Leave the details aside for a moment and go directly to the broader question: should Shimla's ancient, verdant and picturesque Annandale Ground be consumed for the construction of a cricket stadium? The logic for such a proposal cannot be more flawed. In a city already overrun with concrete, Annandale Ground, made up of an attractive patch of table land ringed by forest, is a comforting island of green. The tiny State already has an excellent cricket stadium in Dharamsala, host to IPL T20 matches for a couple of years and recently cleared by the ICC to host international matches. Even if one accepts that Himachal Pradesh requires another cricket stadium, and that too in Shimla, could this not be built elsewhere and not in what is a green lung of the hill capital? The fact that the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association is headed by the son of Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal casts a heavy shadow of doubt about the spontaneity of the so-called public campaign to retrieve the ground from the Army's possession. The manner in which the State government has handled the issue has left it open for people to believe it is putting its weight behind the HPCA, and playing facilitator for its proposals, for less than dispassionate reasons.
Having said this, the press release issued by the Army's Western Command, which accused the State administration of acting on the behest of the land mafia, was outrageous. Correctives have been applied since with the clarification that the release was “erroneously issued” and the announcement that an inquiry will be held into the lapse. In a strict legal sense, the State government may have a right to demand that the land, on which the lease has expired, be returned to it. It is also possible that the Army is overstating the case a tad by maintaining that the land has great strategic value, being crucial for the staging of drills and helicopter operations. But even if so, the use for which it puts the land to is far more important than that of cricket. Attempts to retrieve the land earlier have been stalled by the firm intervention of the Defence Ministry. From the 1830s, Annandale Ground — which legend says was named after Anna, the love of a young British captain captivated by the beauty of the area — was a place for picnics, fairs, dog shows, polo matches and other amusements. Yes, cricket was played here as well, but in the countrified style of yore, when a ground meant nothing more than a pretty patch of green and a small pavilion. To ring it with tons of concrete and the other architectural appurtenances that a modern stadium requires would be to destroy something of both historical and ecological value. To use the cliché, it just wouldn't be cricket.