Indian Army top brass upset over being kept out of key meet on cantonments


NOVEMBER 9, 2018

Close on the heels of the controversy of opening of all the 62 military cantonments, there is a brewing resentment in the higher echelons of the Indian Army. The men in uniform are said to be upset over what they think as government intrusion in their turf, literally.

The latest trigger is the Ministry of Defence (MoD)-constituted expert panel’s scheduled visit to Pune on Monday. Sources told India Today TV the committee headed by retired IAS officer Sumit Bose will be discussing “significant changes” in decision-making powers regarding control of defence land.

But in an unprecedented move, the Indian Army is not being represented or even consulted on crucial meetings, Army sources have alleged.

Sans Army representation, the meet will have 62 vice-presidents of cantonment boards across the country, mostly, civilians, leaving several Army top brass angry and upset.

“It is very sad. Defence is the backbone of the country. At least Army should have been consulted on the decisions,” Lieutenant General (retired) KS Kamath said.

Sources have alleged that key changes are being made in the Army Cantonment Boards in order to benefit the scam-tainted Directorate General of Defence Estates (DGDE). The body manages defence land worth several lakh crore rupees.

Ironically the MoD under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2010 considered disbanding DGDE after several charges of corruption were levelled against it, including the high-profile Adarsh Society scam.

Sources say there is apprehension that over riding powers are being given to the DGDE in the name of “modernization and democratization” of the governance structure of Cantonment Boards.

Major General PK Sehgal says that there are crucial decisions regarding safety and security of the cantonments and these decisions cannot be taken without taking the Army on board.

While the defence ministry owns the land, the DGDE manages it, but the user, the Indian Army, sources say should have a say, but they are not. Only one Lieutenant General (retired) Amit Sharma is on board, representing the army point of view. “There is no serving personnel,” said an officer.

A senior serving Army officer on condition of anonymity said, “While the raksha mantri [defence minister] has left it to the expert panel to decide, she seems to have given overriding powers to a civilian body over the armed forces.”

Sources say that the board will discuss whether more powers can be delegated to vice-presidents of cantonment boards. Another bone of contention is whether some more powers of boards can be statutorily given to civil area committees.

Sources say any change in the Cantonment Act can only be brought about by Parliament but tweaking the powers of the richest land board of the country could fuel further corruption.

An officer said, “A few officers along with defence estate officials have been hand in glove on corruption in several cantonments. A dozen corruption cases have been booked by the CBI. State police hint that ‘defence land’ is a potential gold mine when it comes to making money.”

There are various categories of defence land. A1 land that is in the active occupation of the military forces is safe from occupation. It is the ones A2, B1 and B2 that are vulnerable to encroachments. But it is category C land which is held by cantonment boards for municipal or public purposes, which is now under scrutiny.

One key decision under consideration will be reviewing the existing floor space index (FSI) across cantonments. Multi-floor residential complexes may be the need of the hour but it also needs to be vetted to avoid any possible corruption.

Mutation of old grant properties is another issue that has to be sorted. These under British rule were on a 99-year-old lease; most of these have come to an end during the last leg of the Modi government.

Sources, however say, the intention of the government has to be made clear. Any key decision will have huge ramification on the morale of the forces.

MoD is till to respond to queries sent by India Today TV.

Courtesy: India Today