Army given time to respond in Himachal claim over Annadale Ground case

Shimla: With Annadale ground having become a bone of contention, the army let a revenue court here know on Tuesday that as it was a sensitive and a issue of strategic importance, permission for replying to case filed by the district administration needed approvals by defense authorities at various levels for which more time was needed.

Divisional commissioner court presided over by Ajai Bhandari after considering the plea of the army, which is in possession of Annadale, granted more time and listed the case for June 28.

Annadale: Photo by Geetali Tare

Bringing up the dispute before the revenue court, about six months ago, deputy commissioner Shimla has sought possession of the ground from Indian Army saying that the lease agreement for Annadale ground had expired in 1982 and the land now needed to be reverted back to the state government.

On the other hand the army has laid claim that the ground was needed by the forces for strategic reasons as well as a launch pad for effective disaster management purposes.

Even though papers show private and government ownership of the land that makes up the ground, it has been in possession with the army while the papers record a lease that expired in 1982 in the name of Gymkhana Club.

Controversy over the ground has also taken political overtones, with a section led by parliamentarian Anurag Thakur, who is also president HP Cricket Association, laying claim to the ground for setting up multi-sporting stadia for meeting the needs of Shimla citizens.

A signature campaign for involving the public to get the ground vacated from the Army collected about 1 lakhs signatures and mounted public opinion pressure on the defense authorities.

However, a counter campaign by Communist Party of India (Marxists) alleged that the HP Cricket Association campaign was playing into the hand of land mafia.

Joining issue with CPI(M), the Congress also advocated that no stadium should be constructed on the green dale.

With a controversial army memo saying that the effort to take possession of Annadale having the backing of land mafia finding its way into the media, the Annadale possession controversy was also raised before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and defense minister AK Antony by chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal.

The historic ground is the largest piece of flat land available in and around Shimla and was used by British rulers for carrying out drills, holding picnics, horse racing and was the place where the Durand Soccer Cup was started.

Besides using it occasion drill purposes, the army has laid out a golf course on the ground and has restricted civilian access to the ground that has sparked the district administration to take legal recourse for taking re-possession of the ground.

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