Dhumal raises Annadale ground row; Army beats hasty retreat (Lead)

April 16th, 2012 - 10:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi/Shimla, April 16 (IANS) The downhill slide in the army-civilian ties in Himachal Pradesh over ownership of the Annadale ground in Shimla reverberated in Delhi Monday with Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal raising it at the internal security meet attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

This forced the Indian Army that possesses the land to beat a hasty retreat and order a probe into a reportedly ‘derogatory’ release from its Chandimandir-based Western Command that called the efforts by the state government to get the land allegedly for a sports complex as “gimmicks” and ignoring national security.

The 121-bigha green patch (one bigha is 0.4 hectare), just three km from Shimla’s Ridge, has been a flashpoint of confrontation between the state and the army as the latter does not allow the ground for civilian use.

On Sunday, Dhumal threatened to file a defamation suit if the army did not apologise for alleging that the state government wanted to grab the Annandale ground.

Speaking at the chief ministers’ meet on internal security in the national capital, Dhumal said the ground “is in the illegal possession of the defence authorities as its lease had expired many years back”.

“He (Dhumal) also took up the issue of the army authorities raising the issue in media by not only distorting the facts but also making false and baseless allegations against the state government,” a statement issued in New Delhi said.

Dhumal demanded an enquiry into the whole matter and asked for “suitable action against all those responsible in this matter”.

Soon after, the army headquarters in Delhi ordered a probe into the press release its Chandimandir-based Western Command issued a couple of days ago, which was referred to by Dhumal in his speech at the chief ministers’ meet.

“With regards to Annadale land issues, the army has instituted an inquiry into the press release issued by Western Command headquarters, which was derogatory against the state government and chief minister of Himachal Pradesh,” army spokesperson Col. Jagdeep Dahiya said in a statement in Delhi.

The release, issued by the Western Command public relations officer S. Pavitar Singh on Saturday, had claimed that strategic significance of Annadale ground for Indian Army from national security perspective “can never be ignored in favour of any game and gimmicks being played at the cost of larger national interest, national security, army training and disaster management purposes, which are not negotiable at any cost”.

The release had also claimed that for quite some time now, “ignoring the larger national interest and at the cost of national security and disaster management”, reports have appeared in media on the issue of construction of a cricket stadium at Annandale — an open and large ground under the management of Army since 1941.

Dhumal has already refuted allegations that the state government wanted to take the possession of the ground as his son Anurag Thakur - a BJP MP and a cricket administrator - wanted to build a cricket stadium there.

In Shimla, Brig A.K. Sharma of the army’s Western Command told reporters that the ground which is in its possession since World War II is strategically and logistically important for the army to carry out exercises and operations in forward areas.

“The Annandale ground is logistically, operationally and from the disaster point of view very critical,” Sharma told reporters.

He said the army has “no issue with the state government”.

Justifying keeping the ground in the army’s possession, Sharma said it was also needed for carrying out relief operations in case of natural disasters in forward areas in the region.

“Considering the fact that this area falls under the high seismic zone and it has the history of flashfloods, yes, the army needs its possession.”

Sharma said the armed forces were regularly conducting exercises, both operational and disaster management, in addition to routine training.

“It’s a mother helipad (important point for landing and operations of helicopters) from where both relief and rescue operations are carried out quickly and smoothly,” Sharma added.

He was in Shimla to oversee disaster management exercises of the army.

Sharma also denied that the army had issued any statement alleging that the state government wanted to grab the land.

“We have never issued any such statement,” Sharma said, adding that “the army has nothing to say about the issues raised by the media (over the tussle between the government and the army over the ownership of the ground)”.

He refuted reports of differences between the army and the state. “Both have good relations.”

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