Historical Perspective

          In 1599, a number of English merchants grouped themselves as “East India Company” to trade into India. The Company received official recognition from Queen Elizabeth of England through a charter granted on the 31st December 1600. The First English vessel for trade anchored at Surat in 1608. Thereafter, Mr. William Hawkins of the Company went and met the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, at his court, in Agra and sought facilities and concessions for trade in his empire. Through a “Firman” issued in 1612, his wish was granted. Over several decades the Company set up some factories for processing goods, warehouses and buildings for administration and quartering personnel and to secure their interests at various places with Surat , Madras and Hooghly as  hubs. Within an century and a half the Company became a force to reckon with. A clash between the Mughal power and the English traders which seemed inevitable, came about at the Battle of Plassey (1757).

       The victory of the English resulted in the establishment of English control over the Nawab  of Bengal. They appointed Mir Jaffar as the Nawab. Through a number of battles the Company became the sole master of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The grant of “Diwani”- the right to collect revenues of the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa became the great act of constitutional entrance of the company into the body politic of India. With the success, the Company thought of cantoning troops as it become necessary to maintain a standing Army, not only to protect its trade, but also its territories. Lord Clive initiated the policy of setting up exclusive habitats for the company’s forces, slightly away from the then urban areas, and along the trade-route, like river Ganga. He wished to keep interaction between the Englishmen and local population very limited, in the interest of discipline. These places came to be known as Cantonments - the places where the Forces were cantoned. The first place marked as cantonment was Barrackpore in 1765.  

        By now the Company had substantial real estate and infrastructure at many strategically important places. On 17th May 1773, the Parliament of England passed the following resolution: “That all acquisitions made under the influence of a military force or a treaty with foreign princes, do of right belong to the State.” Thus, all the lands that came into the possession of the East India Company, and later the colonial Government, by conquest, appropriation, perpetual lease, treaty or acquisition came to be recognized as the property of the Government through an Act of the Parliament of England.

        The Regulating Act of 1773, enacted by the English Parliament, for the first time conferred on the Governor General of India –in- Council power to make and issue Rules, Ordinances and Regulations for administration of the territories and to secure the interests of the Company.

    The Company gave lands to English officers to build houses for themselves in the Cantonments. The Company created other infrastructure for the forces. The Governor General-in- Council  in April 1801, ordered that: “No. bungalows & Quarters at any of the Cantonments shall be allowed to be sold or occupied by any person who does not belong to the Army”. Later lands were given to Indians to erect houses and shops for those engaged in support-services, locally, for the forces. This reduced the capital expenditure to be incurred by the Company for quartering the forces. The Governor General-in Council and the Governors-in- Council gave permission for occupation of lands in the Cantonments on grants. In no case ownership rights in the land were to be transferred to the occupant.

          During the next 25 years, various orders were issued as part of the Army Regulations, on the process of granting permission to occupy sites in Cantonments. The Government of India Act 1833 (Also known as the Charter Act of 1833) was enacted by the Parliament of England granting to the Governor General-in-Council plenary powers of legislation. With this the scheme of transferring lands in Cantonments were put on a firm legal frame-work. The most extensively used statutory order issued for the territory followed in Bengal Presidency is referred to as order No. 179 dated the 12th September 1836 of the Governor General-in-Council [GGO 179 of 12.09.1836 ] for Old Grant bunglows in Cantonments. Similar orders were issued in other Presidencies. Under all these orders, land remained  under the ownership of the Government and it was resumable by paying the occupants compensation for the super structure. Thus, the General orders became law in force and remained so through the continuation of provisions in the successive Government of India Acts (of 1858, 1919,1935), Indian Independence Act, 1947 and the Constitution of India.

        After the British Empire in India was established and consolidated in the latter half of the 19th century, laws recognizing, prescribing, regulating and administering rights in lands and obligations arising therefrom were enacted in the Presidencies. These were the Bombay Land Revenue Code 1879, the Punjab Land Revenue Act 1887, the Madras Land Revenue Code, the Bengal Land Revenue Code, the United Provinces Land Revenue Code 1902, the Central Provinces and Berar Land Revenue Code etc.

            Cantonments Act was brought into force in 1889. Thereafter, a subordinate legislation known as the Cantonment Code 1899, presented the rules on maintenance of the records of rights of the lands in Cantonments, and also laid down the rules for leasing out lands. After introduction of this Code, no grants were given in the Cantonments. The grants given till 1899 came to be referred to as “Old Grants”.    

            Many Cantonments were established after the first one, in 1765, at Barrackpore. As military requirements changed, and new Cantonments were established, some of the old Cantonments ceased to have relevance. These were abandoned.

