Opinion : Refugee in our own land; what ails our cantonments?

By Dr. Mohan Bhandari  Published on  5 Aug 2020 4:28 AM GMT
Opinion : Refugee in our own land; what ails our cantonments?

Robert Clive was a clerk of the British East India Company. He consolidated British power in Bengal in the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and twice served as Governor of Bengal. His successor Warren Hastings was also a Clerk who later rose to become Governor-General. While the former was saved from impeachment, the latter was impeached but survived after a protracted legal battle.

Both were thieves of an exceptional order. Clive was to be impeached but was exonerated by the British Parliamentary Committee for providing loot from India. He committed suicide in 1774 when he was only 49. Possibly, the ghosts of India's Rajas, Maharajas, Traders & Baniyas who were slit & severed by him and pushed to the edge of bankruptcy, might have haunted him & taken revenge!!

More than 250 years ago, for the East India Company (the Company) & the British Crown (the British), creation and upkeep of the Cantonments in present style, to the station, their Armies was the NEED to HOLD & RULE the native Indian territory considered by the British as foreign territory. Being a hostile foreign land, the British established Cantonments as safe havens for their troops, officers & families, and on the strength of superior military power, ruled this country for more than 200 years - exploiting native population and the natural resources to the hilt.

Except for a few countries of erstwhile British India such as Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), East Bengal (Bangladesh) & India, none of the military superpowers of the world has the concept of cantonment today.

Why are we then continuing to carry the burden & baggage of the British Cantonments? At best, this country may have a concept of Military Stations/Military Posts away from civilian settlements like other military powers in the world. The Cantonments of present-day have become islands in the middle of the civilian population of Municipal areas, exposing them to safety & security hazards.

Even the British recognized Cantonment Boards (CBs) as Local Municipal Bodies and further described them as an institution of Local Self-Government. The CBs which were then called Cantonment Committees were in no sense Military Committees but Council consisting of Military & Civil Officers and persons who were in no way connected with Government Services. It was meant to be a Local Authority,[not constituted under Military Regulations], vested with the management of sanitary, financial & other matters within a specified area [within Cantonment Boundary Pillars] and empowered to levy taxes to generate revenue for effective discharge of responsibility assigned to it.

The British preferred British Army Officers (Cantonment Magistrates) to Civil Service Officers (Natives) to administer the Cantonments. Since 1924, the Cantonment Acts give drastic overriding powers to the President of the Board, [a Military nominated member] including suspension of any resolution passed by the Board and refer the matter to General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in- C ). The role of the GOC-in-C is irrelevant in the context of local self-government, who, unfortunately, continues to force decisions on the matters of civil & municipal nature where their interests [Health & Sanitation of the troops] are not involved.

The GOC-in-C also enjoys sweeping powers to sanction or reject the general schemes to restrict building activity, stop erection or re-erection or order demolition of building on land not under the management of the Board. Also the Board cannot compound any building offence not violating bye-law without prior approval of the GOC-in -C.

Under the Cantonment Accounts Code, GOC-in-C controls the Budget of the Board, re-appropriation and revision of the established schedule. He also enjoys original powers and acts as the appellate authority under the Cantonment Fund Servant Rules.

This is totally against the essence of democracy while the Nation is administered by the elected representatives of the people. It is high time; this situation needs to be suitably changed at the earliest as it is against the spirit of Art. 246, Schedule VII, item 3. This in effect has resulted in the Rule of East India Company. The British Crown continues to rule 62 Cantonments of India.

The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992 legally recognized the CBs as Municipal Areas. The statement of objections and Reasons contend in the Cantonment Act, 2006, emphasizes that the new legislation has been modified in the context of 74th Constitutional Amendment for greater democratization i.e. enhanced representation for elected members & bring balance between elected & nominated one and with this, the number of elected members would increase. Amazingly, a New Draft Cantonment Bill 2020 is in circulation. It is more draconian than that of Cantonment Act of 2006. The Rationale, Need & Requirement of making a new Act has not been explained by the MOD!

The constitution of CBs U/s 12 of the Cantonment Act, 2006 tilts more towards bureaucratic nature with military dominance. Boards cannot exercise complete autonomy as the minority elected members can be easily voted out with the casting vote enjoyed by the President - a nominated military officer.

It is not fair & justifiable that one section of the population residing in the neighborhood enjoys the fruits of a democratic independent nation, and, the hapless citizens of the same country residing in the British era Cantonments are subjected to Military dominated rule -a role that was never intended for the present Indian Army

The Cantonments are the most undeveloped areas of urban India. The urban municipal area surrounding Cantonments has seen tremendous socio-economic development. But citizens in Cantonments are denied & deprived of an equal chance of growing along with other fellow citizens. The Cantonments resemble slum areas with century-old, dilapidated structures of the pre-independence era. The reason being the fact that the Cantonments, even to this day are governed under the British Military Regulations and Legislations which were meant to suppress the economic, social & cultural growth of native Indians.

The Cantonment Land Administration Rules (CLAR), 1937 [which is an extension of Military Regulations, Cantonment Code 1899 & 1912, and CLAR 1925] under which the lands in Cantonments are administered & managed are the British era Military Regulations, Governor-General Orders (GGOs) issued by the East India Company and the British Government appointed Secretary of State for India. The British Parliament who considered the Indian Territory a foreign land and people as natives (Aliens) decided [by Regulating Act,1173 & subsequent Charter Act] that the Regulations & GGOs will have the force of Law. The British did not have any right, authority, moral responsibility to do this. The independence struggle launched by Indian people was against the atrocities of the British.

Post-independence, following the same Military Regulations & GGOs to administer a part of Indian Territory (Cantonments) by the sovereign democratic government (Government of India), does not deserve justification or logic. It is the need of the hour that the people of democratic India (the Parliament) examine the issues and adopt suitable legislation. A high-level committee of parliamentarians, constitutional experts & stakeholders is the need of the hour and is constituted to examine the matter & offer suggestions in a time bound frame.

The Chief Executive Officer earlier known as Cantonment Executive Officer & rightly so (CEO of the Board) - who is the Member Secretary, has been empowered to vote in the decision-making process, an unparalleled example of concentrating powers in the hands of the bureaucratic. In no municipal law, such a provision is made. The Act, 1924 did not have such a provision. The Secretary should be subordinate & accountable to the Board.

Leased Lands Renewal of leases & extension of expired leases

Inordinate delay in processing the requests causing uncertainty & stress

Most of the leaseholds tenures under which the lands are occupied are required to be renewed on completion of certain years on the application by the lessee. These may be categorized as

a) Leases wherein first, second or subsequent terms have expired which have not been renewed for a further term

b) Leases wherein full term is completed and the Lessee has requested for an extension of the lease.

The applications are pending in a large number of cases for years - causing uncertainty and anxiety amongst the Stake Holders. The reason being that the power is concentrated in the hands of GOC-in-C and the Government - that has resulted in inordinate delays due to red-tapism denying basic fundamental rights & privileges to the Inhabitants of cantonments. This can be solved by a system of delegation of power and a time-bound procedure.

The half baked Interim Land Lease Policy dated 10 March 2017 valid initially up to 31 December 2018 & then extended up to 31 December 2019 was yet another draconian step wherein cost of Extension/Renewal of Expired Leases issued as Notices to poor inhabitants of 62 Cantonments amounted to Crores of Rupees!

In view of the aforesaid, where do the 35 Lakh Inhabitants of 62 cantonments go to ?

Will they ultimately become ‘REFUGEES IN THEIR OWN LAND’?

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