Why new Defence Land Policy may clean up decades of poor management of military real estate

The new Defence Land Policy will for the first time in 250 years bring extensive changes in the manner defence land is being managed.

Why it matters? According to a Monycontrol report, the Narendra Modi government has approved new rules that would allow equal value infrastructure (EVI) development for armed forces in return for the land procured from them for public projects or other non-military activities.

Use of military land for non-military purposes was prohibited since the establishment of the first cantonment in Bengal’s Barrackpore in 1765 and no cantonment bungalow or quarter could be sold or occupied by civilians since April 1801.

Under the new rules, eight EVI projects have been identified, which the acquiring party can provide infrastructure for in coordination with the concerned service. the value of land would be determined by a committee headed by the local military authority – in cases under cantonment zones. For land outside cantonments, the district magistrate will decide on the rate.

What is the size of the defence real estate?

  • Owing to its size and scope of operations, the defence forces need large swathes of land for training, ranges, depots, airfields, quartering, camping, offices among others for various military activities.
  • The Ministry of Defence owns large tracts of land of approx 17.95 lakh acres, out of which approximately 1.60 lakh acres is situated within the 62 notified cantonments and about 16.35 lakh acres is outside these cantonments.
  • The responsibility of day-to-day management of land is with the user services. Among the three services, army occupies almost 80 percent of the land.

When these cantonments and military stations were planned, most of them were on the outskirts of the town, but with growing urbanisation, these areas have now become part of the cities.

  • In cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Ambala among others, the cantonment and station areas are almost in the heart of the cities. There is little doubt that much of the defence land both inside and outside cantonments are now prime real estate.

What are the shortcomings in the management of defence land? A 2010 CAG audit of Defence Estates Management found many irregularities in the dealing of real estate by the Ministry of Defence. Following are some of the key findings:

Shoddy application of land norms: According to a Comptroller and Auditor General of India Performance Audit of Defence Estates Management, the requirement norms of land for different defence establishments were laid down in the Handbook of Cantonment Planning, 1947.

However, in 1972 the ministry imposed a 33 percent cut in them for all new stations and in 1991, it laid down new norms for Key Location Plans. This meant 41.8 percent cut on the land requirement norms of 1947. However, these new land rules were not applicable to real estate acquired prior to 1972.

The new norms were enforced when new land was needed for a new station and in case there is an expansion of an existing defence facility. Significantly, by applying the ministry’s 1991 order to incorporate a reduction in land requirement it was found that 39 existing stations held excess land measuring 81,814.82 acres.

Discrepancies in land records: The CAG found that in the audited 25 stations, the land area in the records was either higher by 12,769.86 acres in nine stations and lesser by 9,427.77 acres in the remaining stations.

DGDE allowed land audit system to lapse: Although the submitted Director General Defence Estates its first report in September 1995, it then slowly allowed the system to collapse.

Poor utilisation of acquired land: A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence found that 58,529 acres of acquired land were lying vacant. Of this, 49,831 acres of land were acquired between 1905 and 1990 were lying vacant since its acquisition.

Delay in acquisition of land: The CAG found while reviewing 49 cases of land acquisition that 15 cases were 1­5 years old, 12 cases 6­1 years old, 15 cases 11 to ­20 years old and six cases over 20 years old. The status of one case was not made known.

Commercial exploitation of defence land: The CAG said that commercial exploitation of defence land often turns very opaque as revenue generated by such exercise is credited to the non­public fund (Regimental Fund), which is outside the parliamentary oversight. It said there have been instances of commercial exploitation of defence land and allowing shopping complexes on such protected plots.

The use of defence land for non-military purposes like golf courses came under heavy scrutiny.

Abandoned land: The CAG audit said that an area of 25,888.81 acres of was lying surplus to the need of armed forces since 1980. The audit also discovered that no concrete action was taken for preventing encroachment on defence land.

Scathing CAG assessment: The CAG came down heavily on the Ministry of Defence for the poor maintenance of the real estate it owned.

"During the audit, it was noticed that the lines of responsibilities and consequently of accountability were blurred and on many aspects of Defence Estates management, no agency accepted responsibility... The audit disclosed dismal performance on determining the requirements of land, on keeping land records properly and mutation of land in possession of the services and others in favour of defence authorities," the CAG report said.

What are the laws that govern military land management?

There are a host of laws that helps the Ministry of Defence in the administration, control and management of military lands. Following are a few of them:

  • Acquisition of Lands for Defence purposes under Land Acquisition Act, 1894.
  • Urban Ceiling Law and its implementation in Cantonment area.
  • Requisitioning and acquisition of properties for defence services under the Defence of India Act, 1962 and rules made thereunder:
    (a) Cantonment Land Administration Rules, 1937 (CLA Rules);
    (b) Acquisition, Custody and Relinquishment Rules, 1944;
    (c) Works of Defence Act, 1903;
    (d) Issues regarding Revision of Land Norms.
    (e) Military Land Manual.
    (f) Withdrawal of Delegation of Powers to classify A-2 and B-4 Lands to ‘A-1’.

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