We have taken steps to check encroachments: Maj. Gen. Venugopal

For the Army that defends Indian territory from external incursions, guarding its own land within the country seems to be becoming a headache.

In Bangalore, where most of the remaining green spaces are preserved by the Army, there have been recent conflicts between city residents and Army authorities over land.

In Karnataka alone, when the Army is not fighting the 59 cases related to its land in various courts, it is warding off encroachers on areas allotted to it. At times, it must even surrender prime areas it held within urban limits for years and instead settle for suburban land some distance away.

To put an end to land-related conflicts, the Army and the State government have initiated a survey of Army land in the city.

“Once that is completed, we will know exactly where we stand. It takes time,” said Major General K.S. Venugopal, who on Sunday demitted office as the General Office Commanding, Karnataka & Kerala Sub Area.

In the State, the Army has been “authorised” or technically allowed to keep 8,772 acres for its various establishments and manpower. “But we hold only 4,430 acres and are short of what is required. To top it, 95 acres have been encroached upon — by expanding slums, new layouts, and other settlers,” he told a news conference in the presence of his successor, Maj. Gen. A.K. Singh.

As a result, the Army has started going vertical for its staff’s living quarters — “a thing we never had to do before”. This is the result of the increasing pressure on land in expanding metros like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune, he reasoned.

“All Army land belongs to the Ministry of Defence, we are only custodians,” he said.

“There are vested interests who try to exploit the situation and grab [Defence] land.” Putting up walls was expensive. “We have taken measures to ensure that no further encroachment takes place,” he said.

In Bangalore, the Army has many establishments, including the Army Service Corps (ASC) Centre and College, six regimental centres and many units. Some years ago when the Pioneer Corps moved out of R.T. Nagar to HAL airport road and the Parachute Centre moved in there from the North, certain pockets were left vacant, something the Army realised later. The joint survey would settle this issue too.

Last November, the State government unilaterally de-notified land given to the Army next to the Belgaum Firing Range for a college. Any firing range must have free land next to it, he explained.

The denotification, the outgoing GOC said, has affected firing exercises. A U.K. Army team is also due to train there in April-end.

A curious disputed case is the M. Chinnaswamy Cricket Stadium, which was leased by the Army years ago through the State government to the Karnataka State Cricket Association.

Part of the city’s defence band and barely half a kilometre from the office of the General Officer Commanding, it is in the heart of the central business district and just opposite Cubbon Park.

The Army says it has sought “legal recourse” for this piece, too.

It frequently sought to host its tournaments when the stadium did not have any other matches or events, but that has not happened, said Maj. Gen. Venugopal. “Strictly the stadium should hold only sporting events and not allow any commercial activity.” The requests have been raised every year during the civil-military liaison conferences chaired by the Chief Minister. “But that has not translated to reality.”

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