India has a typical concept of cantonments which are a mix of civilian and military areas which are administered by the local station commander of the army guided by a civilian administrator.
This antiquated practice which is a legacy of the British era possibly dictated by the cantonments being in the outlying areas of cities and towns in the 19th Century, thus requiring settlement of civilians to support the military for normal maintenance and conservancy was long due for a change.
With cantonments which at one time were detached from the main township now becoming in fact the central locations within large cities and metropolis that have grown around them, excising the civil areas from the military and converting the latter into exclusive areas for the uniformed is in order.
Thus as per a press release by the Ministry of Defence on July 24, “In order to bring uniformity in municipal laws governing civil areas of Cantonments and adjoining State Municipal areas the government decided to consider to excise civil areas of certain Cantonments and merge them with neighbouring State municipalities”.
“Accordingly, broad modalities for proposed excision of civil areas in 58 Cantonments have been shared with concerned State Governments for their comments. This information was given by Raksha Rajya Mantri Shri Ajay Bhatt in a written reply to Shri Jaggesh in Rajya Sabha on July 24.”
The excision is also likely to have been the outcome of successful establishment of exclusive military stations in the country which do not have any civilian pockets.
Administration of Cantonments
Directorate General of Defence Estates (DGDE) is an Inter Services Organisation of the Ministry of Defence which directly controls the Cantonment Administration.
As per the DGDE website, “Cantonments are different from the Military Stations in that the Military Stations are purely meant for the use and accommodation of the armed forces and these are established under an executive order whereas the Cantonments are areas which comprise of both military and civil population”.
Overall municipal administration of the Cantonments is carried out by the Cantonment Boards which are elected bodies.
Station Commander of the Cantonment a military officer is the ex-officio President of the Board and an officer of the IDES or Defence Estates Organisation is the Chief Executive Officer who is also the Member-Secretary of the Board.
Today these cantonment boards have become exclusive bodies which are responsible to administer large tracts of land with concentrated civilian pockets. Today much of this land is seen to be lucrative from the point of view of monetary value falling in the heart of cities and towns.
While civilians are represented by the elected members from the bodies, a more effective means would be to excise the pockets to the municipal administration.
Statutory provisions exist for such transfer. Economic Times notes that as per sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the Cantonments Act, 2006, a local area forming part of a cantonment ceases to be under the control of a particular Board and is immediately placed under the control of local authority.
A Complex Exercise
Given the layout of the cantonments, excision of civil areas is likely to be a complex exercise a reason due to which past governments had been hesitant to take up the challenge. There have been allegations of corruption in intent to transfer some of the prime land to civilian administration and thus being amenable to be, “grabbed,” by the high and the mighty.
Contained within are the “old grant bungalows,” some of which are legally tenanted by those who were able to obtain lien through liaison with the cantonment authorities over a period. The CAG has observed that with the spread of urbanization, most of the Old Grant Bungalow (OGB) sites are now prime real estate. Many of these are said to be illegally occupied and eviction will remain a challenge.
While being aware of the challenges faced the Ministry of Defence has involved concerned State Governments and consultations are being held with representation from public and elected representatives.
Excision of the civil areas from the military and merging these with the municipalities is therefore a necessity, yet the complex exercise will remain time consuming and will have to be carried out with the utmost probity to avoid allegations of corruption and litigation which may lead to interminable delays.
In exclusive military stations, mainly army units will be able to have greater security in an era of constant attempts at subversion and sabotage while fulfilling their requirements of training and administration of personnel in the most effective manner.