The Cantonment roads and vested interests in defence lands
Background- Cantonments & Military Stations in India
Cantonments derive their name from Swiss Cantons, or districts and were set up by the British in India for entirely different reasons. When the British troops arrived in India, they fell sick very often due to malaria, dysentery and other infectious and waterborne diseases. These diseases also took a toll on Indian troops. Thus it was decided to create Army cantonments well away from cities, often in the wilderness, at the very outskirts of city limits. The additional advantage of such a move was that parades, training and marches with horse’s, mules etc would not inconvenience the local population. It also helped in keeping the native soldiers isolated from the local developments, thereby ensuring their apolitical character.
It is to the credit of the Army that these outlying areas where they were shunted away, became islands of excellence and oasis of greenery; the modern equivalent of smart cities. Today, they are the lungs and biodiversity havens of most cities.
The first cantonment was established in Barrackpore in 1765 and the last one created recently was Ajmer. There are a total of 62 cantonments, mostly in Central and Western Command. These are distinct from military stations which number about 2000 and are exclusive for the army. The current order on road opening thankfully does not apply to military stations.
The Army is fully considerate of the needs of the Nation and has not only allowed access to cantonments but also given away prime defence land for public good. The Delhi metro link from Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi going to the airport is entirely built on defence land given by the army. So is the Dwarka flyover coming to Palam and beyond. The new road to airport in Hyderabad and Chennai has been given access through defence land. Cantonments have also parted with hundreds of acres of land to expand airports in places like Gwalior and many more.
While Cantonment roads leading to civilian areas have always been open to public, however, internal roads where military units, installations & HQ are located cannot be declared public roads & thrown open to everyone without ensuring mandatory security checks.
Military areas of Cantonments have been defined as Prohibited areas & are not under cCantonments Board
Administration of Defence Land in Military Cantonments is governed by the Cantonment Land Administration Rules (CLAR) 1937. These have been notified by Govt on the authority of powers conferred upon it underCantonments Act. Though the Cantonments Act 2006 has now replaced earlier Cantonments Act 1924, the CLAR have remained unchanged. Section 4 of CLAR defines Classification of Cantonment Lands. Class A & B Lands which are required for Military purposes are not vested with Cantonment Boards. Cantonment Boards are vested with Class C Lands which mainly comprise of civilian areas/ non-military areas. Hence, Cantonment Boards govern only those areas of Cantonment which are located on Class C Lands.
On the other hand, Class A & B Lands are governed by Military Authorities in accordance with provisions contained in Officials Secrets Act & Defence Services Regulations. As per Section 2(8)(a) of Official Secrets Act 1923, all Military areas/ establishments fall under the category of Prohibited places.
Trespassing/entering into Prohibited areas without valid Identity & Purpose is a criminal offence under Section 3 & 5 of Officials Secrets Act. It is punishable under CrPC, as clarified in Section 12 of OS Act.
Armed Forces are empowered under Officials Secrets Act 1923
Armed Forces personnel have been empowered under Sections 7& 8 of OS Act 1923 to implement the security provisions in Military areas as applicable to Prohibited areas. Interfering with members of Armed Forces while implementing provisions of Officials Secret Act is a punishable offence under Section 7 & 8 of said Act.
Procedure to be adopted for Security of Military areas/establishments/ installations
Procedure to be adopted by Armed Forces personnel for ensuring security of military areas/ installations has been prescribed by Govt in Paras 1160, 1161 & Appendix AD of Defence Services Regulations 1987 (Revised). Armed Forces are empowered to establish check posts, barriers etc & ascertain identity of visitors before allowing them entry into military areas of Cantonments. Relevant extracts from DSR are placed below.
Court Judgements upholding authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments
The legal validity of CLAR 1937, inapplicability of Cantonments Board Act 2006 over military areas, applicability of Officials Secrets Act 1923 over military areas & the applicability of authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments has been unambiguously upheld by a Bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court in its Judgement dated 26 September 2014. AP High Court had ruled on a collection of writ petitions and PILs against the closure of the 14 roads in Secunderabad Cantonment mentioned by the Defence Minister. Dismissing all the petitions, the Hon’ble High Court had ruled that these closures were valid and within defined powers of the Military authorities. On the other hand, it took cognisance of the fact that petitioners wanted to use these roads “for convenience or because of their better motorability”, a matter that “required immediate attention of the civilian authorities” who should “take expeditious steps to improve the alternate roads so that ordinary people are not subject to any inconvenience.” It further stated that “the army authorities have imposed restrictions in a phased manner and such decision cannot be held as one made in an arbitrary manner.” Since the Cantonment Act of 2006 is cited in above judgement, it is clear that the ruling did not consider any irregularity vis a vis the same. It’s on the strength of this Judgement that the 14 roads had been closed in Secunderabad despite orders by MoD.
Illegal settlements/ colonies/ structures adjacent to military installations
As per Section 7 of Works of Defence Act 1903, constructions are prohibited upto a specified distance from perimeter of notified Defence installations for security considerations. However, over the years, a huge number of illegal settlements/ structures have come up in notified areas. Though the Cantonments were originally set up away from habitation, these have now become prime locations due to growth of towns/ cities around them. Many of the illegal settlements/ structures belong to politically influential people. The case in point is ongoing construction of illegal structure on the land acquired by ruling Party leader in Nagrota in J&K next to ammunition dump, despite objections by Army.