            All the work regarding acquisition, custody, control, and relinquishment of military lands was being dealt  by the local Army formations, which were also on the move, through the Command HQrs and the Army HQrs, with the Government. The Officers who happened to discharge these responsibilities, possibly, did not have adequate expertise or training in intricacies of land tenures and administration and maintenance of records. There was information gap and some documents could not be accessed.

        In the beginning of the 1920’s, the Government decided that a static and civilian organization should take over this responsibility which should be directly under the Ministry of Defence. When the Cantonments Act 1924 was enacted in replacement of the earlier legislations and Codes, a “Military Estates Officer” having territorial jurisdiction over a large area with several Army units therein was positioned to take over all the field functions on land administration. He was made independent of the Army. However, he was co-located with Army establishment so that he could advise them. He reported to the Ministry of Defence through the Deputy Inspecting Officer (later designated as Deputy Director Military Lands and Cantonments), co-located with the Command HQrs, but administratively not under the Army.  

                 The land administration in the Cantonments was to be carried on under the Cantonments Land Act 1924, later replaced by the Cantonments Land Administration Rules (CLAR) 1937. The rights shown in the General Lands Register (GLR) prepared according to these rules for every piece of land (estate) by the Military Estates Officer, was  the correct record of rights in the land.  Material changes to the rights could be authorized only by the Government.

            There were substantial military lands outside the Cantonments as camping grounds, abandoned Cantonments, ranges and much later abandoned airfields of the Second World War days. Dependable records of rights in these lands had to be maintained and arrangement for their management had to be made. These were laid down by apportioning duties between the Military Estates Officers and the user organizations. These were to be carried out under the Acquisition, Custody and Relinquishment of Military Lands Rules 1927, later substituted by the ACR(ML) Rules 1944, with the Military Estates Officer maintaining a Military Lands Register, (MLR) similar to General Lands Register of Cantonments.

               With the establishment of the federal system of governance through the Government of India Act, 1935, the real estates of the Government of India were apportioned between the Central Government and the Provincial Governments.

              Following independence of India and with the integration of the Princely States with the Union of India and absorption of the Ex-state forces in the Indian Army, the assets that were with the Ex-state forces and the lands that had been in use for defence purposes accrued to the Union of India (Ministry of Defence) through constitutional provisions. These were brought on record and consolidated by Military Estates Officers.

                The Chinese Aggression of 1962 and the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 warranted large scale expansion of the Armed Forces. New infrastructures had to be created, requiring large scale acquisition of lands for Army/Navy/Air Force/Ordnance factories/ Defence Research and Development Organization etc. The responsibility for this was entrusted to the Military Estates Officers. The Military Estates Officers were empowered to deal with all compensation claims, disputes and court cases pertaining to all lands of the Ministry of Defence. Prevention, detection and removal of encroachments on the defence lands was also added as a responsibility of the organization entrusted with custody.

           As on 30.06.2011, the total defence land holdings measure approximately 17.53  lakh acres. This does not include the lands with the PSUs under the Ministry of Defence [e.g, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Bharat Electronics Ltd, Bharat Dynamic Ltd, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd. Garden Reach Workshops Kolkata, Mazgaon Docks Mumbai ,etc.] and the Border Roads Organization.

  Part –II

Cantonment Boards

    The hot and humid climate of India was harsh on the Englishmen. A large percentage of the Company’s employees were usually victims of malaria, smallpox, gastro-intestinal, venereal and other diseases, affecting the availability and efficiency of the men in uniform. This necessitated frequent and high turn around of men between England and India, which also involved long voyages. Hence, Cantonments were established as separate administrative units with imposition of stricter laws. Sanitation, hygiene and security were provided by the army themselves under the rules and orders promulgated by the Commanding Officers.  This improved the discipline and morale of the Army. The troops enjoyed better health. Thus, Cantonments become the compulsory habitats of the soldiers of the Company and representatives of British administrative set-up.

             Initially, no private interests were allowed in the Cantonments. But subsequently, to reduce the Company’s capital expenditure on infrastructure, permission to build houses / bungalows / shops was given on lands provided on grants. More and more private bungalows and shelters for the service-providers in the bazars were permitted. Thus, a civilian group of people came to live in the Cantonments by the middle of the 19th century. The Regulations were made for proper lay-out of streets, soldier lines, bungalows, public buildings, shopping areas etc. Cantonments were  considered more prestigious to live in. The Regulations were incorporated in the Army Regulations for Bombay, Madras and Calcutta based armies.

