India has approved a new defence land policy -almost after 250 years - that will significantly change the way defence land is managed at present. The new policy will encourage development and use of defence-owned land and cantonment zones as opposed to the earlier restrictions.
The Ministry of Defence is the largest landowner in India - controls 17.95 lakh acres of land. These properties are used by the Indian Army, Air Force, Navy, central & state government bodies and other associated organisations to carry out several operations and activities such as training, ranges, depots, airfields, quartering, camping, offices and miscellaneous military activities.
With the implementation of new laws, the armed services will be able to create equal value infrastructure (EVI) in exchange for allowing use of properties for public projects or other non-military purposes. The unutilised defence land can be used for construction of key public projects such as metros, roads, railways, flyovers and others.
Besides the defence land policy, the Indian government is also focusing on finalising the Cantonment Bill 2020 to carry out further developments in the cantonment zones.
Anomalies in defence land management
The old defence land policy included rules outlined during the British era:
- Use of defence land for non-military purposes was not allowed since the first British cantonment was established in Bengal’s Barrackpore in 1765
- Bungalows and quarters in the cantonment zones could not be sold or occupied by people other than the defence personnel
- As such procedures of defence land management are obsolete and irrelevant in terms of the current infrastructure requirements, updating the defence lands policy has been a long-standing demand by many government authorities.
The defence land is managed by the Directorate General of Defence Estates and as a huge proportion of this land is unutilised, human resources are required to safeguard these areas, increasing the need for additional armed forces.
Over the years, several irregularities have been observed in the management of defence land—inconsistent data, poor utilisation, commercial exploitation, encroachment, poor maintenance and abandoned land are a few to mention. This necessitated collection of comprehensive data to ensure optimum utilisation and monetisation of the vast parcels of unused defence land. Therefore, it became critical to make amendments to the age-old defence land policies and make way for future-forward utilisation and development of land.
Why amending the Defence Land Policy is necessary?
The Indian government announced plans to ease restrictions on defence land acquisition for use in public projects. As a large proportion of defence lands lies in prime locations across the country, civilian authorities are justified in demanding these lands for use in development of public projects. This will help set up key public amenities in accessible locations and benefit citizens at large.
Out of the total defence land managed by the Ministry of Defence, ~16.35 lakh acres of land lie outside cantonment areas – including abandoned cantonments, ranges and defunct airfields from the Second World War. Earlier, cantonments and military stations were built outside cities; however, with growth in urbanisation and expanding of city areas, most of these military stations are now located in the heart of cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, Ambala and others. A few of these prime locations include Delhi Cantonment, Navy Nagar in South Mumbai, and hill stations such as Dalhousie, Lansdowne, Kasauli and the Nilgiris.
With availability of such large unused areas, it is imperative to monetise and develop these regions to serve both the defence and general public requirements.
Defence land policy: Initiatives
The defence ministry has taken several initiatives to manage defence land in an effective way. A few of these initiatives are as follows:
Land Management System: October 2020
Equal Value Infrastructure: October 2020
Construction of Metro Projects: July 2020
GIS mapping created for 17.95 lakh acres of defence land with the help of BISAG
Digitised land management system was launched to enhance efficiency and speed of proposals for land transfer
Framework created to use defence land for development projects such as roads, highways, metros and other public utilities
Under this policy, there is no need to pay lease rent for tunnels under
There are instances wherein the central and state governments have requested the Ministry of Defence for the defence land to complete the projects related to public infrastructure/utilities. The new defence land policy has been approved by the Indian government is expected to bring extensive changes in the way defence land was managed earlier.
The new defence policy covers the following major points:
- Eight equal value infrastructure (EVI) projects have been identified for the armed forces in lieu of the land procured from them, which will be used for either public projects or other non-military activities. In case the EVI is less than the actual cost of the defence land, the Ministry of Defence will receive the remaining funds.
- In case lands are located within the cantonment zones, the value will be evaluated by a committee led by local military authorities. If the defence land is outside the cantonment zones, the value will be decided by the respective district magistrate.
The road ahead…
The government seeks to monetise the unutilised defence land and generate revenue. It has also asked the armed forces, along with the Defence Research and Development Organisation, Coast Guard and Ordnance Factory Board, to outline land requirements in the next two decades and key projects likely to be undertaken. This step will help in understanding the overall requirement and ensuring proper utilisation of the remaining land for other development projects.
India’s urban population is growing at a rapid pace and finding usable land for public amenities is a major challenge for policy makers. The central and state governments need land to complete several infrastructure projects across the country. And, this demand can be fulfilled by utilising areas both inside and outside cantonment zones.
In February 2021, the Ministry of Finance agreed to the 15th Finance Commission's suggestion on non-lapsable Defence Fund. The Ministry of Finance opines that the only way to fund the non-lapsable modernisation fund is by monetising defence land. Funds obtained by monetising the defence land will be useful in modernising the Indian defence sector.
Reforms in the defence land policy is an important step as most procedures were drafted during the British era. The anomalies found in management of the defence land can be minimised as the usage of these lands will be towards public project development, thereby boosting infrastructural development in the country, along with monetising the defence land and modernising the Indian defence sector.