In the face of fierce local opposition to the Army occupying Tosa Maidan again and it being an election year, the Jammu & Kashmir government is going slow on renewing a lease to the meadow that has functioned as an artillery firing practice range since 1965.
While they wait to hear from the government, the Army has decided to cultivate the local population through ‘Operation Falah‘ (= prosperity and happiness in Arabic): clear the meadow of deadly explosives debris. The death of a young shepherd, Hilal Parray, could have played a part: he died a fortnight back when an unexploded shell burst under his feet.
Since 1965 when the first civilian was hit by exploding shells, 65 people have died. Many more have been maimed. Children in this belt exhibit a higher degree of deafness while cardiac ailments are routine.
“After the killing of a young man in July, we decided to clean up the meadow to avoid any further loss of life,” Lt Gen Subrata Saha, the commander of 15 Corps, told reporters.
While the Army rarely revealed the guns and the weapons it used to train its soldiers, the people living in the vicinity are aware of quite a few.
Apart from clearing the area, the Army wants to launch a massive afforestation drive as the explosions have denuded the thick forest cover. And in more goodwill hunting, it wants to launch medical and veterinary camps for the population living close by. The alpine meadow is home to 16 hamlets.
A few individuals who opted to become ‘war rag pickers’ sensing money in used shells, either suffered injuries or died hit by stray bullets.