Cantonments may be colonial creations in their origins, but that does not mean that the military does not need exclusive spaces.

The opening of cantonment roads to public has become a raging controversy and another point of friction in the civil-military relations. This friction is part of a larger struggle between the civic needs of society and security imperatives for the country’s military assets.

The battle is being waged in an ambience of growing security threats and deteriorating civic infrastructure, which is unable to cope with the steep growth in urban population. Mobility within cities and towns is impeded by traffic density and narrow thoroughfares. Commuting within urban spaces is a harrowing experience. Expanding city space has enveloped most cantonments and in many places, urban commuting can be made easier if passage is permitted through cantonments. But such passage is blocked by the security requirements of the military.

In the government structure, the ministry of defence (MoD) is responsible for ensuring security to military assets. In an era of terrorism, military assets are high-value targets and therefore require a greater degree of protection. The responsibility of provisioning civic facilities is essentially that of the ministry of housing and urban affairs (MoHUA) at the Union level and the municipal authorities at the state level. It is therefore revealing that the MoD, the guardian of military assets, is playing a role that seeks to alleviate the suffering of citizens, a role which must be addressed by the MoHUA and the state-level authorities. The MoHUA and state-level authorities are completely absent from any deliberation to resolve the commuting problem raised by the local politicians directly with the MoD. This is surprising since in many earlier cases when private parties waged a legal battle with the MoD, the courts have upheld the superiority of military security requirements over civic convenience.

In the case Mani Enclave Welfare Association Vs Union of India, where the Union of India was represented by the MoD, the Andhra Pradesh High Court on 26 September 2014 ruled that –

“The principal grievance against imposing restrictions on 9 roads in issue in these cases is that there are no proper alternative roads which civilians can use and if civilians are not allowed to use these roads it would cause grave hardship to them. This is a matter which requires immediate attention of civilian authorities. As the imposition of restrictions on above roads may cause added pressure on alternate roads, which are narrow and not planned to take heavy traffic as contended by the Traffic Police and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), all the concerned authorities shall take expeditious steps to improve the alternate roads so that ordinary people are not subjected to any inconvenience. Conscious of the difficulties of commuters, the army authorities have imposed restrictions in a phased manner and such decision cannot be held as one made in an arbitrary manner. Subject to security concerns and training schedules, it is for the General Officer Commanding to allow civilian traffic on the subject roads till alternative road network is developed. It is necessary for the civic administration to rise to the occasion and take immediate urgent measures so that the civilians are not put to inconvenience and hardship in commuting by using alternative roads that are available. The GHMC and the Hyderabad District Collector shall file a report to this Court on the steps taken in this regard within two months from the date of receipt of copy of the judgment. For the aforesaid reasons, the Writ Petitions and Public Interest Litigations fail and the same are hereby dismissed.” See full judgment here.

From statements emanating from the MoD, it is apparent that the MoD, based on pressure exerted by local politicians, deemed it appropriate to open, as a temporary measure, all “public roads” that were closed to civilians due to security concerns in 62 cantonments. It has also simultaneously appropriated the powers that were vested in the Cantonment Boards and General Officer Commanding in Chief (GOC in C) by the Cantonment Act of 2006. Although the appropriation of powers has been veiled through procedural cul-de-sac, the intent is obvious.

Even a temporary closure of public roads on security grounds is now procedurally complicated and nigh impossible to implement. Worse, the security grounds that have been justified by the Local Military Authority (LMA) and GOC in C will be subjected to “legal vetting” by the MoD. The competence of the MoD to subject security assessments to legal scrutiny is questionable. It also means, in practice, that the spirit of Article 258 of the Cantonment Act 2006, which states that the LMA under the oversight of the GOC in C is in the best position to judge on-ground security concerns, has been completely undermined. The end result of such a move has grave security implications.

Based on the directions from the MoD, the army has apparently issued instructions to open “all roads” in the cantonments and put measures in place to only monitor the density of traffic. This “all roads” instruction is obviously a result of poor drafting because the MoD letter pertains to “public roads”, which are on the land that is classified as Class C and is under the jurisdiction of the Cantonment Board. Be that as it may, the idea of traffic density is connected more to civic convenience than to security concerns, for security concerns are related closely to preventing a free avenue to inimical forces. But this issue has already been decided, so what remains to be gained from such an exercise? There is more to the MoD’s behaviour here than meets the eye.

