Defence ministry to relax century-old land laws


New Delhi : Conceding to public demand, India’s defence ministry has begun amending century-old laws of the British era to accommodate the needs of present times when civilian populations around military establishments have grown exponentially.

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This was disclosed to parliamentarians by Defence Minister A.K. Antony at a meeting of the consultative committee relating to his ministry here Monday.

In particular, the defence ministry will amend the Works of Defence Act enacted in 1903 which was again revised in 2007 to restrict civilian constructions 100 to 900 metres around defence establishments, depending on the nature of the installation.

“The defence ministry has started the process of bringing about amendments to the Works of Defence Act, 1903 to accommodate the needs of the changing times,” Antony was quoted as informing the consultative committee.

Antony also told the members that all stakeholders will be consulted and the process will be completed at the earliest.

The 109-year-old law provides for imposing restrictions on use of land in the vicinity of defence works so that such land may be kept free from buildings and other obstructions. The law comes into effect at military bases, ammunition depots and such installations where movement of troops is heavy and risk of explosions are high.

MPs, cutting across party lines, strongly put across the view that the 1903 law is proving to be “a painful one” for those civilians living close to defence depots because of its stringent and restrictive provisions.

Agreeing with the concerns of the MPs, Antony said the government is taking a number of measures to address the issues involving the law.

“The problem is historical in nature,” he said.

Defence establishments, especially the ammunition depots, were set up over a century ago in deep jungles or vacant lands far away from human habitations.

However, over the years, human activity and habitation have expanded. In certain areas, these have come very close to the ammunition depots.

Antony said the government has decided that all depots will be modernised and brought on par with the best practices being followed in some of the advanced countries of the world.

Among the MPs who attended the meeting included Gajanan Dharmshi Babar, S.S. Ramasubbu, Ram Chandra Khuntia, H.K. Dua, Ishwarlal Jain, Piyush Goyal, Manish Tewari, Harsh Vardhan, Kailkesh N. Singh Deo, Lalit Mohan Suklabaidya, Shivanand Tiwari and Janardhan Waghmare.

Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma, Defence Production Secretary Shekhar Agarwal and other officials of the ministry too were present.