Opinion Op Ed 01 May 2018 ‘This is not P ...
The writer, a policy analyst studying economic and security issues, held senior positions in government and industry. He also specialises in the Chinese economy

‘This is not Pakistan, General Saab!’

Published May 1, 2018, 7:35 am IST
Updated May 1, 2018, 7:35 am IST
There are now over 15 lakh people living in localities around the cantonment. Many of these residents are families of ex-servicemen and some are even serving military officers. The Indian Army has shut down critical roads making dubious claims of ownership.
 There are now over 15 lakh people living in localities around the cantonment. Many of these residents are families of ex-servicemen and some are even serving military officers. The Indian Army has shut down critical roads making dubious claims of ownership.

The term cantonment derives from the French word canton, meaning corner or district, and describes a place during a military campaign where units of an army may be encamped for longer periods than they are during advances and retreats. It was essentially for an encampment of an army on the march.

In 1757, Robert Clive first organised the sepoy battalions of Indian troops led by British officers. Then came the days of hard campaigning and the sepoys proved themselves by helping establish the British Raj over most of India. An army on the march needed cantonments, and in 1765 the Calcutta Presidency army built the first cantonment in Danapur, outside Patna.

Since then the British built 65 cantonments all over India to help them hold this vast country under their jackboots. Mind you, it was these cantonments that provided the persuasion that a few hundred officers of the Imperial Civil Service were needed to rule India for the benefit of Britain.

The cantonments were the true source of British power over India. Since they were no longer encampments of armies on the march, they became permanent habitations that had to be administered to serve British interests best and to keep restive natives quiescent. This is at the root of the “Them” and “Us” attitude that governs these cantonments even today and dictates the perceived attitudes of the Army towards the people.

The British East India Company Army came to Hyderabad in 1798 when the John Company signed an agreement with the Nizam to protect and defend him against his neighbours, the Marathas and Mysore. It didn’t come cheap. He had to cede the Circar districts of Andhra Pradesh and later the Rayalaseema area. Present history still teaches that having an army in the backyard is quite expensive.

At the beginning, when the British began residing in Hyderabad, the British-controlled area began at Chaderghat in the south and languidly spread northwards. The area from Tank Bund eastwards till the outer boundary of present-day Osmania University, Gunfoundry, Abids and till Gowliguda was Hughes Town.

That is why the first British resident in Hyderabad, Capt. James Achilles Kirkpatrick, lived in the magnificent building and gardens that now houses the Women’s College. Devastation freed these areas from British direct rule in the form of the 1908 Musi river flood, when the waters rose by 60 feet in 36 hours and razed 80,000 houses and killed almost 50,000 people.

Following this cataclysmic event, it was decided to dam the Musi upriver (and to damn it forever), expand Hyderabad northwards towards higher ground. This was the one of the few times the British were forced to cede high ground in India.
Since the cantonments were expressly meant for the British and their troops, they were havens of order and high civic standards in a vast and disorganised country. Even today the cantonments with their neatly laid out roads and low-roofed buildings recall a more laidback and genteel era.  

But an Army needs civilian populations to supply and service its needs. So British cantonments admitted natives, provided they conformed to the higher civic standards and new social norms demanded. Quite naturally, Hyderabad and Secunderabad evolved very differently.

I remember my days in Nizam College in the mid 1960s when we students from Secunderabad used to be jeered as “Angrez ke Aulad” by the Hyderabadis. But even the British understood the status of their Secunderabad cantonment was very different. The W.P. Barton ICS report of 1926 makes this abundantly clear. It states that “there is no land in Secunderabad which absolutely belongs to the Government of India and the military authorities are entitled to exercise control over only as much land as actually assigned for military purpose”.   

The report also makes it clear that the areas under military occupation were scattered in several blocks, and only these fenced- off blocks could be considered under military occupation. The report also makes it abundantly clear that unlike in other cantonments where the Government of India owned all the lands not occupied by buildings, the situation in Secunderabad was quite different and the land belonged to the Nizam’s government.

In short, areas that are not part of military installations or stations do not belong to the military even if they are in the cantonment. The Barton report also notes that the Nizam’s government could take back the land no longer required for military purposes. Clearly golf courses, now quaintly called environmental and training grounds, are not for any military purpose, especially when it’s clear that the only military men on it are officers teeing off and hapless jawans dragooned into tending the grounds.

A 3-inch military map published in 1923 by the Surveyor-General, Col. C.H.D. Ryder, clearly defines the Secunderabad Cantonment then. At that time, even the areas south of Sardar Patel Road up to the start of Tank Bund were part of the Cantonment, but clearly Begumpet airport and the Residency (now Rashtrapati Nilayam) were not part of the cantonment.  In fact, the President’s southern residence was sold by the Andhra Pradesh government to the Government of India only in 1957. This map quite clearly shows the main roads from areas adjoining the cantonment running through it. In other words they were throughfares. The areas under military use to are shown.

Now the Army has begun to arbitrarily close these roads for civilian use, as they were for over 150 years at least. Besides, these closures are in defiance of orders issued by the defence ministry vide its letter of January 7, 2015 clearly pointing pointed out that the local military authority has no statutory authority to close roads. This letter also ordered that roads closed without following Section 258 of the Cantonments Act 2006 must be reopened immediately. It is now for the Government of India to enforce its will.

The Secunderabad Cantonment is still administered somewhat like Pakistan is these days, with a military-dominated civilian regime. And that now seems to be the crux of the rising tensions between the Army and the people living within the cantonment or in its periphery, and the elected government. The voices of the elected members of the Cantonment Board is not heeded by the Army and it refuses to place the MoD’s orders on the agenda for discussion.

The Secunderabad Cantonment now constricts the growth of the metropolis in the north. The Twin Cities have expanded in all other directions as well as around the cantonment. Hyderabad is India’s fastest-growing metropolitan region and accounts for a third of Telangana’s 35.2 million population. In just the last 15 years, it has grown by over 92 per cent. To provide for this population the Telangana government is developing areas beyond city limits. It has plans underway to build broad and fast roads to these areas.

This is where the military is throwing a spanner in its works. It is denying the state government land to expand these linkages. In a few instances where the Army sees reason, it wants to surrender the land at “market rates”.

The Army is not a business. These lands are for a specific purpose and have no commercial value. The terms very clearly state that if the military does not require these lands,  they must revert to the state government.

There are now over 15 lakh people living in localities around the cantonment. Many of these residents are families of ex-servicemen and some are even serving military officers. The Indian Army has shut down critical roads making dubious claims of ownership. The fact of the matter is that the successor Government of India’s ownership itself is rather shaky, and even if that is accepted, it only pertains to land used for military installations and stations. These are mostly fenced off with high walls and generously unrolled barbed wire.

The military plea of security is just a ploy to extend control of what is not with it, and should not be. If security was such a great concern, there should be more armed guards at their installations and patrolling these areas. The only patrol we see is the occasional QRT on big Ashok Leyland Stallions that have little maneuverability in crowded roads. It would seem these QRTs are not seriously meant to beat off any attack but more to intimidate commuters.

On the Prime Minister’s orders, and responding to the many demands by civilians troubled by arbitrary military rules in cantonments all over the country, the defence minister has called a meeting of all Cantonment Board heads and sub-area commanders to discuss the implicit issues. The message must be given loud and clear that this is not Pakistan. Here the military functions under civilian rule. There is no “them” and “us” any more.

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