Dissolving 62 Cantonment Boards: The Debate Continues

"Doing away with Cantonments is a step in the right direction" - Col RS Khandpur "There should be no laments for a legacy that's outlived its time"- Maj Gen Raj Mehta "The problem will be in carving out the military stations from the Cantonments" - Brig Pradeep Sharma

Dissolving 62 Cantonment Boards: The Debate Continues

Editor's Note:

Implications of 'dissolving 62 Cantonment Boards (CBs)' debate with varied responses from veterans was published by MVI on 4 May 2023. This was followed by a 'critical analysis' piece by Lt Col PJ Chacko published on 6 May 2023. This piece forcefully argued against the justification for dissolving the CBs with an insight into several points in favour of continuing with the CBs. The responses to the first debate and article by Lt Col. Chacko have taken this debate forward. At this juncture a YouTube Video by The Print with commentary by renowned journalist Shekhar Gupta that was released on 2 May 2023, appeared on social media. This 23 minutes video termed the Modi Govt's action as 'reformist' and elaborately justified the Govt's decision with coverage of history of CBs, their purpose over the years from past British era to the post independence India and present times after 75 years. This video too received responses from veterans. All these responses are published below. It is now left to the readers, especially concerned veterans and serving fraternity to draw their individual/collective conclusions and convey if this debate should continue or be 'closed' as 'fait accompli?'

'The Politicians' Insatiable Appetite For Defence Land' by former VCOAS Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi published by The Citizen on 8 May 2023 has apparently thrown much light on this sensitive and controversial subject and possibly thrown open the debate once again!

Implications Of Dissolving 62 Cantonment Boards: A Debate
“Were cantonments being badly managed and will municipal corporations do a better job? This itself is debatable!” - Maj Gen Rajan Kochhar “It is far better to have purely military stations and let the civil areas come under the municipal authorities” - Maj Gen Rana Goswami
Dissolving 62 Cantonment Boards: A Critical Analysis
“The Indian Armed Forces are still growing and still to grow a lot. Therefore, the land assets presently held remain vital to the Armed Forces’ future developments, to state the least” Opines Lt Col PJ Chacko
Politicians’ Insatiable Appetite For Defence Land
Bifurcation, if not carried out sensibly, will violate the Works of Defence Act


Maj Gen. CD Sawant

My experience as  President of Belgaum Cantt board. It is the right step as  it is difficult to manage the 7 elected members when each is corrupt to the core  ,this in addition to  handling of CEO of Cantt Board is yet another challenge. These duties are carried out at the cost of main duty of Command of Regt Centre or in another places field formation. Bungalow areas pose yet another challenge, their lease is over in 1999 but for each bungalow you to fight in courts to take possession. Bazar area is yet another challenge which cannot be improved despite will and availability of resources, take for example fish and meat market as also vegetable  market in Pune Cantonment, which can be made into state of art shopping complex but vested interests do not permit it.

Brig. Dara Govadia

Having been a Centre Comdt & President of Ranikhet, Almora & Nainital Cantt Boards, I have faced similar problems, and, therefore, endorse the views by Gen CD. Sawant.

Col. Vikram Heble

Gen Sawant has hit the nail on the head.

Maj Gen. Raj Mehta

I was the raising COS of 9 Corps and dealt with the issues of Yol Cantt of which there were many of the kind brought out by Gen Sawant. It was a quagmire of responsibilities with very poor returns if any. Gen Praveen Bakhshi as a later Corps Cdr of 9 Corps took action to wind up Yol Cantt, start its migration to a Military Stn. He did right. Cantt rules have the military as just a service provider for civilians with deep roots and vested interests besides occupying shops, land and houses for ridiculous rents rarely above three figures and endless litigation. There should be no laments for a legacy that has outlived its time!

Brig. Pradeep Sharma

Desirable and absolutely true. Problem lies in implementation ,most such stations have civilians well entrenched in pockets within the Cantt and this is what causes problems!

