Ambala, Sep 8 : Tens of thousands of civilians residing in the Ambala Cantonment Board area are struggling due to the century-old archaic laws that they feel are proving hindrance to building of 'Smart Cantonments' on the line of 'Smart Cities'.
Like the country's 62 Cantonment towns, civilians of the Ambala Cantonment too are facing problems of increasing pressure on civic amenities and its failure to cope up with the modern times.
The civilians, residing along the defence personnel families in this Cantonment, mainly complain about movement on restricted roads, long delay in transfer and mutation of properties -- held on old grant or lease, conversion of old grant or leasehold properties into freehold, and restriction on new constructions due to stringent bylaws.
According to them, amendments are required to the Cantonment Act, 1924, by which Cantonments are administered.
While Ambala Cantonment Board Vice-President Ajay Baweja said the Act was last amended in 2006 but the government at that time failed to give much relief to the civilians.
"The civilians are facing issues that are affecting their day-to-day existence, like lease and transfer of property rights, building bylaws and also service charges payable to the Cantonment Board," Baweja said.
According to him, all 62 Cantonment Boards have almost similar issues.
Each Cantonment Board has a provision of eight elected and seven nominated members. While the elected members choose the vice-president, the post of president is held by an Army Commander.
According to Baweja, around 400 families have been residing in the Cantonment area for decades and been involved in cultivation, raising livestock and similar professions.
"For 25-30 years, the army has not been collecting the lease money from them.
As they are facing eviction, the state government has come to their rescue. Taking the Defence Ministry into confidence, the government has agreed to buy the land for Rs 86 crore," he said.
After the transfer of land to the state government, it would be developed and basic amenities would be provided to residents, Baweja said.
The Defence Ministry has also opened several roads that were closed for civilians.
The Ambala Cantonment's functions are similar to the municipal administration.
In addition to providing basic amenities, the Cantonment Board also manages public welfare institutions and facilities for the Cantonment area residents.
The Cantonment is spread over 8,100.49 acres and as per the 2011 census, houses 55,370, including troops.
The British built Cantonments to station troops, house them and their families.
Ambala Cantonment came into existence in 1843.
According to historians, Karnal was initially selected by the British for the development of the Cantonment in 1806.
But most soldiers died from malaria and cholera. It forced the British to shift the Cantonment to Ambala.
Says K.C. Yadav, former Director of the Haryana Academy of History and Culture, says in 1806 the British had established the Cantonment in Karnal.
But given the prevalence of malaria and other such diseases in the area, in 1841 the British started shifting the Cantonment to Ambala and in 1843 the Ambala Cantonment came into existence.
The Ambala Cantonment is also known for the St Paul's Church, one of the oldest churches in the region and Holy Redeemer Church built by soldiers in 1905.
St Paul's Church was consecrated on January 4, 1857. However, it got damaged during the 1965 Indo-Pak war bombing.
Like its 61 other peers in the country, the Ambala Cantonment too has its rich and glorious past.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)