MPs raise concern over military, civilian rift in Cantt areas

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New Delhi, May 4 (IANS) Several MPs and Vice Presidents of Cantonment Boards across the country on Friday spoke of “tragedies” civilians living around military stations have to go through and urged the government to amend an archaic British era law relating to the administration of such areas.

Though media was barred from covering the event attended by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and senior officers of the ministry, but participants, who spoke at the event, were of the view that civilians were being subjected to hardships by military men in cantonment areas.

They also complained that elected representatives had no say in running the administration of Cantonment Boards, headed by the military officer commanding the station.

Senior BJP leader Murali Manohar Joshi, who is MP from Kanpur, said the military needed to change its behaviour in dealing with civilians in cantonments.

“I have heard the military’s behaviour towards citizens which is not at all encouraging and there should be some behavioural changes in the Army,” Joshi told the gathering, including some senior Army officers, at Raksha Sampada Bhawan on Ulaanbaatar Road in Delhi Cantt area.

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National Conference MP from Srinagar Farooq Abdullah asked the Army officers not to consider themselves above civilians “because one day you are going to be like them”. He said a healthy relationship should be maintained between civilians and the military.

“Everyone spoke unanimously of the tragedies people have to endure in such areas. Everyone urged the government to amend the law governing Cantonment (Boards),” Abdullah told IANS outside the venue of the event.

Defence Minister Sitharaman was scheduled to address the MPs of Cantonments and Vice Presidents of 62 Cantonment Boards in the coutry but she chose not to after hearing from some 20 speakers at the event.

In a passing remark during the event, she said these issues related to the administration of of Cantonment Boards had already been noted.

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A Cantonment Board is a civic administration body that comes under the control of the Defence Ministry. It comprises elected members besides ex-officio and nominated members as per the Cantonments Act, 2006. The act barring some minor amendments traces its origin to the British rule that was implemented on February 16, 1924.

The board generally consists of eight elected members, three nominated military members, three ex-officio members (Station Commander, Garrison Engineer and senior executive Medical Officer) and a representative of the district magistrate.

Dinesh Trivedi, Trinamool Congress MP from Barrackpore in West Bengal, said he suggested to the Defence Minister to order a status quo and stop demolitions in Cantonment areas, form a committee that will suggest amendments to the act and let those recommendations come to parliament.

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“No more construction should be allowed and no demolotion should happen. People living in these areas have a problem. Where will they go. People have become refugees in your own places. You have to listen to them and adress their problems,” Trivedi told IANS.

He said a Supreme Court ruling of 2016 denying voting rights in the Cantonment Board elections to encroachers on defence land needed a review and the government should move on that. “You vouch for voting rights of NRIs but deny citizens living in India their voting rights.”

Malla Reddy, the MP from Malkajgiri in Telangana, folded his hands and pleaded before the army not to treat people in Secunderabad Cantonment Board, which has the highest number of civilian population, “like Pakistanis”.

“Why is there unnecessary fencing and diversion of the roads all the time?” he asked.

–IANS

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