Brig. Sanjay Sangwan

My comment is based on observations as a Brigade Commander responsible for security of govt land in/ adjacent to cantt, removal of encroachments, dealings with Cantt Boards and CEOs and DEOs for various station duties and an informal discussion with Sh Manohar Parrikar in 2015 at Lucknow. Better maintenance and services in cantts saw a great influx of civil population who gradually expanded their physical occupation of land beyond the designed capacity and commercialisation of the areas resulting in greater value and corruption. It adversely impacted services available to the military population of cantts while leaving the responsibility with them. All vacant land is controlled by the Estates Dept with the military having no say but responsibility of safeguarding. So are the Old Grant Bungalows ( OGBs ) which all have large chunks of prime property. In essence the power is with elected members of the Cantt Boards and CEOs but the responsibility remains with the military including the unpleasant tasks and at the expense of the military population as well as military responsibility of the station Cdrs. The civil areas despite being prime property became ghettos. It was considered in everyone's interest to segregate the military and civil areas of cantts and place them under a station cdr and the Municipal Corporation respectively. The real estate developers will surely gain but it isn't at a loss to the military who are not owners of this land anyway. Conversely the Military Stations are easier and better managed.

Brig. Pradeep Sharma

Armies through the annals of time have always been in garrisons, separated from the scrutiny and glare of public/Citizens. The reason for this to my mind was to ensure a) Security. b) Ensure respect, awe and fear of the Army/Soldiers. c) Prevent espionage. Land provided had to be maintained through the coffers of the State, developed in a manner that inspired Pride. The civilians in our case did what we refer to Chinese, Slow Salami Slicing to hem into close proximity of Cantts, first our ranges got closed, then pockets of Civilians within Cantts dug their heels in, used courts to stake and secure their interests, exploited weak Army Officers to further cement their rights or get favours to add schools, shops, club memberships etc. The Civil Administration watched silently and many a times colluded with the civilians. Cantonments once developed by the Army became the envy of civilians because of the well laid out and maintained area with green areas and good environment. At the same time, the army failed to make their case to expulsion of civilian pockets on one hand and justification of requirement of land for expansion in a futuristic scenario. We have now landed in a situation which is irreversible and can at best deliver a mixed result of good and bad.

Col. RS Khandpur

Doing away with Cantonments is a step in the right direction. However, this must be done very pragmatically as all the Cantonments are not alike. The priority should be to carve out the military station such that the security of the defence installations, units and families in the Station is not compromised. Therefore, any civilian area which needs to be incorporated in the military station to ensure contiguity and security of the military station should be transferred to the military and the onus of relocating/compensating the civilians so displaced should lie with the state government. This is critical in many Cantonments like Pune, Bangalore, Ferozpur, Ambala, etc, where the civilian areas are inexorably mixed with the military areas. This would require detailed deliberations between the concerned Military Authorities and the State Government. Hence, this cannot be implemented in haste. If done properly without succumbing to any vested interests, this move to delink the civil areas and do away with the Cantonment Boards would be a win win situation for both the military and the civil society.

Naren Naik

Shekhar Gupta has credibility for the issues sometimes. These Cantonments are reserve areas often meant to recoup and regroup. Our reserves are in central India. Which bases do we have to fall back to in the event of some catastrophic reverse or any unforseen contingencies? Which bases? I am curious to know the answer to this operational question? All are only talking of monetary or administration points!

Brig. Pradeep Sharma

The problem will be in carving out the military stations from the Cantonments. The fact of the matter is that the ruling dispensation is all Baniyas and Gujus who only know money and have zero knowledge of matters military. At the same time our Chiefs and those who can influence the Govt chose silence over assertion.

Brig. Sanjay Sangwan

The worst catastrophic reverse India saw was in 1962; did we have to fall back to central India? This decision of seperating the military and civil areas of cantts was actually taken in 2016-17 for necessary homework to be done before passing executive orders. This govt hasn't proved to be a blundering group so far as all their decisions have been well thought out legally and in terms of impact, problem areas and possible solutions. Two major aspects need to be clearly understood. Military is under the control of the elected govt of the day and military owns only A1 defence land which is already occupied by the military and the rest may fall in the cantts boundary but is neither owned nor controlled by the military. Forget land, even the trees are not controlled by the military and I have done inquiries on this where the DEO was the authority I had to frequently refer to. Seeing the issue from personal political perspective doesn't help in any manner.

Brig. Pradeep Sharma

In such a debate, there will invariably be divergent opinions and No influencers. Having had enough experience in Cantonments and participated in at least if not more CLMC Conferences, seen Meerut, Kanpur, Lucknow, Pune, Bareilly, Ambala, Ahmadabad, Ferozepur, Amritsar to name a few. Forget about Reserves, talk only about internal security within the Cantt and what have we lost? The matter should be put to rest since we can do nothing about it,let those in service cope with the issue.

(Views expressed are the respondent's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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