Tosamaidan’s tourism prospects marred by littered shells

  • Abid Bashir
  • Publish Date: Sep 24 2018 3:25AM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 24 2018 3:39AM
Tosamaidan’s tourism prospects marred by littered shellsFile Photo

With a unique model for making the picturesque 3000 kanal Tosamaidan meadow in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district as an adventure tourism attraction already in place, the move has hit a roadblock with littered shells continuing to kill and maim the local residents. Tosamaidan has been under the army control since 1964 and was being used as a major firing range where hi-tech security drills including heavy artillery training would take place.

In April 2014, the army’s 50-year-old lease agreement ended and it pitched for the lease extension. However, after massive public outcry and the sustained campaign by the Tosamaidan Bachav Front (TBF), the State government declined army’s request and instead asked it to vacate. The army launched a massive sanitization drive under ‘Operation Falah’ to clean off the vast meadow from the littered shells.

Though the Operation Falah was conducted for 83 days with the army pressing in hi-tech gadgets to find and dispose of the littered shells, the unexploded ammunition continues to pose a big threat to locals and is the main reason for jeopardizing the Tourism department’s plan of throwing open the place for tourists.

According to the official figures, 68 people lost their lives till 2013 at Tosmaidan due to explosions caused by the littered shells while as over 40 lost their limbs. However, the figure rose as there was no end to deaths caused by the unexploded shells which even travelled to many adjacent villages of Tosamaidan like Drang, Khag, Shonglipora, Malik Mohalla and other adjoining villages. As per the chairman of Tosamaidan Bachav Front (TBF) Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, dozens of shells travelled to adjacent villages through streams due to heavy rainfall at Tosamaidan and became a death trap for locals. “More than 70 people have died due to left over shells at Tosamaidan. The figure is just after 1987 as there is no official record available as to how many died of these shells before that,” he said. “The figure of deaths caused by the unexploded ammunition must be much more as we tried to know through right to information applications, but there is no record available for the years between 1964 to 1987.”

He said the Tosamaidan has a great potential for tourism, rather eco-friendly rural adventure tourism, but unexploded shells continue to play a spoilsport, as people continue to find them even after four years of hi-tech sanitization drive by the army.

On September 9 and 10, 2018, four unexploded shells were found at village Seetharan and Malik Mohalla, Drang and luckily there was no casualty as locals immediately called the bomb disposal squad of police and got the all four shells diffused. “One can never imagine that an unexploded shell could be spotted at village Seetharan as there is no stream flowing in this village and it is quite far from Tosamaidan,” said Chairman TBF.

The TBF in its survey report states that they suspect huge presence of ammunition in two places at Tosamaidan—Shelwan Peak and Paheal Pather. “These two places seem to be vulnerable as most of the shells during the army’s drill would land in these areas. We believe these two areas are very unsafe,” he coutioned.

About the tourism potential and the plan for Tosamaidan, the Chairman TBF said that a unique model was carved after extensive six-month survey in Uttrakhand, Gujarat, Himachal and other places. “The members of TBF travelled extensively to these areas to come out with a unique tourism model. We crafted a model and named it eco-friendly rural adventure tourism plan for Tosamaidan which has already been approved by the J&K government, only the announcement is to be made,” he said.

Explaining the broad contours of the plan, he said the TBF decided to involve locals of the area in promoting tourism, both winter and summer tourism. “Keeping in view the fragile environment of the place, we have advocated tourists willing to visit Tosamaidan must stay in villages where two-room guest house kind of accommodation will be provided to them,” he said. “From the villages, the house owner where tourists would stay will arrangement local cuisine, tea, snacks, bread and also arrange ponies for the tourists. Those willing to stay for night at Tosamaidan have to be accommodated in tents since we have strongly recommended ban on construction of any type.”

In case of wet weather, the TBF has suggested that the existing dhokas must be developed as two-room huts for the tourists wishing to say for a night or more at Tosamaidan.

“This all is the job of male folk and here we started thinking about the role of women folk. After threadbare discussions, we decided to train local women of all the villages adjacent Tosamaidan in crafts that include stitching, pashmina shawls, bags, papier machie, copper, silver utensils etc,” he said.

The chairman TBF said that this way women could earn their own livelihood and sustain their living. The Front has also roped in experts including scientists who would work under the banner of School for Rural Development and Environment. “These scientists have agreed to suggest dishes for tourists to be made from forest herbs. A herbal garden is also in the offing wherein different varieties of medicinal and vegetable herbs would be available,” he said.

To begin with, the TBF has identified eight villages where tourists would stay. “The funds for this project can be given by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs but only after the area is declared as a rural tourism destination,” Shaikh Ghulam Rasool said.

A source said that as the unexploded shells continue to pose threat to the locals, deputy commissioner Budgam, Syed Sehrish, recently chaired a meeting with the locals and it was decided that army would be informed about presence of unexploded shells in the area. “The deputy commissioner Budgam has shot a letter to divisional commissioner Kashmir urging him to take up the matter with the top brass of army,” the source said. He said that the army has decided to work out a plan to go for a drive in the area to check whether any more shells are littered in the area.

However, TBF demands that a massive drive based on modern technology should be conducted for the entire 49 square kilometer stretch and also in adjacent villages to ensure that no more unexploded material is lying anywhere. “Unless this happens, tourism potential of Tosamaidan hangs in balance,” he said.

Director Tourism Kashmir, Tasaduq Jeelani, said that a Master Plan is already in place and the government is keen to see Tosamaidan as one of the best tourist destinations. “The only hitch is presence of unexploded shells in the area. If God forbid, a tourist dies due to these shells, nobody would come there. So it is better to first ensure that the area is safe,” Jeelani told the Kashmir Ink.

Defene spokesman in Srinagar, Colonel Rajesh Kalia said that the army will ascertain as to why such shells are still being found. “We will look into it,” he said.