BY SUMIT KUMAR SINGH
New Delhi, Oct 23 (IANS) From changing building bye-laws to increasing floor area ratio (FAR) near and in cantonment areas, the Centre has agreed to make changes in the existing rules and regulations on Indian Army lands for “modernisation and democratisation”, sources said on Wednesday. The Army, however, has expressed displeasure over the government approving the changes, sources said.
The government has agreed to all the recommendations, including opening up the ownership rights of properties in cantonment areas for private people, submitted by an expert committee on working of the Cantonment Boards. Headed by retired IAS officer and former Revenue Secretary Sumit Bose, it was set up on August 31, 2018.
In May last year, then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman chaired a meeting to discuss issues related to cantonments, which includes renewal and extension of expired and expiring leases, building bye-laws and FAR, transfer and mutation of old grant properties, freehold, and service charges payable to 62 cantonments.
She ordered setting up the expert committee headed by Bose and comprising six members – former Law Secretary T.K. Viswanathan, former Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Forces Command, Lt Gen Amit Sharma (ret), Joint Secretary, Defence, Jayant Sinha, Principal Controller of Defence Accounts (Air Force) Devika Raghuvansi, Professor of Architecture of Jadavpur University, Madhumita Roy and Additional Director General, Defence Estates Rakesh Mittal.
The panel was to study the existing Cantonment Act and to make specific recommendations for suitably amending it for modernisation and democratisation of the governance structure of Cantonment Boards.
It was also mandated to make specific recommendations in connection with building bye-laws in cantonments to align them with the best practices and create an incentive structure, particularly with respect to energy efficiency, green building, water conservation, rain water harvesting, fire safety standards, disaster resilience, sanitation and initiation of on-line clearance of building norms.
Bose’s mandate was also to make necessary changes in FAR across cantonments, to make recommendations on future rationalisation and also to make changes in municipal services incorporating e-governance practices. The committee had also been tasked to look into providing smart solutions related to sewerages and drainage systems.
Sitharaman also wanted to make changes on procedural modalities for transfer and mutation of property, including old grant bungalows, freehold and leasing of property, and levy of service charges by cantonments from all entities. The panel was also looking into what orders related to Cantonments could be weeded out.
The panel has submitted the detailed report to the Defence Ministry which has given the green signal and orders in this regard likely to be issued soon, sources said. However, the Army is unhappy with the recommendations made by the panel.
The Army has also expressed displeasure that the Directorate-General, Defence Estates was given over-riding powers in the name of modernisation and democratisation of the governance structure of Cantonment Boards. They had also expressed their anguish, saying they were not being represented or even consulted in crucial meetings.
As per the report, the properties at 62 military cantonments should be made open to private players. The committee had also been discussing “significant changes” in decision-making powers regarding control of defence land.
DGDE manages defence land worth several lakh crore rupees. Under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government in 2010, it was mooted to disband the DGDE after several charges of corruption were levelled against it, including the high-profile Adarsh Society scam.
(Sumit Kumar Singh can be reached at [email protected])