The MoD has politicised security for electoral purposes, by privileging civic convenience over security of military assets of which it is the ultimate guardian. Opening of cantonment roads that have been closed for security reasons enjoys great popular support and justifiably so, considering the hardships of urban commuters. It is the natural proclivity of politicians to key into this popular mood with an eye on electoral gains. The victory processions through roads recently opened to public, the statements of some MPs and MLAs, and posters advertising the role of politicians in getting the roads opened offer ample proof. In the process, it has turned civic society against the armed forces who are seen as wanting to retain their “colonial privileges” within cantonments. Cantonments may be colonial creations in their origins, but that does not mean that the military does not need exclusive spaces. This is an unfortunate and undesirable fall out.

While the MoD must be cognizant of the demands of civil society, its primary concern is the defence of India. It should, therefore, review the closure/opening of roads from a security perspective and also attempt to assuage the difficulties of citizens. Its attempt to undermine the security judgements of military commanders when it has no competence to do so is fraught with serious implications to national security. Currently, it seems to have defected to the side of civic convenience from its natural abode of national security.

If the defection by the MoD is not arrested, the natural trajectory would be the usurping of military lands by the nexus of corrupt politicians and powerful estate lobbies in the name of another popular sentiment that understandably envies the military occupying prime urban locations. It is not that such an onslaught on military lands have not happened before, but even when defence ministers themselves were complicit, the Service chiefs have stood their ground.

Now, if the opening of roads on A1 land (land exclusively for military and not administered by the Cantonment Board) in Secunderabad, despite a favourable high court ruling, is any indication, the danger is a pliant military leadership and an MoD that has defected. It is a deadly combination and sounds the death knell for striking a just balance between military and civil requirements.


Lt Gen (Dr) Prakash Menon, PVSM, AVSM, VSM is Director, Strategic Studies Programme, Takshashila Institution, Bengaluru.

Ram Ganesh Kamatham is a Research Fellow at Takshashila Institution, Bengaluru.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Service chiefs would have held ground if they were not already sold out. The previous as well as present Chief are planning to join BJP after retirement. Gen Suhag has already joined and Gen Rawat will follow soon.
    The smartest move was appointing Gen Rawat as Chief surpassing two other highly qualified professionals so that their illogical orders can be implemented without any problems from the Chief. He should act like their pet.

  2. Only 2100000 civilians are living in 62 cantonment we a accept 50% voting around 1000000 people’s and this figure is just a very low for center election I don’t agree with that opening of doors in cantonment is for political motives SORRY COUNTRY CANT BAY THES

  3. Laws and Legal points apart, let us look at some common sense issues : (1) Contonments were in existence even before the cities developed. They were located where they are, for strategic and safety reasons, and the security systems around them were put in place for the same reasons. Civil population went there and chose to stay close to them knowing fully well the safety and security systems in these spaces. So why should they want now, a freeway through them, and jeopardiise the security of those living there. It is unlikely the ‘people ‘ want it. It is more likely to be a ploy by the land mafia. Most surprising that the top defence officers are not standing up against it.
    (2) The Govts have shown that they are in no position to provide the required security to its citizens ( men and women). One has to only look back a few months or years. So how could they even think of insisting that the insecurity should be extended to those in the cantonments?
    (3) Today, every other ‘enclave’ and ‘gated community’ creates private roads and exercises access control. Is the Govt likely to bring in a law prohibiting all access controls in any living space? By an extension of that logic, all security sytems around all our politicians and ministers must be withdrawn first and forthwith.

  4. Dear LT GENERAL PRAKASH MENON and RAM GANESH KAMATHAM,

    This article by you both per say is not factual on judgement of Hon.AP High Court. You did not consider certain facts such as the Sec 258 of Cantt Act was never known nor discussed when the hearing was going on. That is called as “per incuriam” ..Means, through or characterized by lack of due regard to the law or the facts.. . If you want more to be precise, it means literally translated as “through lack of care”, refers to a judgment of a court which has been decided without reference to a statutory provision or earlier judgment which would have been relevant. Later, we have filed a fresh petition and is under hearing in Hon High court.

    Moreover, the Sec 258 says that even if the security issues are there, irrespective of the nature of the land, the rule of law must be followed, that is Cantt Act 2006.

    Interestingly, you did not mention few other courts orders, which were in favor of the civilians and the same is updated for your information herein. WA 3949 of 1997. Dated 23rd Jan 1998. More recently, the order of the Hon.Allahabad high court.

