A youth died and four others were injured when a live shell exploded in this erstwhile firing range of the Army.

 

Tragedy has returned to the villages around Tosa Maidan meadow, cleared a few years back of its deadly live shells and developed into a potential tourist joint by the Army. On 12 August, four youth from a nearby village were hit by a live shell—one has died while three are battling for their lives in hospital.

The fateful incident took place on a day when hundreds of people, including tourists, were in the meadow to celebrate the annual tourism week. The deceased has been identified as Wajid Ahangar of Zoogu village.

Tosa Maidan meadow had been a firing range for the Army for 49 years, before being cleared on the insistence of the then Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who was keen to contest election from this area. The Army cleared most of the areas around Tosa Maidan from live shells and handed it over to the then civilian government in 2014.

The officials present at the District Magistrate of Budgam’s office said that a probe has been ordered and the police are in the process of collecting details regarding the incident.

A police officer told The Sunday Guardian that they have filed an FIR. He said that three youths injured in the incident were being treated in hospital and their condition is serious. The presence of live shells has baffled the local authorities as the state government, before it took over the Tosa Maidan meadow, had been told by the Army that the place was cleared of all unexploded shells during an 83 day-long operation, called Falah.

Tosa Maidan meadow has been attracting a lot of foreign and local tourists for trekking and camping in the central district of Budgam. It falls in the Assembly segment of Beerwah, which was won by Omar Abdullah purely owing to his efforts to clear the area and the nearby villages of live shells. Every year on 9 August, a five-day long festival is held in Tosa Maidan for the promotion of tourism.

According to the villagers living around Tosa Maidan meadow, dozens of youths and old persons have lost their limbs in the explosion of live shells and dozens of villagers were killed when they accidentally were hit by these shells. The villagers are protesting the latest incident. They have appealed to the government that they should start a fresh exercise to clear the area of live shells.

While talking to The Sunday Guardian, a local RTI activist and the main face of the agitation for clearing Tosa Maidan, Raja Muzaffar Bhat said that the Army had told the National Green Tribunal that they had cleared the meadow of all live explosive shells. He said that they would raise the issue with the Tribunal.

Raja Muzaffar said that when the Army used Tosa Maidan as a firing range for five decades, there had been many unreported deaths and injuries of the villagers. He said that they have now documented all such details from the nearby villages. “There have been 66 killings and 311 people have lost their limbs in the explosions due to the littered live shells in their villages,” Muzaffar said.

District Magistrate of Budgam, Khursheed Ahmad Sanai, told the media that they have decided to hold a meeting with the Army and the police to discuss how to clear the area from live shells.

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