Army, Himachal govt tussle over land

Army, Himachal govt tussle over land

Army, Himachal govt tussle over land

The Army on Monday found itself in the middle of a new controversy as Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister P K Dhumal complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the Army's interference in the hill state in the wake of the Army western command's contentious claim on possession of a large sports ground in Shimla.

The 24-acre Annandale ground is in the Army's possession since 1941, despite being owned by the state government.

The Army – or at least a section of it – has now claimed that the Himachal government wanted the ground for constructing a cricket stadium. The command opposed the move claiming that national security could not be overlooked in favour of “any game and gimmicks”.

Dhumal, whose MP son Anurag Thakur is a joint secretary in the Board of Cricket Control in India and is associated with the Indian Premiere League, angrily sought an unconditional apology from the western command. The chief minister said the Army’s lease was not renewed since 1982.

Dhumal said he met the prime minister over “the way the Army people are interfering” on the issue.

He met Defence Minister A K Antony and showed him 1988 records in which then defence minister K C Pant had agreed to hand over the land to the civil administration, provided the Army was allowed to use it for operational purposes.

The controversy broke after the western command issued a press release on April 14 claiming “strategic significance of Annandale as forward logistic and operational base for operations in the sector adjoining Himachal is being overlooked in preference for a cricket stadium.”

The press statement said: “Annadale ground Shimla is of paramount strategic significance for Indian Army from national security perspective can never be ignored in favour of any game and gimmicks being played at the cost of larger national interest, national security, army training and disaster management purposes, which are not negotiable at any cost.”

An angry Dhumal hit back: “Indiscipline is increasing and Army officers are making press statements. Indiscipline in central forces is an issue of serious concern.”

A day later, an Army spokesperson at the headquarters said the command’s press release was “derogatory against the state government and chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.” An official inquiry has been instituted.

Asked about the controversy that sprang up over the week-end, Gen V K Singh said here he would speak to Dhumal to sort out the issue. The inquiry order ensued a few hours later.

Gen Singh claimed that the ground was given to the Army on lease as this was the only place where a helicopter could land in times of emergency. The responsibility of issuing the press release lay with Lt Gen S R Ghosh who heads the western command.

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