- Army wants military areas within cantonments to be converted into “exclusive military stations”
- The top Army hierarchy believes the step will help reduce the strain on the country’s defence budget
- But the proposed step is bound to generate a lot of controversy since similar moves have failed in the past
Almost 250 years after the first cantonment to house troops was established at Barrackpore by the British, and their number slowly grew to 62 over time, the Army is now open to the idea of abolishing them across the country and saving funds spent on maintenance.
The Army has conveyed to the defence ministry (MoD) that military areas within cantonments can be converted into “exclusive military stations” with it exercising “absolute control” over them, while civilian areas are handed over to local municipal authorities for maintenance and other purposes, say officials.
The top Army hierarchy believes the step will help reduce the strain on the country’s defence budget for the annual maintenance of cantonments, which amounts to Rs 476 crore this year, as well as strengthen security in military stations, simplify land management and prevent encroachments.
Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat, in fact, has already ordered a feasibility study of the entire matter to be concluded by early September.
The proposal to abolish cantonments is not new. Under a study team chaired by the defence secretary on the ‘Relevance of Cantonments in India’ in 2015, Mhow, Lucknow, Almora, Ahmednagar, Ferozepur and Yol cantonments were identified for excision of civilian areas. It is already underway at Yol,” said a senior officer.
But the proposed step is bound to generate a lot of controversy since similar moves have failed in the past due to widespread criticism that the powerful politician-builder lobby is eyeing cantonments after virtually running out of lucrative land in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Pune, Kolkata, Ambala and others. It also comes at a time when a major section of the military community is up in arms over the MoD’s decision in May to reopen all closed roads in 62 cantonments for civilian commuter traffic.
Of the 17.3 lakh acres of land owned by MoD in the country, almost two lakh acres fall in the 62 cantonments in 19 states. When most of the cantonments came up before Independence, they were located far away from populated areas or on the outskirts of towns. But with the population explosion and growing urbanisation, cantonments now constitute prime property within cities.
Civilians living inside the cantonments are also often deprived of various welfare schemes sponsored by the central and state governments because they do not fall in “municipal boundaries” to be eligible for them.
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