Changes in Defence Land Policy First time in 250 Years
A policy on tinkering with defence land in India for any purpose other than the military has been a strict no-no since the British set up the first cantonment in Bengal’s Barrackpore in 1765. As per the East India Company’s Governor General-in-Council orders: “No bungalows and Quarters at any of the Cantonments shall be allowed to be sold or occupied by any person who does not belong to the Army”.
The government has now approved new rules that allow equal value infrastructure (EVI) development for armed forces in lieu of the land procured from them. The new rules come ahead of a series of defence land reforms that is under consideration of the government, which is also working towards finalising a Cantonment Bill 2020, aiming to provide for development in cantonment zones, considered virtually sacrosanct till now.
According to Ministry of Defence (MoD), defence land needed for major public projects – like building of metro, roads, railways, and flyovers – could only be exchanged for land of equivalent value, or after payment of market prices. Under the new rules, eight EVI projects have been identified, which the acquiring party can provide infrastructure for in coordination with the concerned Service.
They include building units and roads, among other projects. According to the new regulations, the value of land would be determined by a committee headed by the local military authority – in cases under cantonment zones. For land outside cantonments, the district magistrate will decide on the rate.
There are connected moves on the governmental chessboard as well. The Ministry of Finance (MoF) has pegged monetising defence land as the only way to generate revenue for the proposed non-lapsable modernisation fund. A draft cabinet note on setting up the defence modernisation fund is currently undergoing inter-ministerial consultations, and a final decision is expected soon, following which it will be placed before the Union cabinet for approval.
All along the GT Road – from Delhi to Peshawar for instance – there are camping grounds and old depots that are not in use any longer, built by the British Indian Army during the Second World War when troops had to be moved from one place to the other. You can monetise the land if the army is not using it and provided, they are given alternate land. But in his reckoning, the estimated money that the government may earn from monetisation of land would barely suffice. The Department of Military Affairs (DMA), headed by Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat, had told the government last year that proceeds from defence land monetisation would be hardly adequate to meet the armed forces’ requirements.