How Tosamaidan was reclaimed

The Army is now cleaning up the Tosamaidan firing range in Budgam district of Jammu and Kashmir. File Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

Since 1984, 65 people had been killed and over 150 disabled in Budgam district in Jammu and Kashmir by an avoidable cause. The Tosamaidan firing range — a meadow nestled in the picturesque Pir Panjal mountain range — had become a death trap for cattle-grazing communities because of the unexploded shells and their residual material spread over the area.

After nearly five decades, the people can heave a sigh of relief. They are set to get back the Tosamaidan for public use, after the State government decided not to extend the lease given to the Army after it expired on April 18.

During his visit to Gujarat, Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, who heads the J&K RTI Movement, highlighted how simple queries made under the Right to Information Act changed the fate of Tosamaidan and the people living in its neighbourhood.

“We asked for data on deaths, disability and lease details. A told of 52 villages were affected by the firing range. Among these, 16 were severely affected. The village panchayats had even passed a resolution calling for a ban on firing at Tosamaidan. Based on the RTI replies, we launched the Tosamaidan Bachao Front and petitioned the State government,” Mr. Rasool said. The Army is currently carrying out cleaning operations in the area. The RTI Movement is now pressing for development of rural tourism in the region managed by the local people, as against corporate players.

‘J&K Act is stronger’

Citing Tosamaidan’s example, Mr. Rasool said the State RTI Act was stronger than the Central Act in two aspects. It gave the first appellate authority the power to recommend disciplinary action and penalty against a public information officer for repeated failure to give information. The State Act also provided for a time-bound delivery system, whereby the second appeals too have to be decided within 120 days.

“The Centre should incorporate these provisions in its Act. The National Campaign for People’s Right to Information is already making that demand. Pendency of appeals is a big challenge,” Mr. Rasool said.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 9:36:19 PM |

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