SRINAGAR: A controversy is brewing in Jammu and Kashmir over the proposal of leasing out a scenic meadow in Yusmarg health resort to the Indian Army for artillery drills.

The Hurriyat leadership as well as the civil society groups, trade bodies, environmentalists and rights activists have threatened to launch agitation if the government grants lease of the pristine meadow, situated in Central Kashmir, to the Army.

The meadow, comprising of hundreds of acres of land in an environmentally fragile area of the Pir Panjal Range, falls in the catchment area of at least two water streams - Doodhganga and Romshi, which cater to drinking water needs of thousands of people in four district of the state, including the summer capital Srinagar.

"According to the government's own survey, rain will wash hazardous chemicals from explosives into these streams which will have long-term consequences on our health. We will resist the move through all peaceful means," Asim Assadi, Convenor of 'Save Yusmarg Movement', a civil society gathering opposing the move, said.

The controversy dates back to 2013 when the then chief minister, Omar Abdullah, following massive public outcry, set up a panel headed by the Chief Secretary Iqbal Khandey to recommend relocation of the Army’s firing range in Tosa Maidan.

According to official data, at least 60 civilians were killed and hundreds were permanently disabled due to the littered shells in and around Tosa Maidan meadow where Army ran a field firing range, following which the government decided against extending the lease agreement with the union defence ministry.

"The tragic stories of Tosa Maidan will now repeat in the villages around Yusmarg if the government goes ahead with the proposal. It will also mean uprooting of over 220 families comprising about 1400 souls, besides huge environmental costs," Shakeel Qalander, a prominent industry leader, told The Citizen.

Urging the residents to protest against the government's move, veteran Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani said shifting firing range to Yusmarg will destroy forest land and uproot hundreds of families residing in the surrounding areas

“It is unfortunate that the state government is acting as facilitator to the Indian army in grabbing our land. People of the area must register their protest against the government plan. We will stand by them and mobilise public opinion in this respect," Geelani said.

Founding chairman of J&K RTI Movement and Chief Patron of Tosa Maidan Bachao Front, Dr Shaikh Ghulam Rasool said they will launch a campaign against the state government, "We fail to understand why government is so stringent to make human life even more vulnerable when the consequences of putting up a firing range in Tosa Maidan have been already witnessed".

The green meadows, thick pine forests and fresh water streams feeding scores of villages annually attract nearly three hundred thousand tourists to Yusmarg, where the firing range is proposed to come up. "The move will bring down curtains on the development of Yusmarg as a tourist destination," a senior tourism department officer said.