HYDERABAD: The claims on the cantonment land in Secunderabad by the state government are said to go against the conventional wisdom, which holds that public lands in cantonments belong to Centre.
According to experts, the British either conquered the lands or had otherwise got the land ownership which was passed to the government of India in 1947. But Secunderabad Cantonment was not located in British India. Hyderabad was a sovereign princely state prior to 1948.
There are 62 cantonments in India. They were originally set up by the British to house troops, troop families and civilians who supplied goods and service to the troops. Now, the Central government (ministry of defence) directly administers all cantonments.
Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao recently made a statement in the Assembly that public lands in Secunderabad Cantonment belonged to the state government.
The claim is important because it has a bearing on the resolution of several pressing public issues. These include: Civilians being denied access to several public roads passing through cantonment by military authorities, impossible financial demands made by the Centre when the state approached it for land for road widening, Strategic Road Development Programme (SRDP), and for improving the abysmal civic infrastructure in cantonment.
A little history is useful to understand who owns public lands in Secunderabad Cantonment today.
The East India Company did not conquer Hyderabad. Rather, it signed a treaty (Treaty of Subsidiary Alliance) with the 2nd Nizam, Ali Khan, at the end of the 18th century. This treaty mandated that both parties would provide their troops to each other against common enemies.
As a result of the treaty, a "subsidiary force" of British troops was stationed in Hyderabad. The Nizam allocated an area near Hussainsagar (today's Kavadiguda) for their camp. Traders from all over India came in to provide goods and services to the troops. The new town which emerged was named Secunderabad in 1806, after the then Nizam Sikandar Jah.
Like the British, the Nizam also was treaty-bound to provide for his troops. He did so. But the British, claiming that Nizam's troops were poorly trained, convinced him that they would raise a fresh contingent of local troops (at Nizam's expense). This contingent came to be called "Hyderabad Contingent". It was quartered in Bolarum, 10 km north of Secunderabad.
The crucial point is this: Though the Nizam allowed the British to occupy land for military purposes, he did not give them ownership of that land. We know this through the following evidence available in the national archives and from other archival records.
In 1906, Bolarum, Secunderabad and 13 intervening villages were merged to form the single area now called Secunderabad. The firman issued by the Nizam to formalise this merger clearly states that land ownership in the merged area remained with the original owners.
Though the Nizam allowed the British to occupy land for military purposes, he did not give them ownership of the land, as per historic documents. The British themselves undertook several exercises to see whether they owned any land in Secunderabad. The most elaborate such exercise was by Sir William Barton in 1926. All these exercises concluded that the British did not own any land in Secunderabad.
A large portion of the land was directly owned by the Nizam himself. Another significant chunk was under paigahs and jagirdars who were allowed to collect land revenue – but even this land was ultimately owned by the Nizam. Some land - diwani – belonged to the Hyderabad government. The rest was privately owned.
By the time of the Operation Polo in 1948, sarf-e-khas and jagir lands together accounted for almost 80,000 sq. km. out of the 2,10,000 sq. km. total area of Hyderabad. Opression of peasants by the aristocracy led to a violent, communist-supported revolt a few years earlier. This revolt was still ongoing when the Indian Army entered in 1948.
To quell the revolt, a more equitable distribution of land was necessary. Documents show that the ministry of states under Sardar Patel instructed Maj. Gen. J. N. Chaudhuri (who had been appointed Military Governor after he led the Indian Army into Hyderabad) to convince the Nizam to hand over sarf-e-khas and jagir lands to the state. There were tortuous and protracted negotiations between the two. The privy purse offered to the Nizam was raised to Rs 1 crore every year. Other concessions were also made. Finally, the Nizam agreed. He issued a firman announcing that he was handing over these lands to the state. Two regulations were passed in 1948 to formalise ‘Hyderabad Sarf-e-Khas (Merger) Regulation 1358F’ and ‘Hyderabad (Abolition of Jagirs) Regulation 1358F’. Thus, overnight, 80,000 sq. km. of land owned by the aristocracy became diwani, or state land. This was perhaps the largest land reform in independent India.
Strangely though, a new general land register prepared by the government of India in 1956 (after merger of Hyderabad with India) shows all public lands in cantonment as belonging to the government of India!
In 1933, the British prepared the first comprehensive land record of Secunderabad. The special lands officer appointed for preparing this ‘general land register (GLR)’ stated that the British did not own any land in Secunderabad.
Twice in the 20th century, the Nizam took back land which was no longer required for military purposes. In 1933 he took back Chaderghat Municipality, including the British Residency (today's Koti Women's College) and the Residency Bazars. In 1946, he took back the town area of Secunderabad, south of today's Rashtrapathi Road.
It thus seems clear the reality of ownership of public lands in Secunderabad Cantonment is different from that in other cantonments. The cantonment's land record needs to be corrected to reflect this.
Importantly, this also meant that sarf-e-khas, jagir and paigah lands inside Secunderabad Cantonment – which accounted for the entire public land in cantonment - also became state land.
Strangely though, a new General Land Register prepared by Govt of India in 1956 (after merger of Hyderabad with India) shows all public lands in cantonment as belonging to Govt of India!
However, whenever the matter has been examined deeply – by government or by courts – the Central Government's claim of ownership has been rejected. In 1956 Govt of India actually had to purchase Rashtrapathi Nilayam – the erstwhile Bolarum Residency of the British - from Govt of Andhra Pradesh, showing that the premises were property of the state government. Many individual court cases have successfully challenged the Central government's claim of land ownership in cantonment. There are Resolutions of Secunderabad Cantonment Board, and even internal reports of Government of India, which conclude that the Central government does not own public lands in Secunderabad Cantonment. Even the recent Hyderabad High Court judgement upholding state government's ownership of Kokapet lands relied on the 1948 sarf-e-khas Merger Regulation.
It thus seems clear that ownership of public lands in Secunderabad Cantonment is different from the other cantonments. The cantonment's land record needs to be corrected to reflect this.