It’s a mystery why the government keeps silent over illegal occupations even as the defence forces and others seek land for various public purposes

The Union Defence Ministry owns close to 600 acres of prime land in the Secunderabad Cantonment area, most of which is occupied illegally due to conversion of the Old Grant Bungalows (OGBs) into commercial properties.

Lack of a proper land policy, different government departments working at cross purposes, legal issues et al has led to a situation where a few land holders are garnering revenue from public land.

“The State government maintains a parallel revenue register, power connections are given without looking into building permissions, bar licenses, fuel filling stations permissions are issued without contacting the Cantonment Board,” charge senior officials. If the ‘old grant bungalows’ — 117 under the Defence Estate Officer (DEO) and 70-odd under the SCB’s jurisdiction in total occupy 484 acres, with each occupying 1.5 acres to 15 acres and more — were given by the British for an indefinite period of time in the 19th century, there are other ‘leased’ lands of more than 100 acres.

In the last decade or so, the SCB has been able to take possession of very few bungalows though demolitions of unauthorised constructions were taking place now and then. “The government of India has the power to take possession of the land when the armed forces feel the need for it without paying any compensation to the present occupant,” explain senior officials, seeking anonymity.

Therefore, it’s a mystery why the government keeps silent over the illegal occupations even as the defence forces and others seek land for various public purposes. Such is the complexity of the situation in the SCB that even notices issued seeking penal fines of Rs. 1 lakh each for illegal conversions are ignored due to legal tangles, they concede.

In fact, few years ago an exhaustive list of defence lands currently lying with private hands either free or paying a pittance as lease fee was prepared and most of the records were also computerised. Senior officials admit that a presentation was also made to the higher ups of the Defence Ministry about resumption of the lands yet nothing concrete has come up over the years.

“There are leased lands with fixed tenures and those with no fixed period. The Union government can take them over if there is a single violation of building or land, but it has not yet happened even as the property has been changing hands,” they point out.

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