After Adarsh scam, Antony orders special audit of defence land

Soon after the Adarsh land scam in which defence land was hand over to a housing society by officials who also flats in the building, Defence minister AK Antony has announced a massive audit exercise to check defence land utilization.

The Defence forces, under the Director-General of Defence Estates (DGDE), has nearly 17 lakh acres (7,900 sq km) of land in Cantonments and other defence estates — more than five times the size of the National Capital Territory (state) of Delhi. Most of the land is in prime territories — such as the heart of Bangalore and Delhi — leading to corruption in how they are managed or leased.

Speaking at a function in Delhi, Antony — known for his spotless reputation — noted that “a few ‘no objection certificates’ (NOCs) issued in the past by certain local authorities have earned” the defence forces a bad name and it is time to conduct a thorough audit.

Steps have already been initiated for the Audit. “The idea is not to conduct a fault-finding exercise by one Department of another, the intention is to control and monitor adherence to laid down procedures and strengthen the overall land management system,” he said.

Large areas inside India’s thickly populated cities are occupied by the Army under the British-era ‘Cantonment’ scheme.

Antony, however, struck a note of pragmatism, asking Cantonment Boards to look for alternative sources of revenue generation to take advantage of the rapid infrastructure development witnessed in the adjoining municipal bodies in the metros and big cities.

The audit and other measures such as computerization of land records will be aimed at protecting the coveted defence land.

“In order to protect vacant pieces of Defence Lands, Camping Grounds and abandoned airfields, it has been decided that they would be guarded by nearby military units and when this was not possible sufficient manpower resources would be placed with the Defence Estates Officers to look after them,” Antony said.