Defence land swap: big breakthrough

Bengalureans caught in daily traffic snarls have much reason to cheer with the defence ministry agreeing to part with Army land to enable completion of pending infrastructure works, thereby easing many gridlocks across the city. This follows an agreement between Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. At least 10 projects, including road widening and flyovers, some of them half-constructed, have been in a limbo for several years with defence agencies refusing to give up their land. Now, the defence ministry has agreed to allot 16.52 acres of land it held, worth Rs 282 crore, to the state government and will, in return, receive 209 acres, costing Rs 488 crore, mainly on the outskirts of Bengaluru. For once, there appears to be some forward-thinking, with the huge disparity in the value of property being exchanged factoring in the additional defence land that may be required for other upcoming projects, which may help cut red tape in the future. Bengaluru was a cantonment town during the British era, and the military came to own some 5,000 acres of land in prime locations of the city.

This is not the first time that an attempt is being made to break the imbroglio. A few years ago, MPs from Bengaluru who led a delegation to the Centre had claimed to have resolved the issue, but in the absence of any follow-up, nothing came of it. In 2016, the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar approved the land-swap deal, which too did not see the light of the day. The failure of the Siddaramaiah regime, especially the then Bengaluru development minister K J George, to actively chase the file only ensured that it gathered dust. Senior union ministers H N Ananth Kumar and D V Sadananda Gowda, representing Bengaluru in the Lok Sabha, also did not use their good offices to ensure completion of the projects, perhaps fearing that the credit would go to the then Congress government.

While Kumaraswamy and Sitharaman need to be complimented for acting with alacrity, the lackadaisical attitude of other elected representatives, which allowed the issue to linger for so long, deserves unreserved condemnation. The general apathy of Bengalureans to civic issues and their infamous adjust maadi culture further contributed to the delay. The chief minister should now consider appointing a strong political representative in New Delhi to regularly coordinate with the Centre and ensure speedy approvals for state projects. Once a ‘pensioner’s paradise’, Bengaluru is bursting at the seems and it may soon be rendered unlivable unless all stakeholders put their heads together and work in unison for the city’s betterment.

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Defence land swap: big breakthrough

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