Millennium Post

Setting precedent

Historical circumstances behind the formation of Secunderabad cantonment assert absolute and inviolable rights of the Telangana government over its defence lands

Clarifying a point raised by Member of Legislative Council from All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, Syed Amin Jafri during the motion of thanks to Governor's address on March 7, 2020, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao made a valid mention of Bison Polo Ground ascertaining that it belongs to the Telangana State. According to him, the third Nizam in response to a request made by Britain allotted Bison Polo Ground for the British Army to stay. It was not officially transferred at all and there was no transfer document. After the police action, the Indian Army took control of it and even now it has no record confirming ownership. Rao said he brought this information to the notice of Prime Minister, Home Minister as well as the Defense Minister. Rao also asserted that there exists communication from the Centre when Late Arun Jaitley was the Defense Minister, accepting in principle that the land belongs to Telangana State.

Against this backdrop, interesting information recorded on October 10, 1926, by Sir William Barton, a former Resident in Hyderabad, which is available in India Office Library, London is worth mentioning. It is evident from the report that, Government of India did not acquire any land from state Government or erstwhile Hyderabad Nizam Government for establishing Secunderabad cantonment. The inference could be that the defence establishment at Secunderabad is in the occupation of state and private lands without valid ownership right.

There is no land in Secunderabad which belongs to the Government of India. The land occupied by the military was handed over only for military purposes and it reverts back to the Nizam's Government when no longer required.

After the formation of Secunderabad, Nizam allotted the land north of Hussein Sagar to set up the British cantonment. It was founded as a British cantonment after the Nizam Asaf Jah II was defeated at the hands of the British East India Company and was forced to sign the Treaty of Subsidiary Alliance in the year 1798. Residency House, now known as the Rashtrapathi Nilayam, the official retreat of the President of India was constructed in 1860. Being one of the largest cantonments in India, Secunderabad has a large presence of army and air force personnel. The area around Secunderabad changed hands between various rulers and by the 18th century, the area was part of Nizam's Hyderabad.

Post-Independence, the Secunderabad Cantonment Board came under the jurisdiction of the Indian Armed forces. Today large parts of Secunderabad and some parts of Hyderabad, where defence installations are located come under the purview of Secunderabad Cantonment Board (SCB). The infrastructure management and civic administration in the cantonment are handled by the SCB, which comes under the purview of the Union Defence Ministry.

Consequent to the treaty of 1768, the British Government provided the Nizam with two battalions. Later a Resident was appointed at Hyderabad and year after year, the battalions were increased and by 1806, the British Government resolved to station its troops in Hyderabad. During 1903, the Bollaram cantonment was abolished and merged with the cantonment of Secunderabad and the land held by it was occupied by the military authorities free of cost.

There was no transfer of ownership of the lands to the Government of India (British Government) by the Nizam Government. There was at no point of time, any definite assignment of the land and land was taken up as required by the military authorities.

The lands were temporarily requisitioned by the British Army from the Nizam Government to meet the exigencies of Second World War and for six months thereafter. A resolution of Secunderabad Cantonment Board meeting held on June 21, 1968, to which all the Defence Authorities and officers of the Secunderabad Sub-Area were signatories, ascertain that the Defence Authorities never owned any land in Secunderabad cantonment and that whatever land was requisitioned temporarily for military purposes was restored to Nizam's Government on December 1, 1945, as it was no longer required for military purposes. The resolution further noted that the cantonment of Secunderabad, in the erstwhile domain of the Nizam, cannot be equated with the rest of the cantonments as the laws applicable in the Secunderabad cantonment were the laws prevailing in the Jagirs and government of Nizam and not the British Indian laws.

The Supreme Court, while referring to the nature of sovereign function exercised by the Nizam of Hyderabad, observed that "prior to integration of Hyderabad State with the Indian Union and the coming into force of the Indian Constitution, the Nizam of Hyderabad enjoyed uncontrolled sovereign powers. He was the supreme legislature, the supreme judiciary and the supreme head of the executive and there were no constitutional limitations upon his authority to act in any of these capacities".

After the integration of Hyderabad in the Indian Union, the land said to have been given for military purposes by the Nizam automatically became state government land. Any part of the land in the cantonment area either in Secunderabad or in Hyderabad shall belong to Telangana Government and it has an absolute right to make use of it as it deems fit. The military authorities or for that matter, the Defence Ministry should not have any objection for this. The corollary is that at any point of time, the Telangana Government is empowered to take possession of any of the so-called defence lands in the cantonment.

The writer is the former Lead Partner and Consultant for EMRI-108 Services. Views expressed are strictly personal

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