial Legislative Council (ILC) in 1938 and the same was extended to J&K state in the year 1951 when Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was Prime Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. It is MFFAP Act of 1938 which legalizes undertaking of Artillery drills in J&K.  If we want to get rid of these military drills in our environmentally fragile state, the  state Government should take up the matter with Government of India so that this law is repealed or at least necessary amendments are made in MFFAP Act. If this is not done our green pastures, meadows and dense forests  will continue to bleed under the garb of national security.