The residents of the Akash Horizon Premises Cooperative Society Limited, located bang opposite Western Railway’s (WR) car shed at Mumbai Central (east side), have complained about constant air and noise pollution, they are suffering for nearly one decade, due to the work of maintenance of trains, in the car shed adjacent to their building.
The testing, recharging and maintenance of Rajdhani. Shatabdi and Duronto trains is done in the open shed, touching the compound wall of the Aakash building. While shunting of coaches/locomotives and testing of power cars generates a lot of noise, a lot of smoke is emanated by the diesel generators, which straightway flows in the flats of the residents. The generators also cause vibration, due to which the compound wall of the building was collapsed some time back.
The work also causes financial loss to the railways since it has been using outdated technology. The testing can be done through less expensive electric power generators, as against age-old diesel operated generators. The diesel is much more expensive, Sulaiman Bhimani, President, Citizen Justice Forum said.
Mirza Baig, Hon Gen Secretary of the society, who has been following up the matter with WR since long, in a letter dated 5 December 2017, to Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), has pointed out that the railways recharge generators day in and day out causing considerable amount of noise and sound pollution.
The 19 story building accommodates over 1000 people, most of whom are senior citizens. The work goes on till 4 AM disturbing peace in the area, Baig has stated requesting WR to take corrective step to stop this nuisance. The “Equinox Labs” in its report dated 17 March 2016, had stated that the noise level in the shed was 94.4 decibels as against specified limit of 55 decibels. If the railways fail to take corrective action, then we will be left with no option but to approach the court, Baig said.
Additionally, BMC’s Nair Hospital, catering to lakhs of patients, which is in close proximity of the yard, and thousands of residents in the neighbourhood also has to bear the noise and air pollution emanating from the yard.
Earlier, in response to a query under RTI by the resident Laeek Chunawala, ADME (BCT), WR vide letter dated 31 December 2015, had admitted that the department had not obtained any NOC for the work. Similarly DEE/RS/BCT vide letter dated 7 January 2016 had stated that the EMU shed is for day to day maintenance of EMU rakes and is not covered under Factories Act 1948.
Way back in 2009, the then WR GM R N Verma, in a letter dated 4 December 2009 to former MP and Minister Milind Deora, had stated that the rescheduling of the work of testing power cars has been done so that the residents are list disturbed. But of no avail.
Under article 21 of constitution of India, every citizen has right to live in clean and peaceful environment and it is the responsibility of state to provide it. It is expected of Railway Minister Piyush Goyal to give relief to citizens, who include senior citizens, women and children, Bhimani said. There was no response to detailed email seeking clarification sent to WR DRM.
Those seashells you see in shops and people's home? Turns out they are real. And they may have been alive when collected. A mind boggling article in the National Geographic describes in "Seashell souvenirs are killing protected marine life", the thesis project of Amey Bansod, who initially came to Kanyakumari to study the livelihood of shell artisans, and discovered, to his horror, an industry of stripping protected marine life by the tons.
Which of us hasn't seen sea shell souvenirs? From small jewellery to religious conches, sea shells are pretty and inexpensive enough to be metaphors - "kawdiyion ke daam" (for the price of cowries - shells of sea snails) is an Indian version for "dirt cheap".
India has traditionally had uses for some kinds of shells. Cowry shells were currency in ancient times. They are used in traditional board games, or by astrologers. Conch shells are used in religious rituals and often considered auspicious (or maybe an old fashion trend?) in decorating homes. While I was aware that sea shells are used in decoration, for some absurd reason, I always imagined that most of the cheaper shells we get were plastic. Though I also remember wondering why anyone would make shells when they could be found for free on beaches.
The naive person that I was, I firmly believe in "Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints" - I got to the ripe old age of 41 without even realizing that all the shells decorating book binders and ornaments, being sold on ebay for aquariums and home decoration, being used for religious purposes.... THEY ARE ALL REAL! We are literally surrounded by casual celebration of the deaths of the mollusks that inhabited them.
Turns out that they are indeed not manufactured, because they are simply taken in mind boggling quantities from the sea and beaches and sent ahead to be processed. We are talking of 30 to 100 tons of sea shells being processed through one factory alone per month and 30,000 to 40,000 workers in the Kanyakumari area alone. The larger scale of destruction given the size of our coastline is mind boggling. This includes endangered species protected by CITES, which India is obliged under international agreement to protect.
However, expecting government officials to recognize endangered species or enforce harvesting limits is not a simple thing. Recognizing many rare species takes an expert and fudging limits on any exploitation that can't talk back or file lawsuits is routine in India, whether forests or sand or marine life.
But when a live creature turns into one among many in tons and tons of shells harvested to feed our endless greed for decoration, it is cruelty for little more than casual amusement. While some harvesting is inevitable given their beauty and the art they help create, there needs to be some rational enforcement to protect these animals from simply being killed wholesale.
