Srinagar, Mar 20: The Division Bench of High Court today issued notice to Union and State Governments and directed them for compensation to affected families of Tosa Maidan firing range.
Hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by one Lubna Syed Qadri through her advocate, the division bench of Justice Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and Justice J R Kotwal issued notice to Union of India through Secretary, Ministry of Home, North Block, New Delhi; State of Jammu And Kashmir through Chief Secretary to Government (Civil Secretariat) Srinagar/ Jammu; State of Jammu and Kashmir through Home Department, Civil Secretariat, Jammu/Srinagar; Director Social Welfare Srinagar; Chief Conservator Forests, Budgam; Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir; and Deputy Commissioner Budgam for filing their response the contentions raised in the PIL as also directed the concerned authorities for consideration of compensation to the affected families.
Petitioner Lubna approached the court for the protection of the rights of the thousands of residents of Shunglipora and adjacent villages of Tosa Maidan, District Budgam as she stated that the rights of the people have been violated and the respondents have failed to do their lawful duty in order to protect the life, liberty and dignity of citizens. Moreover, she added that the environment, wildlife, water resources, flora and fauna and the natural environment of the area has been devastated putting the life and liberty of thousands of people at risk.
The petitioner Lubna seeks indulgence of this Court for the people who have been rendered handicapped, people who have suffered psychologically and most of them are the people who cannot protect and defend their rights.
“The other things that have affected due to the illegal artillery shelling and military exercise include the natural environment of the area, the forests, the wildlife, the flora and fauna, the water resources for the entire region”, she submitted.
It is mentioned in the PIL that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir authorized the execution of military maneuvers over the area of Tosa Maidan (Budgam) in the year 1965. Due to the field firing and artillery practice carried out by Army from 1965 to 2014 in and around Tosa Maidan, innocent people have lost their lives or were left maimed besides thousands of cattle including sheep, cows, goats and horses have died during this period.
However, the petitioner submitted that in blatant violations of the law the entire region was used for military exercises for a period of almost 50 years and all kinds of weapons and artillery were used in the area putting at risk the entire region its ecology and the lives of thousands of residents as number of people have lost their lives and numerous people have received serious injuries causing temporary or permanent disablement due to scattered live shells left after the artillery firing.
“The Government of Jammu and Kashmir issued a preliminary list of people who have died due to artillery firing in the area from 1974 – 2014. Another list was also prepared by the Government in which number of injured and dead people was also mentioned. It is apt mention here that the actual number of deaths and disability caused by the artillery firing in the area is yet to be ascertained. However, no compensation or relief has so far been granted to the people who have already been identified”, read the PIL.
It is worthwhile to mention here that the Government vide order dated 24.01.2017 had declared Tosa Maidan as a tourist destination and created a separate development authority of the area.
That the entire area used for artillery shelling and military exercises falls just within 3 kilometers from Pehjan Wildlife Reserve and as per Supreme Court of India, guidelines in the areas should have long been notified as eco sensitive zone.
The petitioner submitted that the area although having been vacated by Army and mostly Cleared but so far Army has not issued clearance certificate and no action in order to preserve and converse the area after Army has handed over it to the civilian authority has been taken over. The entire region needs immediate attention in order to preserve the forests and natural water bodies.
The State Government, petitioner submitted , is bound by constitution and the laws made there under to protect the life, liberty and economic interests of the people living in and around Tosa-Maidan.
That the respondent authorities despite being bound by the law to compensate the victims for the loss caused due to artillery shelling and military exercise have miserably failed to protect the lives of the people living in the area or paying them adequate compensation for the losses suffered. It is apt mention here that State authorities are yet to decide about the grant of compensation in favour of the victims. The respondent officials are thus compromising with the lives of people living in the area and are therefore violating the basic fundamental rights, life and liberty of the people living in the area.
Petitioner sought directions from the court that the Respondents conduct a detailed survey of the Tosa Maidan area to assess the loss and damage caused to human beings and the environment of the entire area due to artillery and other military exercises and to furnish compliance report before this Court within stipulated time to pay ‘individual compensation’ to the families of deceased and injured persons, owners of livestock and ‘Community Compensation’ besides compensating the lost already estimated with immediate effect.
Petitioner also sought directions from the court to the Government of J&K to provide/frame the guidelines for firing ranges in accordance with the provisions contained in the maneuvers field firing and artillery practice Act 1938.