Encroachment of Defence Land
Presently over 11,000 acres of Defence Land is under illegal encroachments. Total value of encroached land runs in thousands of crores of rupees. Most of these encroachers have links with political parties/ political personalities. State wise details of encroachments as informed to Parliament in August 2014 are given below:-
Illegal occupation/ conversion of Grand Old Bungalows (OGB)
There are 2724 OGBs whose lease period has already expired. The lease holders were barred from carrying out any additions/alterations/conversions. However, most of these have been converted into commercial establishments, hotels, including shopping malls. Most of these have changed many hands and are presently in the hands of influential political/ business personalities. Despite Hon’ble SC ruling in May 2014 clearing all legal hurdles for reclaiming all OGBs, officials with vested interests in Govt have not allowed taking over of these Bungalows till date. Resumption sanction has been accorded only in 660 cases, of which only 508 have been physically Resumed till date.
Loss of Revenue due to Non Renewal of Lease
There are number of Govt properties on Defence land which are on lease for commercial/ recreational/ residential purposes. The lease deed of these properties has not been renewed for decades deliberately by DGDE Officials. In addition, there are numerous properties which are without any lease agreement. All this has been resulting in huge annual revenue loss to Govt, running in thousands of crores. In Delhi alone, this loss amounts to hundreds of crores annually.
Who is Responsible for Encroachments, Loss of Revenue & Gross Mismanagement of Defence Land & Defence Properties
Over 99% of cases of encroachments, loss of revenue & mismanagement of Defence Land pertains to Class B/ C Lands. As per CLAR 1937 & Cantonments Board Act 2006, DG Defence Estates (DGDE) is responsible for management of these Lands/ properties. Encroachments & Mismanagement of Defence Lands has been well documented in annual CAG Reports. However, encroachments & mismanagement cases have only been increasing with each passing year. Relevant Extracts from CAG Reports are placed below.
How serious is the nexus between DGDE, MoD Officials & Encroachers
Unable to control encroachments, Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) was tasked in 2010 to carry out a systems study & detailed analysis of management of Defence Lands. CGDA in its Report concluded that there is deep nexus between DGDE Officials and encroachers & that this nexus has become so entrenched that it is not possible to break free. It has resulted in systematic loot of Govt land. It found DGDE failing in all four of its functions- audit, accounting, acquisition & financial management. Hence, CGDA recommended for disbandment of DGDE & prosecution of its officials.
Events leading to current illegal orders by MoD
While CGDA recommended prosecution of DGDE officials & disbandment of DGDE in 2010, nothing actually happened on ground due to their nexus with MoD officials. As a result, encroachments kept increasing & Govt coffers kept bleeding of its revenue. In May 2014, Hon’ble SC delivered a historic judgement related to Old Grand Bungalows, paving way for Govt to reclaim all 2724 OGBs. The present occupants of these Bungalows include MPs, MLAs (from all parties), civil servants & prominent businessmen. In Sep 2014, Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh delivered another Judgement, clarifying that jurisdiction of Cantonment Board does not extent to military areas of Cantonments & that LMA is empowered to close roads in military areas. The Court directed State Govt to provide alternate roads to civil population. In the same year the issue of encroachment of Defence Land was raised in Parliament. In a written reply to Lok Sabha MP Poonam Mahajan in August 2014, then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that around 11,455 acres of defence land had been encroached. Following these reports, Common Cause, an NGO based out of Delhi, along with Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), filed a petition in the Supreme Court concerning the unauthorised use and encroachment of defence land. The petition alleged that “crass mismanagement of Defence lands is intrinsically linked to irregularities, illegalities and corruption”. The petition relied heavily on CAG reports, and is still sub judice. The last order passed by the Court was on August 25, 2017.
Hidden Agenda behind Opening of Internal Cantonment Roads
Instead of implementing the SC Judgement for reclaiming OGBs & AP High Court Judgement for creating alternate routes, the local MPs of Cantonment areas built an alliance of interest with local representatives of areas adjoining the 62 cantonments. This group seems to have started the whole discussion de novo once Ms Sitharaman was appointed the Defence Minister. She & her husband are known to own residential & commercial properties around Hyderabad-Secunderabad Cantonments.
The Local Military Authorities (LMAs) have been regularly raising these issues. The market value of encroached land & properties runs in hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees. However, corruption is so deep rooted in Defence Estates & MoD that, instead of implementing Court Judgements, these Officials by using their powerful nexus have now been able to force the Govt to give them overriding powers thereby making the LMAs irrelevant. Unrestricted opening of Cantonments roads is one such decision pushed by these Officials at the behest of encroachers & illegal occupiers of Defence land & Defence properties to facilitate their consolidation. National security considerations matter least to these looters of Govt land. This is likely to further facilitate encroachments & consolidation illegally occupied properties. See the details of parleys held by RM with these eople without involvement of Military Authorities.
Illegality of Orders by RM
The Orders by RM are in contravention to provisions of Official Secrets Act, Cantonments Act, CLAR & Defence Services Regulations. Not only do these instructions completely ignore the AP High Court Judgement of September 2014 and subsequent deliberations and the decision by her predecessor Mr Parrrikar, but also subsume the powers of the GOC-in-C to be the final authority for closing any roads as laid down in the Act of 2006. RM had repeatedly quoted provisions of Cantonments Act which are not applicable to military areas of Cantonments. The instructions by RM for unconditional opening of all Cantonment roads quoting inapplicable Section of Cantonments Act clearly amounts to contempt of court. These have far reaching adverse implications not only on Cantonment Security but also on attempts to control encroachment of Govt land. AF pers have been performing their bonafide military duty when controlling entry into military areas for last so many decades. Placing of of check posts/ barriers etc & ascertaining of identity of visitors is part of prescribed procedures.
The instructions by RM have been issued after consultations with DGDE officials, MoD Officials & local area representatives, who have vested interests in opening of Cantonment
Roads. Whether she was misled or she has been deliberately misleading the Nation remains to be seen.