PRELIMINARY FACT-FINDING REPORT OF WOMEN’S GROUPS INTO THE INCIDENT OF GANG RAPE OF 5 ADIVASI WOMEN IN KHUNTI
CONTINUING REPRESSION IN GHAGHRA AND NEIGHBOURING VILLAGES IN KHUNTI & ARAKI DISTRICTS OF JHARKHAND
Date: 04 July 2018
Following up on media reports of the gang rape of 5 adivasi women in Kochang, Araki block, Khunti district while holding street plays on anti-trafficking, WSS constituted a fact-finding team comprising women’s groups from different states and local activists from Jharkhand to investigate into the incident. The fact-finding was held over 3 days, from 28 June to 30 June, in and around Khunti, Kochang, Ranchi and neighbouring areas, to gather further information on the incident and subsequent developments, as the only narrative available to the public was that of the administration, and the media did not carry information from independent and alternative sources. During the fact-finding, the team met with several persons and institutions related to the incident and with information on the case. The team also attempted to meet with the 5 survivors, currently under the custody of the Khunti police., but was not granted access. Though we did seek appointments to meet with the district collector and S.P., they did not meet us.
Through the course of the fact-finding, several facts have emerged which throw into question the narrative of the police.
Facts emerging from the fact-finding
The incident of gang rape against the 5 women performing street plays on anti-trafficking occurred on 19 June 2018 in Kochang village, Araki block. The street plays were a collaboration between , a home for rescued women, managed by the RC Mission in Jharkhand, and a troupe belonging to an NGO. Out of the 5 survivors (all adults) , two were those who had been under the care and protection of the organization affiliated with the mission, and 3 belonged to the troupe of the NGO. In the first FIR lodged by the head of the NGO, he alleges that the Sisters accompanying the troupe from the RC Mission pressured the troupe on holding the performance in Kochang. However, as per information gathered from several other sources, by 19 June, the troupe had already completed their planned 16 performances in the district, and it was on the persistence of the head of the NGO that the others reluctantly agreed to also hold another performance in Kochang, as he said he had already made announcements far and wide.
The incident occurred on 19 June 2018, but two FIRs were filed on the incident, one at the Khunti PS and the other at the Khunti Mahila PS, only on 21 June 2018. As per our inquires, we believe that the police had already received information of the offence at least as early as 20 June. On 20 June itself, the police had called one of the two Sisters who were also a part of the troupe for questioning, and later in the night, had brought 2 of the 5 survivors (those who were in the NGO's troupe) for their preliminary medical examination, and on 21 June, a board was constituted as per law for the medico-legal examination of all 5 survivors. It is not known how, and from whom, the police first received information of the offence. As per our inquiries, the thana first received information of the offence directly from the SP office.
The FIRs identify Father Alphonse and ‘other unidentified persons/ pathalgarhi supporters’ as the accused. However, there is videographic evidence of the incident. One week after the incident, the police released the photo of one of the accused from the same video, who is well known by the locals and journalists as Baji Samant, who is not a pathalgarhi supporter but a resident of a different village, Sarai-kela. all other sources we spoke to including those form near by villages said that the 4 men who came on bikes (the suspects) were not from the area.
While it is being projected in the media that Father Alphonse was arrested for not doing enough to prevent the incident, and for failing to report the case to the police, in the FIR he is accused of a range of very grave offences, most of which are non-bailable. Offences included in the FIR lodged at Mahila thana by one of the survivors on 21 June include: wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt, disrobing, gang rape, kidnapping, kidnapping with intent to wrongfully confine and conspiracy. Offences in the other FIR lodged by the head of the NGO also on 21 June include: wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt, causing hurt by means of poison, kidnapping, kidnapping with intent to wrongfully confine, criminal intimidation, hiding evidence and conspiracy.
As per our inquiries, apart from Father Alphonse, two other persons have been arrested by the police. The police claim that these two accused have further identified 3 others as co-accused, who they claim are leaders of the Pathalgarhi movement. On asking whether the identity of all 5 identified accused and their claims have been verified by the 5 survivors, we were told that only the SP office will respond to all queries about the incident.
On 26 June, the police claimed to have raided Ghaghra village in order to arrest these three other named suspects in the gang-rape who are also ‘leaders’ of the pathalgarhi movement. On this day, residents of Ghaghra and some from neighbouring villages were holding a Gram Sabha meeting on the issue of pathalgarhi, and we received no confirmation of the presence of any of these 3 named suspects at the meeting. The police force, initially comprising only adivasi personnel, but later also joined by more force, the DC , SP and others, attempted to stop the Gram Sabha meeting, after which there was an altercation between the people and the police. It was during this process that the women residents chased the police to the house of Karia Munda, and brought back three deployed guards with them.
