Farmers in Bihar and Jharkhand are allegedly growing crops on encroached military land where private houses have come up as well, a top official with the Indian Defence Estate Services (IDES) said on Wednesday.
The revelation was a grim reminder of acres and acres of army property being usurped by civilians across the country.
The official posted at Jharkhand and Bihar Sub Area Station of IEDS said farmers and private players have encroached upon more than 580 acres of army land in the two states. Even the state government has got hold of some in Bihar, where the total encroached area stood at 502.99 acres, according to a survey of defence land which was nearing completion.
“Fighting enemies at the border and recovering defence land within the country are two different things. Here, we are dealing with our own people and need to be cautious,” an IDES official said, underscoring the harsh reality that the armed forces were finding it tough to protect their own land.
The defence establishment has 17.3 lakh acres, the second highest owned by any ministry in the country after the railways.
Data reveal that 12,364 acres were under encroachment in 2013 but by the end of 2014, the defence ministry managed to recover about 900 acres.
An official said several litigations were pending in courts for many years and the defence estate office was dealing with around nine cases of encroachment in Bihar alone.
“No encroachment was ever removed without involving the court, which is a time-consuming exercise,” he said.
Further, figures point to more than 46,000 illegal buildings on defence land across the country. Uttar Pradesh stood first on the encroachment list with 20,483 illegal structures, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
What the statistics didn’t reveal were the numerous scandals involving military land, such as the scam where army officers were indicted for their roles in the illegal transfer of 71 acres of land adjacent to the Sukna military station near Siliguri in West Bengal to a private realtor for building an educational institution in 2008.
A shopping mall on cantonment land in Pune and a housing complex at an army shooting range in Karnataka’s Belgaum were also cited as glaring examples of blatant land grab.