Friday, November 5, 2010

Sample swanky Santushti shopping complex: Troops Welfare?

Rajat Pandit, TNN, Oct 31, 2010, 04.14am IST
With 7,000 sq km, defence ministry owns land equal to 5 Delhis - The Times of India
NEW DELHI: Land scams and defence often go together. The defence ministry, after all, owns a staggering 17.3 lakh acres of land around the country. That is little over 7,000 sq km. Or, about the size of five Delhis (new, old and rural) put together.

Defence, railways and ports, in fact, are the largest landowners in India. Yes, the defence land includes airbases, firing ranges, dockyards and other crucial military establishments.

But, from the famous sprawling maidan in front of Victoria Memorial in Kolkata, the huge Delhi Cantonment and the Navy Nagar in tony south Mumbai to hill stations like Dalhousie, Lansdowne and Kasauli, MoD also owns some pretty prime property across the country.

So, it's no wonder that all this land attracts gleeful unscrupulous elements, both from within and outside, who are eager to grab, misappropriate or encroach some chunks of this precious commodity.

In fact, a defence minister not so long ago had send shivers down the military ranks by obliquely suggesting the sale of large parts of defence land, with the unstated intention of raking in the moolah.

While the 17.3 lakh acres of defence land is managed by the three Services and other organisations like Ordnance Factory Board, Defence Research and Development Organisation and others, the 1.13-million strong Army is by far the biggest land-holder.

The Army has 13.79 lakh acres under its control and management, while the much smaller IAF has 1.51 lakh acres and Navy 0.37 lakh acres. Of the total 17.3 lakh acres, around 2 lakh acres lie within the 62 cantonments in 19 states. There is even a big Directorate General of Defence Estates for "advisory and executive functions" in matters relating to defence lands and civic administration in cantonments.

Apart from huge land holdings, the armed forces also have veto powers (NOC Syndrome- a tutorial from AWHO spreading its wings) on land sale or construction activities near their stations on grounds of security. Take, for instance, the recent infamous Sukna land scam case, in which four generals were indicted. The case revolved around the alleged conspiracy to aid the transfer of a 71-acre tea estate adjacent to the Sukna military station in Darjeeling district to a real estate developer, who was a family friend of one of the generals.

Then, there are several instances of defence land being misused. The continuing saga of the swanky Santushti shopping complex, the haunt of the rich and the famous just down the road from the PM's official residence in the Capital, is one of the examples.

The latest CAG report slams MoD and IAF for blatantly violating all rules and regulations in managing Santushti, with its 43 shops, which was established by the Air Force Wives Welfare Association (AWWA) on defence land in 1985 with the ostensible purpose to help needy military personnel and their families.

But the "irregular allotment" of many shops to fashion designers, businesswomen and other gliterrati has "defeated the welfare objectives of providing assistance to ex-servicemen, war widows, disabled military pensioners and the like", said CAG. Shades of the Adarsh scam?
With 7,000 sq km, defence ministry owns land equal to 5 Delhis - The Times of India

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