On 27 June, a 1000-member strong force of CRPF, RAF, JAF and personnel from other units raided Ghaghra (a village with a population of around 300) and neighbouring 7 villages. Out of these 7 villages, pathalgarhi had only been declared in 3 or 4 villages. Out of the 2 villages where pathalgarhi had been initiated, the security forces unleashed brutal violence in the form of beatings and atrocities on men, women and children, lathi-charge, tear-gassing and rubber pellet shootings, and also raided the homes of the residents. One person died in the lathi-charge, a minor girl suffered fracture, and between 150-300 persons, including women in substantial numbers, were arrested. After the raids, residents of all 8 villages have fled to the forest and nearby areas out of fear and terror. The security forces continue to camp outside the villages even after the so-called abducted guards returned safely on 29 June. The fact-finding team attempted to also enter Ghaghra village for inquiries, but were refused access by the heavy numbers of security personnel deployed outside the village, and the roads were blocked with armed vehicles.
The investigations of the Fact-Finding team raise the following questions:
How and when did the police first get information of the incident? Why was an FIR not filed immediately but only 2 days later?
Why were two of the survivors taken for a surreptitious medical examination on the night of 20 June, followed by a full medical examination of all 5 survivors on 21 June?
When there was video recording of the incident, why was the FIR filed against ‘unidentified’ persons? Why did the police not pursue the accused, Baji Samant, identified in the video, despite being aware of his name and address? While it storms into unconnected villages of the pathalgarhi movement under the pretext of arresting the rapists.
Why did the police raid the Gram Sabha meeting in Ghaghra where the pathalgari event was ongoing on the pretext of arresting the accused, when they knew that the accused belonged to another area, Sarai-Kela?
Why have the police not verified the identity of the 2 persons arrested thus far by the survivors? Also, why have the police not verified the identity of three suspects being pursued by the police by the survivors, but instead only by the two suspects who are already in the custody of the police? Also, if Yusuf Purti has not been named by any of the arrested accused or the survivors, then why is the police projecting him and other Pathalgarhi leaders/ supporters as the rape accused in their proceedings and the media?
Why are the girls still under the custody of the police? Why are they not being allowed to meet or speak to anyone (except the NCW team)?
Who is head of the NGO which was a part of the troupe and who has filed the first FIR? Where has he disappeared after filing the FIR on the incident with the police? Is he also under the custody of the police?
Conclusions of the investigations into the incident by the fact-finding team:
The Jharkhand police and administration are maintaining utmost secrecy in the actions and proceedings subsequent to the incident. As of now all information about the incident, the statement of the survivors and the witnesses is coming form only one source – The SP office. On the pretext of keeping the 5 survivors in the protective custody of the police, they have not been allowed to meet or speak with anyone, including their families and other care-givers, except the NCW team. The organizations to which they belong have also been not allowed to speak with press or any one else. The staff of that organization has also been ordered to stay within the organization premises and are not allowed to admit visitors or speak to anyone. We also found out that the families of these women have not been informed by the police about the incident. In the whole incident, their voice (who are all adults, some of who are married and have children) is completely missing. There has been no statement from them, their families or friends. At the same time, the quick escalation of police action in the days after the incident has focused entirely on a campaign to tarnish pathalgarhi movements and leaders, with the result that investigations into the gang-rape and safety of the survivors have assumed secondary importance.
The legal proceedings subsequent to the incident are shrouded in doubt, as these are based entirely on the questionable narrative proposed by the police and Jharkhand administration, without any avenues for independent verification and corroboration. This, combined with the subsequent repression by security forces has created a reign of terror for the residents of Khunti and neighbouring areas, further undermining chances of independent verification.
In the name of pursuing unidentified suspects, the police has artificially linked those associated with the pathalgarhi movement with the gang rape, and has unleashed targeted persecution, harassment and arrests on them. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the 4 bikers who committed the crime were not localites. One of those from the video has been identified as Baji Samant, resident of neighbouring Sarai-Kela. Yet, instead of pursuing these identifiable accused, the police, with the support of security personnel, is targeting pathalgarhi leaders as the prime suspects in the case.
The targeting of the mission and mission run organization- It has been projected that the Father of the mission in Kochang has been arrested for not doing enough to stop the incident, or for failing to report when he had knowledge of the incident. The NCW is now projecting the whole incident as being pre-planed. The charges against Father Alphonse in the FIR are of a much more serious degree, carrying offences of gang-rape, wrongful restraint, conspiracy, among a range of others.
The role of the media in the entire process has also been suspicious, with local and national newspapers and media channels widely misreporting on the incident, based on false and distorted facts. The media has concertedly cast adivasis, pathalgarhi supporters and the Church/ Mission organisations in a negative light in the absence of verifiable information. The press was also present in large numbers in the security camp prior to and during the raids on 27 June in Ghaghra, and was relaying the police version directly from the frontlines.
