SRINAGAR: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued notices to the Union Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Jammu and Kashmir government over the proposal of handing over a pristine meadow in Kashmir Valley to the Army for undertaking artillery drills.

Admitting a petition last week, the bench headed by NGT chairperson, Justice Swatantra Kumar, issued the notices to Union Defence secretary, and J&K's chief secretary and principal secretary (forests), asking them to explain their position on the issue.

The petition was filed by RTI activist and AAP leader, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat who urged the NGT to direct the MoD and J&K government not to handover Bajpathri meadow to Army for firing drills as it would damage the ecology and environment in the area and also deprive locals of their livelihood.

“We had sought directions to the J&K government not to lease out the Bajpathri meadow for the purpose of field firing or artillery practices. The petition was admitted and notices have been issued to MoD and J&K government. The case will come up for hearing on March 1,” Rahul Chowdhary, who pleaded the case, told The Citizen.

Following the imposition of the Governor's rule, the J&K government Friday set up a panel headed by the chief secretary BR Sharma to monitor the decisions taken at last year’s Civil Military Liaison Conference (CMLC) where it had reportedly promised to "expeditiously examine" the Army's proposal of converting Bajipathri in central Kashmir Yusmarg tourist resort into a field firing range.

According to an order by the government, the CS-headed committee would monitor the resolution of various issues including the Gulmarg land, High Ground Anantnag, Tattoo Ground, Khurbathang Kargil, Jammu Airport and University Campus Jammu, as per the time-lines fixed.

The civil society activists of the Valley, the Hurriyat as well as the National Conference have warned the government against entering into the lease agreement with the Army, terming the proposal of setting up a firing range in Bajapathri as a “recipe for environmental catastrophe”.

Save Yusmarg Movement (SYM), Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies (KCSDS), Tosa Maidan Bachao Front and RTI Movement have threatened to take to streets if the government sets up any firing range in any part of Jammu and Kashmir.

“About six thousand people from four districts are associated with the trade of livestock in these meadows, and the proposed firing range will not only make the state further dependent on mutton exports, but it will mean an end of livelihood for six thousands families as well,” Convenor SYM, Asim Assadi, said.

He said the Government of India, under “Make in India” policy, has recently proposed to lease outfield firing ranges to private players for testing their armoury. “We will not allow the army, which operates 12 out of 51 firing ranges in J&K, to use our land for military vandalism anymore,” he said.

Prominent Kashmir-based industry leader and KCSDS member, Shakeel Qalander, said the silence of the state government points towards complicity of the authorities, while calling for mass awareness campaigns in the Valley on the issue.