Stung by a barrage of scams relating to land owned or leased by the defence services, the government has decided to tweak its policy of issuing no objection certificates (NoCs) for transfer of such lands.
Defence minister AK Antony said, on Thursday, the policy was being reworked to plug loopholes and eliminate the possibility of any hanky panky in the issuance of NoCs.
"We have taken a decision to computerise entire land records with the defence estates. We are also going to change the policy of granting NOCs,” the defence minister said.
He said the ministry would neither cover up any scam nor shield the guilty.
The total landholding of the armed forces is pegged at about 14 lakh acres outside cantonments and another two lakh acres across 62 cantonments, making it one of the largest landholders in the country.
The minister’s comments come at a time when questions are being raised on the role of former army chief General Deepak Kapoor in controversial land deals such as the ones in Sukhna, Adarsh society and in Mumbai’s Kandivali area.
In the Sukhna land deal, Lieutenant-General Avadhesh Prakash, a close aide of Gen Kapoor, was accused of using his position of authority to pressure the 33 Corps based in north Bengal and its chief, Lt-Gen PK Rath, to facilitate the transfer of land near the military station to a private developer.
The army was again in the dock when it was found that senior army officials and relatives of politicians owned flats in a multi-storey building, Adarsh society in south Mumbai, that was constructed on land meant for Kargil war widows.
The plot in Kandivali, leased out to the army by the Maharashtra government, had been under the occupation of the Central Ordnance Depot since 1942. The government sold off the land to Neo-Pharma Pvt Ltd in June 2007, a part of the Kalpataru Builders, without obtaining the army's consent.
The role of minister of state for defence production, Rao Inderjit Singh, in the deal is also under scanner. Singh's private secretary Abhilaksh Likhi wrote to the army chief's secretariat in November 2007 on the issue, requesting that it be put up before Gen Kapoor for appropriate action. The army vacated the land soon thereafter.
Singh said, "I wasn't in charge of the defence estates department. When a note is sent, it's just to examine the matter and bring it on file if there's any merit. The note was sent in November 2007, while possession was given to the firm in July 2007."