              Mr. Bartle Frere, as Resident of the Company at Satara, during his tenure there(1835-50) introduced municipal administration. He constituted Committees that collected funds and kept the town clean. He, later, became Governor of Bombay (1862-1867). In 1863 the Royal Army Sanitary Commission expressed their concern over the filthy conditions of the towns in India. As a result, a series of legislations were brought into force to provide municipal administration in various parts of the country. It was provided in 1864-1868 in Bengal, in 1865 in Madras and in 1867 in Punjab. In this process the Cantonments Act 1864 was introduced in Bengal Presidency, the Madras Cantonments Act-I of 1866, and the Bombay Cantonments Act 1867. These superceded the regulations in force till then. There was no power of taxation and no non-official civilian participation. In 1870 Lord Mayo, the Governor General wanted Indians to be associated in municipal governance. His successor Lord Ripon, through his resolution of 1882 introduced the concept of local self-governance.

            Cantonments Act XIII of 1889 provided for the establishment of a Cantonment Authority to deal with various municipal functions in the Cantonments. It extended to the whole of British India. The Cantonment  Authority consisted entirely of official members, viz Officer Commanding the Station, all Commanding Officers in the Cantonment, Cantonment Magistrate, Sanitary Officer, Executive Engineer and the District Superintendent of Police. The Officer Commanding the Station was the ex-officio President.

              In the wake of the Government of India Act 1919, the successive Cantonments Acts and Codes were repealed and the Cantonments Act 1924 was introduced. This provided for elected civilian representation, levy of taxes, and regulation of building and trading activities. Parity was introduced in the civilian membership with official membership. Considering the fact that Cantonments are predominantly occupied by the army, this was very reasonable. It provided for all measures as in pure municipal legislation. The Cantonments were classified into there categories depending on the size of the civilian population therein. Depending on this the Cantonment Boards were authorized 3 to 15 members. The taxes to be levied were comparable to those in the adjacent municipality. Troops were exempted from taxes.

            The Boards could maintain their own funds and appoint their own staff. The Officer Commanding the Station became the ex-officio President. A civilian officer belonging to the newly created Executive Officers Cadre, appointed by the Central Government was made Secretary to the Cantonment Board and its Executive Officer. The Board functioned under the supervision and control of the General Officer Commanding-in- Chief the Command, who had a civilian advisor Deputy Inspecting Officer independent of the Army to advise him. The General Officer Commanding-In-Chief was directly accountable to the Central Government. This scheme of administration continued even after the enactment of the Government of India Act 1935 and the Constitution of India in 1950. These made local self government in Cantonments a Central subject for purposes of legislation and control.

          The Cantonments Act 2006 repealed and replaced the Cantonments Act 1924. It introduced greater democratization process by actually introducing parity of civil members with military members. In conformity with the 74th Amendment to the Constitution, reservation to the extent of 1/3rd of the seats  for women was introduced . The new Act categorised the Cantonments into four categories on the basis of the population. All Cantonments with population over 50,000 are in Category-I .Those with less than 2,500 are in Category-IV. A Category-I Cantonment has 16 members eight of whom are elected by the local residents. The remaining eight are  ex-officio/nominated members. The Officer Commanding the Station is the President of the Board. The Chief Executive Officer of the Cantonment, an officer of  IDES, is the Member Secretary of the Board.

           The Member of Parliament and the Member of Legislative Assembly, representing the constituency which comprises wholly or partly the Cantonment area, are special invitees for the meetings of the Board without a right to vote.

           Administrative control over the Cantonment Boards is exercised by the Central Government  (Ministry of Defence/DGDE) through the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, the Command and the Principal Director Defence Estates.

          There are 62 notified Cantonments. In 1962, Ajmer was the last to be notified as a Cantonment.  Property tax is a major source of revenue. As Government property is exempted from tax, in lieu thereof the Central  / State Governments pay Service Charges to the Cantonment Boards. Grant-in-aid is also provided by Central Government to deficit Boards.

           All the  Executive Officers of the Cantonments were  appointed under the Cantonments Act, 1924. They were borne on a cadre governed under the Executive Officers Service Rules, 1925, made under the Cantonments Act, 1924, and appointed by the Central Government. The Military Estates Officers appointed by the Central Government were few in number and were not in any particular Cadre. After amendment of the Cantonments Act in 1937, the Executive Officers Service Rules 1925 were replaced by the Cantonment Executive Officers Service Rules, 1937.

           In 1948, a new Cadre named “The Military Lands and Cantonments Service” was instituted absorbing all the Military Estates Officers, the Executive Officers of the Cantonments and the Officers at the Command Headquarters and the Directorate in the Ministry of Defence. The appointments to this Cadre were made through the Civil Services Examination annually conducted by the UPSC. When some amendments were made to the Cantonments Act 1924, in 1983, the Military Estates Officer was re-designated as Defence Estates Officer. The Indian Defence Estates Services (Group 'A') Rules, 1985 replaced the Military Lands and Cantonment Service Rules 1951.

         The staff of the Cantonment Boards, are recruited by the Cantonment Boards and paid from their funds. All the activities of the Organization are monitored, and supervised from the Directorate General, Defence Estates, Ministry of Defence.