'Defence estates critical assets'
New Delhi: Asserting that urbanisation is spreading at a "very fast" rate in cities, Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman Saturday said defence estates are critical assets which need to be "more cautiously protected" against any kind of encroachment.
In her address at the Raksha Mantri Awards for Excellence 2018 hosted by the Directorate General of Defence Estate (DGDE) here, she also pitched for "greater coordination" between cantonment and municipal authorities to ensure no part of defence lands are lost to encroachments.
The categories in which these awards have been given are very critical to transform India into a civic-conscious, welfare-conscious, and public-conscious country, the defence minister said.
"Defence estates role is very important, and as important as the guarding of the borders of this sovereign country. And, I say with so much of seriousness, several lakhs of acreage fall under your (DGDE) control. In particular areas of cantonments, over 20 lakh citizens depend on it," she said.
The minister said the areas managed by the DGDE may be located in far, interior areas of the country, but it is very important to spread defence assets, which are "critical for emergency (situation), critical for protection of the country, and critical to house our soldiers".
Sitharaman said earlier this year elected representatives from various cantonment boards had met her and discussed the issue of roads and access to certain areas.
"In towns and cities where urbanisation is creeping in at a very fast (rate), pressure is coming from places closer to where defence estates are located...We probably lose a lot more space for want of greater coordination between local authorities and the DGDA," she said.
The Union minister said after any kind of encroachment, it becomes everybody's tiring business as to how to remove it.
"So, I strongly appeal to all, to have greater coordination with municipal and cantonment authorities, to ensure we do not lose, inch by inch, what is otherwise defence estate," Sitharaman said.
Among the various categories of awards which were handed out by the Union minister at a ceremony, the Delhi Cantonment Board won it in the Swachh cantonment segment.
The Union minister said encroachment of land cannot be "treated as a justification in retrospect" to give it away, and pitched for "greater coordination, pro-active coordination, and dynamic co-ordination", among the Joint Secretary (Works), the DGDE and local authorities.
So, a greater, dynamic management of defence estates is needed "or else creeping urbanisation, I am afraid is getting too close for comfort". "Therefore, one argument upfront I would put is that somewhere at a distant place an asset may be left unattended, but ever citizen of this country should honour the property," she said.
Sometimes, the vastness of the property is such across the country that "we lose almost day-to-day control on property, we have to safeguard, and keep the property free from encroachment," Sitharaman added. On the awards, she said this year's edition was a "bit more special" because external agencies were also included in the assessment process.
Other categories included, improvement in cantonment general hospitals, improvement in functioning of cantonment schools, maintaining centres for differently-abled children, innovation in public service and digital accomplishments.
"But today, I am putting a greater accent on protection of our assets to not only to ensure digitisation happens, but also surveyed land are protected with greater attention. And non-surveyed or yet to be surveyed lands, be surveyed with a greater sense of urgency to make sure defence estates management does its job in letter and spirit," the minister said.