Alternative site to be identified by a committee led by the Chief Secretary

With the Kashmiri politicians, the separatist as well as the mainstream, upping the ante over proposed extension of the land lease beyond April 2014, the Army on Tuesday agreed in principle to vacate over 11,000 hectares of the forest land in Tossamaidan firing range in Budgam district.

The Civil Military Liaison Committee meeting, presided over by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah at the headquarters of 16 Corps at Nagrota, decided to set up a panel of senior officials from the Army and the State government to resolve the issues concerning the firing range. Chief Secretary Iqbal Khanday would head the committee and submit recommendations before expiry of the lease, executed in April 1964.

Sources present in the meeting revealed to The Hindu that Mr. Abdullah laid emphasis on the “public sensibilities” while pointing to the Opposition propped up even by the mainstream politicians who have been part and parcel of the lease extension in 2004.

Khansahab Independent MLA Hakeem Mohammad Yasin, a Minister in the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and later the Ghulam Nabi Azad governments in 2002-2007, was the first to raise the issue in recent Assembly session. He was among the politicians who had demanded scrapping of the lease.

Mr. Abdullah informed the Legislative Council that 63 civilians had died in blasts in and around the firing range in the last 50 years. He added that hundreds had sustained injuries. By the last session of the legislature, the issue of lease extension had turned into a major controversy. Sources said that on Mr. Abdullah’s insistence, Army’s representatives “agreed in principle to vacate the land at Tossamaidan in lieu of an alternative site that would be simultaneously identified by the Chief Secretary-led committee”.