New rules to safeguard defence land

To safeguard acres of prime land inside military cantonments, the defence ministry has notified a new set of rules that allow a defence estate officer to carry out snap inspections inside these barricaded zones to check whether any portion of the property is being misused.

The rules empowers the estate officer or any other person authorised by him to enter a cantonment "with or without assistants or workmen" for making "any enquiry, inspection, measurement, valuation or survey". The new rules also make the process of leasing out of cantonment land, stringent.

The rules, notified on December 1, were finalised after more than eight months of consultation with stakeholders, including the three services, sources said.

With 17.31 lakh acres of land, the defence ministry is India's biggest landholder. Of this, about 2 lakh acres are inside the 62 cantonments located in various parts of the country.

The rest is occupied by the air force and naval bases, armament depots, DRDO units, firing range and camping sites.

However, shoddy land management came under sharp criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General in the past, in the wake of glaring examples like the Sukhna and Pune scams. The CAG also highlighted multiple cases of misuse of properties within the cantonment and military station areas depriving the government of legitimate incomes.

Due to urbanisation and increased pressure on lands most of the cantonments and military stations that were on the outskirts, have become prime properties in the heart of the cities.

The new rules make it mandatory to have a "register of cantonment property"  to keep a record of the immovable property.

To lease out cantonment land for more than 30 years requires the sanction of the central government, whereas if the lease period is between 20 and 30 years, permission from the GOC of the command is a must. If the lease agreement is between five and 20 years, approval from the principal director is required.

If the lease is for any purpose, which could not be undertaken by the cantonment board, an approval from the central government is required.

If new land is acquired, the landowner needs to be compensated as per the Right to Fair Compensation Act of 2013. The board has also been asked to check if the government is being denied of its legitimate income from these properties.

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