Theweekendleader

Himachal civilians want freedom from cantonment boards

BY VISHAL GULATI   |  Kasauli

01-September-2019

 A majority of civilians settled in the seven British-era cantonments of the Indian Army in Himachal Pradesh want freedom from the cantonment boards.

They want thier areas to be brought under the civil administration as the military administration adopts "arbitrary" rules for them.

Of India's 62 cantonment towns, this hill state is home seven, including Kasauli, Subathu, Dagshai, Jutogh, Yol and Dalhousie.

"The cantonment boards are unfair with the civilian populations settled in the army cantonments," the Kasauli Cantonment Board vice-president Devinder Gupta told IANS.

He said the stringent building by-laws and unfair treatment by the cantonment board in providing basic amenities like water supply and repair of streets and paths in the civilian-dominated localities are the main causes of anger.

"Building by-laws to check their construction and expansion in the name of curbing unregulated commercialization is the main bone of contention. The civilians are desperately looking to carry out need-based modifications in their houses but the cantonment boards are coming in their way," he said.

The Kasauli Cantonment Board in Solan district was established in 1850.

Located opposite Kasauli, Dagshai is one of the oldest army cantonments in India. It was founded in 1847 and five villages were gifted by the Maharaja of Patiala to the British to set up the cantonment.

Another resident, Ramesh Sud, who runs a restaurant in this picturesque tourist resort, said water scarcity in the civilian areas is a perennial problem.

"You can see water overflowing from storage tanks in the army residential areas. At the same time, the water supply in civilian areas is scanty," he said.

Locals rue that there is no expansion of healthcare and higher education facilities, besides a huge disparity in the rates of house tax and water tax in cantonment boards, in comparison to elected civic body areas. 

On the flip side, old-timers said these army cantonments will lose their old world charm if these boards are abolished.

Kasauli legislator Rajiv Saizal, who is the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, told IANS that the elected members in the cantonment boards are facing problems in discharging their duties democratically due to archaic British-era laws.

"In fact, the existing laws are hampering the overall development of cantonment boards and are also a bone of contention between the civil and military establishment and these need to be amended as per the prevailing needs and demands," Saizal said.

Currently, the military authorities have an edge over the elected representatives -- the main cause of civilian unrest.

The civilian population in these cantonments are barred from building construction even on their own land, which has led to growth stagnating in these areas.

For decades, civilians have been demanding the framing of new building by-laws in the cantonment areas so they can expand their houses with the increase in family sizes and to do away with procedural delays.

They have been demanding amendments to the Cantonment Act of 2006 to give the right to the elected representatives to actively participate in the day-to-day governance of cantonment boards.

Former MP Virender Kashyap, who has, several times, taken up the issue of civilians living in the cantonment boards in the Lok Sabha during his two consecutive stints as a lawmaker till May 2019, said 75 per cent of the civilian problems would be solved if suggestions made by the elected representatives are implemented by the Defence Ministry.

Kashyap said the limit of Rs 5,000 value was fixed for sale of buildings and houses in cantonment boards way back in 1836 and the same limit continues to exist, while the prices of buildings have skyrocketed.

He demanded the fixing of sale limit at the present market rates.

During a visit of then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Kasauli in September 2017 to certify eight open defecation-free cantonments that fall under the Western Command, Kashyap had demanded liberal rules for regularizing illegal buildings set up in cantonments on a par with the state governments.

According to the book "Solan, a Mosaic of Experiences" by Minakshi Chaudhary, the Gurkha invasion in the early 19th century was the turning point for the otherwise quiet and peaceful hills of Solan, specifically Subathu town, which became the first strategic British settlement in the region that is now Himachal Pradesh.

Subathu became part of Britain's Indian empire in 1816 after the forces of Gurkha General Amar Singh Thapa lost the battle of Malaun, Chaudhary writes in this profusely illustrated coffee table book.

Subathu quickly grew in importance and it was here that the newly-appointed British political agent to the hill region was initially based.

It was the major stopover on the old road leading to Simla (currently, Himachal Pradesh capital Shimla).

Solan district has many feathers in its cap.

It is home to one of the first breweries of India set up by Edward Dyer in 1855; the world's first co-educational boarding school, Lawrence School in Sanawar, started in 1847; the century-old Kalka-Shimla rail line, a world heritage site; Asia's first university of horticulture and forestry, the Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry and over the century-old Central Research Institute in Kasauli that is making anti-snake bite and other life-saving serums.

The book says that before making Shimla its summer capital between 1864 and 1939, the British established cantonments in Subathu, Kasauli and Dagshai.

Sir Henry Lawrence, Political Agent of the North Western Frontier Province, built a cottage at Kasauli in 1841, and in 1842 the ridge was acquired from Rana of Baghat for Rs 5,000.

Thus a new cantonment started coming up with a new road leading up to it from Kalka in the foothills. Additional land was acquired by the British from Baghat rulers between 1847 and 1863 to set up the military station. IANS