For these reasons, the fact-finding team demands:
The institution of an independent inquiry into the incident, through a high-level committee, comprising retired Judges, lawyers and women’s rights activists.
The police Investigation of this incident should not be conducted under the influence of the Khunti administration or police , it should be carried out by an independent agency.
An inquiry should be carried out not only of the incident of the alleged gang rape , but also of the aftermath , in which the police crackdown that caused the death of one person and many sustained grave injuries. We also demand the withdrawl of all security personnel currently camped outside Ghaghra and neighbouring villages.
All the safety of the women survivors is very important, their own agency too has to be kept in mind. It is not clear whether they have asked for protective custody or was it a decision taken by the police?. To a large extent it seems like the latter. Keeping them cloistered and under the complete control of Khunti police can not allow for a fair inquiry.
The team also demands that the state government ensure the immediate removal of the 5 survivors from the control of the Khunti police and some alternative safe arrangement be made for them, taking into consideration their own choice. In the present situation it is evident that they have not been given that choice and have been forced into this protective custody by the police. Some of the women have children and it is very possible that they may want to return to their families or the organization that they were living in.
- Rinchin, Radhika and Puja,
from Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression and Sexual Repression (WSS)
Women against sexual violence and state repression is a non funded national initiative to challenge and put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon womens bodies. We are a nation wide network of women activist, lawyers, writers and women connected womens groups ,mass organizations and civil liberty groups. We unequivocally condemn sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrators.
Visiting Professor, National Law University Delhi and National Secretary, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties
I have been informed that Republic TV aired a programme on 4 July 2018, presented by anchor and MD Arnab Goswami as “Super Exclusive Breaking News”.
The programme, which is being repeatedly shown, contains a long list of ridiculous, scurrilous, false and completely unsubstantiated allegations against me. Goswami has claimed that I have written a letter (identifying myself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj”) to a Maoist – one “Comrade Prakash” - stating that a “Kashmir like situation” has to be created. I am also accused of having received money from Maoists. I am also said to have confirmed that various advocates, some of whom I know as excellent human rights lawyers and others whom I do not know at all, had some sort of Maoist link.
I firmly and categorically deny that the letter referred to by Goswami – if at all such a document exists - has ever been written by me. I firmly refute all the allegations that the Republic TV has made against me, defaming me, causing me professional and personal injury. In its programme, the Republic TV has not revealed the source of such a letter. I find it curious that a document purporting to contain evidence of such serious crimes should first surface in the studio of Arnab Goswami.
I have been a dedicated trade unionist since the past 30 years, working in the organisation of the late legendary Shankar Guha Niyogi, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, in the working class shanties of Dalli Rajhara and Bhilai, and hundreds of workers are witness to the fact. As a part of my work as a trade unionist I became a lawyer in the year 2000 since when I have fought scores of cases of workers, farmers, adivasis and poor people in the fields of labour, land acquisition, forest rights and environmental rights. Since the year 2007 I am practising in the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur and was nominated by the High Court to be a member of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority. In the last year I have been teaching at the National Law University Delhi in the capacity of a Visiting Professor, where I offered a seminar course on tribal rights and land acquisition; and a part of the regular course on law and poverty. As a part of the programme of the Delhi Judicial Academy, I addressed the presiding officers of labour courts from Sri Lanka. My pro-people positions and work as a human rights lawyer are a matter of public record. I am perfectly aware that they stand in direct opposition to the views so loudly and frequently expressed by Arnab Goswami and Republic TV.
In my opinion the present malicious, motivated and fabricated attack on me is because I recently addressed a press conference in Delhi to condemn the arrest on 6 June of Advocate Surendra Gadling. The Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), an organisation of lawyers has also strongly taken up the issue of other lawyers such as Advocate Chandrashekhar of Bhim Army and Advocate Vachinathan arrested after the Sterlite firing. It is clear that in targeting such lawyers, the state is trying to silence those who stand for the democratic rights of citizens. The state strategy is to create a chilling effect and deny equitable access to the legal system. Also very recently the IAPL had organised a fact finding into the difficulties faced by lawyers in Kashmir.
As a human rights lawyer I have appeared in cases of habeas corpus and fake encounters of adivasis in the High Court of Chhattisgarh and also made representations to the National Human Rights Commission in the defence of many human rights defenders. Recently the NHRC had sought my assistance in investigating a case in Village Kondasawali ( Sukma, Chhattisgarh). In all these cases I have acted with the professional integrity and courage expected of a human rights lawyer. This indeed appears to be “my crime” which has earned me the super exclusive attentions of Arnab Goswami.
I have asked my lawyer to send a legal notice to Arnab Goswami and Republic TV for their false, malicious and defamatory allegations against me.
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.