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, shortly after beginning the process of consolidating their rule in the sub-continent.
In April 1801, the East India Company’s Governor General-in-Council ordered: “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”.
What was supposedly then cast in stone may now be recast in 2021.
The Narendra Modi government has 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) officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, 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.