Struggle on in defence ministry to break the official land mafia nexus

NEW DELHI: From Sukna to Adarsh, Kandivali-Malad to now Landour, defence and land scams have become synonymous in the country. Stung by a series of land swindles over the last decade, the defence ministry has taken several steps to set things right but is yet to really break the deep-rooted nexus between officials and the land shark-builder combine.

The country’s largest land owner with a staggering 17.5 lakh acres under its belt, the defence ministry has for long grappled with controversies arising due to encroachments, land-grab bids, mismanagement of leases and grant of noobjection certificates (NOCs) to private builders to construct buildings on military land or plots.

The ongoing legal tussle between hotelier Sanjay Narang’s Dahila Bank luxury holiday resort and the neighbouring DRDO lab at the Landour cantonment in Mussoorie is just the latest example. Cricket icon-turned MP Sachin Tendulkar’s intervention with defence minister Manohar Parrikar on behalf of his friend Narang has only served to propel the security wrangle into the limelight.

Whatever be the merits of the case, the defence ministry says it has undertaken the digitisation of land records, including those of the 62 cantonments, regulated issuance of NOCs, entrusted land audits to the directorate general of defence estates (DGDE) and the like to ensure proper land management. “Prevention of new encroachments and removal of older ones is an ongoing process,” said an official.

Insiders, however, say there are still a lot of loopholes which can be exploited by nefarious elements to encroach on prime defence land. The problem is that most of the cantonments and military stations were originally located on the outskirts of towns and cities. But with rapid urbanisation, the cantonments now find themselves situated bang in the middle of cities or towns.

“Consequently , unscrupulous elements are always in the hunt to corner chunks of some prime property,” said another official. The defence ministry does own some pretty tony real estate, from the sprawling maidan in front of Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, the huge cantonment in Delhi and the Navy Nagar in south Mumbai to hill stations like Dalhousie, Lansdowne, Kasauli and Landour.

National audit watchdog CAG has in the past called for an independent defence land management authority (DLMA) because of the “complete lack of accountability” and “multiplicity of agencies” dealing with defence land.

“DGDE should function under DLMA ‘s control. Powers of local military authorities and defence estate offices to dispose of land, including issuing of NoCs “, should be withdrawn and vested in DLMA,” it said.

Credits ET Realty

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