Defence Minister Smt Nirmala Sitharaman has called a meeting of the MPs of all Cantonments, and Vice Presidents of all Cantonment Boards, on 30 April 2018. The agenda is to discuss various issues plaguing Administration of the 62 Cantonments in the country
Citizens of the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad, while welcoming this initiative by the Defence Minister, want the meeting to ensure the reopening of the more than 15 roads in Secunderabad Cantonment which have been closed by local military authorities.
Secunderabad Cantonment is the 2nd largest of the 62 cantonments in the country, covering an area of almost 40 sq km, from Parade Grounds in the south to Hakimpet in the north, and from Marredpally in the east to Begumpet and Bowenpally in the west. Widespread closure of roads in this area means that out of the 10-odd roads which were earlier available for crossing over from Rajiv Rahadari towards Malkajgiri, Neredmet, Sainikpuri, Yapral and Kowkoor areas, only 2 are left – All Saints Road and the Lothkunta Sainikpuri Road. This causes daily troubles for citizens, who are forced to take long, time-consuming, crowded, unsafe and expensive detours to reach their schools, colleges, medical facilities and places of work.
Particularly heartrending is the plight of schools, which have lost thousands of children because they are no longer able to commute between home and school. The student strength of Valerian Grammar High School in Yapral dropped from 2250 to less than 800 after road closure, because students from Bolaram/Alwal side needed to change 3 buses to cover a distance which was earlier less than 1 km. Principals of this school have written to the Defence Minister multiple times, and even taken up an online petition on Change.Org, which drew 1300 signatures from students and alumni in just 3 days. However their problem continues. Also troubling is the state of people requiring medical attention, who are now cut off from facilities. The only Health Centre for Yapral area is in Bolaram (across the cantonment), and pregnant women, the elderly and others requiring healthcare are cut off from it. Devotees from Yapral, Balajinagar,etc., also find it difficult to reach places of worship like Holy Trinity Church and Ayyappa Temple Lakdawala, etc. Auto drivers who used to ferry passengers from Lakdawala Bust Stop towards Yapral, Balaji Nagar etc., have lost their business.
Over the past few years it has become the practice for army authorities to periodically announce that they would be closing Gough Road – a major road in the AOC Centre area. Every time State Government pleads with the Defence Ministry to not let this happen. While citizens appreciate the state government’s taking up this road with the Defence Ministry, they also strongly question as to why the entire state government machinery, and the elected MPs, MLAs, etc., do not work to reopen the more than 15 roads which are already closed by military authorities, and stop closure of more roads, which continues unabated in the background. More than 10 of the already closed roads are in the Bolaram Golf Course area, and all these closed roads were being used by the public for over a century. For decades people were using the east west roads roads crisscrossing between Yapral side on the east and Bolaram/Alwal side on the west. A major reason for this crisscrossing requirement was that all the bazaars – such as Pioneer Bazar, Risala Bazara, Bolaram Bazar, Doveton Bazar, Lal Bazar, etc., – were on the western side, while farmers producing crops were in the eastern villages of Nagaram and Kapra. Today, almost 20 lakh people in Malkajgiri, Kapra and Alwal wards under GHMC, and 6 out of 8 Wards under Secunderabad Cantonment Board, are severely affected because of closure of the roads in Cantonment.
There is also talk of an alternate road for the AOC area. But residents question how one road can serve the purpose being served by 15 roads earlier. Also the proposed alternate road is for AOC area, and not for the Yapral/Bolaram area.
Residents are further agitated because as per applicable Law, i.e., Cantonments Act 2006, military authorities do not have the power to close public roads in cantonments. Only a Cantonment Board has power to permanently close a road, and that too only for security reasons. In Secunderabad however all roads have been closed by military authorities. Military authorities refer to a Hyderabad High Court Order of September 2014 which allowed them to close certain roads. But citizens point out that Ministry of Defence itself issued directions in Jan 2015, 3 months after the Hyderabad HC order, to reopen all roads which had been closed by military authorities. In its letter Ministry said clearly that under the Law military authorities have no statutory powers to close roads.
The directions of the Ministry of Defence to reopen roads were followed in other cantonments and roads similar to the ones closed in Secunderabad were reopened there. But in Secunderabad, the letter carrying the Ministry orders has not even been put up before the Cantonment Board for noting, even though specific instructions to do so were given by the Defence Estates authorities to Cantonment Board. Citizens are told by elected board members of the Cantonment Board that when they try to table the Ministry Letter, the President of the Board does not allow them to do so. Citizens therefore ask why are ministry’s orders not only being ignored, but not even noted, and also why this blatant behaviour is not being taken note of by the Ministry and Defence Estates authorities.
The matter of road closure in cantonments was also noted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence. In its Action Taken on the Standing Committee’s Report of 2018, the Defence Ministry, surprisingly, states that it has been informed by Defence Estates department that the problem of road closure has been sorted out! This is a slap in the face of Secunderabad citizens, whose roads have not only been closed, but more roads keep getting closed every year. Citizens wonder who has provided this erroneous information to the Defence Estates department.
Army has been claiming security threats as a justification for closing roads. Citizens point out that Secunderabad is a peace station and there have not been any incidents here. They also say that Secunderabad is cantonment, which has mix of civil and military population. It is not a pure military station. The boundaries of the golf course area are in bad shape, and are left unguarded – this would not have been the case if there really were threats. Roads in many sensitive areas such as Golconda, DRDL area, etc., are wide open, and security is achieved there by enhancing in-premises arrangements. Citizens say that there is no security threat that justifies permanent closure of 10 km of roads, and believe that the army’s road closure is more to create an exclusive zone.
The overall picture that emerges is that daily routine of lakhs of citizens has been affected by the road closure, which seems to have been done without following the law and in an arbitrary manner, and no serious attempts have been made by the elected representatives and government to alleviate the misery of the citizens caused by road closure. Citizens hope that now that the Defence Minister has called a meeting on cantonment matters, their plight will be seen, and action will be taken to reopen the roads.