    WRIT – C No. – 18086 of 2014 and Case :-

    http://elegalix.allahabadhighcourt.in/elegalix/WebShowJudgment.do

    Thus the very passage and convenience of morning and evening walkers within the Cantonment area is acknowledged by the respondents themselves. The aforesaid stand taken in the above mentioned public interest litigation by the respondents themselves leaves no room for doubt that the petitioners are not unwelcome on the streets in question as morning and evening walkers. In such a situation, 29 imposing a condition for obtaining passes is neither a legal requirement under any law as discussed hereinabove nor does it appear to be in conformity with the rights protected and guaranteed under Article 19(1)(d) of the Constitution of India. There is no discernible rational nexus for asking morning and evening walkers to obtain a military pass for commuting on a street as involved presently in the case. The aforesaid discussion is also necessary for any action to be taken in future as public convenience cannot be overlooked. A person suffering from any immediate serious ailment like a heart-attack at midnight, would not obviously be asked to wait upon to obtain a pass for commuting on a road if he resides in the vicinity to reach the hospital. This is just one practical aspect of the matter and there are many such shades which require consideration including other public conveniences. It is for all the aforesaid reasons that we hold that the petitioners are right in their submission that they do not require to be imposed with a condition of obtaining a pass from the military authorities in the background and purpose aforesaid. We also are of the opinion that in case the Cantonment Board proceeds to take any steps in future in the light of the letter dated 7th January, 2015, it may inform to the public at large and particularly to institutions like the High Court before taking up any such measures for discussion so that the point of view of public convenience may not be left unheeded in any of its dimension. The respondents are therefore directed to act
    accordingly. The writ petition stands allowed with the aforesaid directions and observations.
    Order Date :- 18.11.2015. Sahu

    AND:

    WRIT – C No. – 38989 of 2014

    http://elegalix.allahabadhighcourt.in/elegalix/WebShowJudgment.do

    Consequently, this petition is also disposed of with a direction that the respondent authorities shall not impose any restriction unless the aforesaid procedure as acknowledged by them under the letter dated 7th January, 2015 is followed read with the provisions of Section 258 of the Cantonments Act 2006 and Section 2(zza) of the said Act. This is necessary as the road which is disputed in the present petition admittedly does not fall out of the definition of a street as provided for under the 2006 Act. The writ petition therefore stands disposed of with the said observations.
    Order Date :- 18.11.2015. Sahu

    I hope this will enlightens you more of the legal position. Many of the citizens get mislead with such articles without facts and truth. Hence I thought ti would be appropriate to educate the citizens with such more clarity for their own good.

    Thanking you, with regards,

    Yours sincerely,

    S.Chandrasekhar,
    OSCAR. .

  5. Have you ever heard “per incuriam” ..Means, through or characterized by lack of due regard to the law or the facts.. . If you want more to be precise, it means literally translated as “through lack of care”, refers to a judgment of a court which has been decided without reference to a statutory provision or earlier judgment which would have been relevant.

  6. Section 258 के कानून से भाग कयो रही है LMA लोकसभा मे जो कानून पास किया है उसका उलंघन करना आरमी को शोभा नही देता भारत के नागरिक आरमी की इज्ज़त करते है इससे भारत देश का नाम बदनाम होता है किसी भी पब्लिक की समस्या का भारत सरकार हल कानून के मुताबिक निकालती है वो अच्छी बात है हम सबको उस फेसले का welcome करना चाहिए. ओम शांति.

  7. We respect army as a displined n dedicated force but that doesn’t mean they (LMA) shouldn’t respect constitution passed by Parliament n running away from law.Let LMA respect Section 258.

  8. Let the Military enjoy exclusivity in a Military Station
    As an AF veteran on the side of justice, I feel it is only appropriate to examine the specious reasoning proffered by the distinguished General, who had held exalted appointments, and some of them security related, whilst in uniform. The emotional article has only proclaimed that the MoD/COAS’s order has left the Gen bereft. The flabbergasting justifications are a legal and factual travesty: it is a desperate attempt to hijack the issue with irrelevant and non-issues. Instead of repeating the factual and legal position of the case, as enunciated in my tweets, I have a few questions for the General.
    1. Is a Military Station and a Cantonment same?
    2. Are the citizens clamouring for any space within the exclusive zone of a Military Station?
    3. Are ‘A1’ roads and ‘A1’ land the same?
    4. Did the Public roads (A1) roads come up after the establishment of cantonments?
    5. Does the Military have authority to subvert the legal provisions/Acts/Schedules of the country?
    6. Is there any other org more robust than the MoD & AF combined to assess the security situation of the country?
    7. Is there any force more professional than our Army to rise to/negotiate any security challenge?
    8. Any data to cite untoward incidents/security breach in the cantts prior to the roads being closed?
    And the last question: 9. “Did the Gen ever disobey a direct order of the MoD through the COAS?”
    If the answer to any of the above questions is in the positive, perhaps the General might like to make use of the research facilities available to him and then it could be discussed in the public forum.

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