Antony takes steps to curb defence land scandals
New Delhi: Hit by a series of defence land scams, the government yesterday said it would tighten the screws on No-Objection Certificates (NOCs) issued by local military authorities for transferring its real estate, apart from streamlining the records of 1.7 million acres of defence land through computerisation.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony told reporters here that the decision came after the Adarsh Housing Society scam broke out last year, after which he held extensive consultations with ministry officials, armed forces and defence estates wing.
NOC is mandatory for transfer of any defence property or state government land adjacent to it to a private party.
"We have taken a decision to computerise the entire defence land records and curb releasing of NOCs... Nobody at the lower level military authority can play with NOC. We are streamlining the system and putting in place strong measures so that nobody can misuse it," Antony said replying to queries on the series of land scams and the measures taken to stop frittering away of prime defence property.
However, he said, in a large country and organisation "it is not possible to say there will be no complaints", but the question is "if we are acting" on those complaints or "sitting idle" on them.
Antony said whenever his ministry or the armed forces received complaints of land scams, a proper enquiry was held and action taken against those guilty. "There will be no cover up, no saving of guilty people," he said.
On the 31-storeyed Adarsh Housing Society that came up on army land in Mumbai's upmarket Colaba after an NOC was issued by local defence officials, the minister said he was awaiting a report from the CBI, to which the matter was handed over last year after "culpability" of some officers was found.
On the latest controversy regarding a Central Ordnance Depot land in Kandivali on the outskirts of Mumbai in which names of former minister of state for defence Rao Inderjit Singh and ex-army chief General Deepak Kapoor figure, he said the complaint had come only recently and the ministry was examining it.
Rao Inderjit Singh has already claimed he had "done nothing wrong" in the matter and that he was "unaware" of his personal secretary writing a note to the army favouring transfer of the one-acre Kandivali land to a private firm for building a residential highrise. Of the 1.7 million acres of defence land, the ministry's internal study had reportedly brought out that about 88 per cent of it had no verifiable utilisation records. However, Antony said he would not be able to provide details of land holdings and encroachments off-hand.
"In the past, there was no proper system in the defence estates department [for maintaining records and ensuring possession of its land]. Some 10 to 20 years ago, there were lots of encroachment in some of the cantonments. Successive governments have tried to tighten it [system]. We are going to streamline it and take all proper steps to protect every inch of our land," he said.
Asked if the defence ministry would revisit a Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) recommendation to disband the defence estates wing, the minister said the government was already reforming and improving the department as per the PSC suggestion.