In a major development, the government is all set to abolish 62 Indian Army cantonments across the country after terming creating (and maintaining) them as “archaic colonial practice”. The first cantonment to be abolished is the Yol cantonment in Himachal Pradesh. Nasirabad Cantonment in Rajasthan is next in the list.
According to the government notification, published on April 27, the military area within the cantonment will be converted into a military station and the neighbouring municipality will subsume the civil area in the cantonment under its administration.
The sources said the move will prove beneficial to all stakeholders and that civilians, who until now were not getting access to welfare schemes of the state government through the municipality, will now be able to avail them.
There were 56 cantonments at the time of Independence and six more were notified after 1947. The last Cantonment to be notified was Ajmer in 1962.
The plan is to crave out the military areas in all cantonments and convert them into Military Stations with the army exercising absolute control over them. The civilian areas on the other hand will be merged to the local municipalities, which will look after their maintenance and other requirements.
An official as quoted by Times of India said, “The process will be faster in cantonments where the demarcation between civil and military areas is easy. Others will take time”
The defense officials stressed the fact that civilians living in the cantonment were till now not getting access to welfare schemes of the respective state governments through municipalities.
To be sure, not all cantonments are likely to become military stations as the army and civilian pockets are intertwined and that may not permit segregation, the officials said citing Delhi and Lucknow cantonments.
In January, the defence ministry announced the separation of civilian areas from the Secunderabad Cantonment and their merger with the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, a long-pending demand of the Telangana government.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a naval ensign at the commissioning ceremony of aircraft carrier Vikrant, with the new flag drawing inspiration from the seal of Maratha king Shivaji Maharaj and the Cross of St George being dropped, a move that the PM described as getting rid of the burden of a colonial past.
Some of the veterans as quoted by media reports welcomes the move while some find it dissatisfactory.
A veteran, Gen Panag said, “The original cantonments were created as townships with various categories of ‘land’, including bazaars. Areas selected were remote and there was a need of merchants and labour for logistics. Today, the cantonments serve no useful purpose.”
Endorsing the government’s move, he said, “Convert military areas into cocooned military stations and let the rest go to the municipality.” On a follow-up question, the former Northern Army chief described the development as “long overdue”.
Group Captain U ‘Miki’ Malik, a veteran Indian Air Force pilot, said he was not impressed by the development. Palpably upset, he said the government could have found a better excuse to scrap the cantonments “if it wanted its ‘middlemen’ to make a fortune out of selling prime land.”
“Just because a practice is from the British era, it doesn’t mean it should be scrapped. Cantonments are green belts inside cities. They quite delicately demarcate faujis (military personnel) from civilians. Without prohibiting anyone. There are certain restrictions [on movement and access to certain areas for civilians]. A certain environment is required for faujis under training. Most cantonment areas have training centres. Do you want them to mix totally with crass commercialization?” he said.