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SC notice to Centre over misuse of defence land


New Delhi, March 24 :

The Supreme Court Monday issued notice to the Centre on a plea seeking a court-monitored probe by the CBI on the alleged encroachment of defence land and its commercial exploitation without any revenue gain to the exchequer.

Notice was also issued to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Directorate General of Defence Estates (DGDE).Supreme Court

A bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjan Gogoi issued notice on a plea by NGOs Common Cause and the Centre for Public Interest Litigation seeking investigation into the alleged encroachment of two lakh acres of defence land for private interest and commercial exploitation.

Prashant Bhushan, counsel for the NGOs, said that not only should the encroached land be recovered but it should also be determined as to how the land was allowed to be encroached under the very nose of defence authorities.

Seeking restoration of the land, Bhushan sought formulation of a policy to manage the use of defence land.

He also sought the setting up of an expert committee to recommend comprehensive systemic reforms in the management of defence land and buildings.

He said the defence ministry was the biggest landholder in the country with a holding of 17.31 lakh acres, out of which approximately 1.57 lakh acres are situated within the 62 notified cantonments and about 15.96 lakh acres are outside these cantonments.

Pointing to prime location of defence land both inside and outside the cantonments, Bhushan said the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has through a series of reports pointed to the glaring instances of irregularities and illegalities in the management of defence land, resulting in huge losses to the public exchequer.

The NGO said the defence land should be recovered and used in public interest.

It said the issue of misuse and encroachment of defence land was highlighted by the CAG in its 35th performance audit report of 2010-11 covering the period from 2004-05 to 2007-08.

The report said that by applying the defence ministry’s norms of 1991 of the requirement of land to 39 existing army stations, the audit found excess land holding measuring 81,814.82 acres.

The plea also pointed to infamous land scams including Sukna land scam, Adarsh Society land scam, Jammu and Kashmir land scam, Jodhpur land scam, Lohegaon, Pune land scam and Kandivli, Mumbai land scam.

“In most defence land scams unearthed over the past few years, defence estate officials have been found to be hand-in-glove with army officials and private developers,” the plea said.

Pointing to the commercial exploitation of defence land, the plea said the CAG audit indicated that the practice of allowing shopping complexes on defence land and crediting the revenue to regimental funds continues unabated.

It also pointed to the commercial use of the army’s golf courses.