Civic issues
Thousands of residents have been affected owing to the closure of the roads.
File photo

Residents in Secunderabad's cantonment area, who have been fighting against the Army's decision to close several roads in the Telangana Sub Area, received a major boost on Friday.

According to a report in Deccan Chronicle, an RTI reply from the Defence Estate Office has revealed that six roads out of 12 that have been shut in the Golf Course area belong to the Secunderabad Cantonment Board (SCB).

This is in stark contrast to the SCB's own admission in a court of law, that all the roads being shut, were A1 defence land, under the control of the Local Military Authority.

This would ultimately mean that the LMA has no authority over those six roads, which could be reopened by the SCB.

History 

The SCB is a local municipal authority, that comes under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence, and functions as a local self-government.

After the Cantonment Act of 2006, Secunderabad was classified as a Category 1 cantonment, owing to its large civilian population.

Elections are held every five years, and half the members on the board are civilians, while the other half are military nominations.

Meanwhile, the LMA is completely under the control of the Ministry of Defence, and civilians have no say over its decisions.

In December 2015, it was alleged by local citizen activists that 10 roads that the LMA had cordoned off citing 'security', were shut for a golf course.

At the time, it was reported that these roads include Puri Singh Marg, Gen Krishna Rao Marg, Surender Marg, Cariappa Road, the road from Cantonment telephone exchange to Synergy Plaza, the road from BEPTA golf course to Lakdawala Junction, the road from BEPTA golf course to Balajinagar and the road from Navy House Circle at the junction of Puri Singh Marg and Gen Krishna Rao Marg to the Telangana Sub Area Circle near Rashtrapathi Nilayam Gate No 1.

With the move, the army had effectively shut off access to civilians from several acres of land. 

Several thousand residents were affected, including in one instance, where an 800-metre ride, turned into an 8-km ride.

Several protests were held, including signature campaigns to President Pranab Mukherjee, who stays at Rasthrapathi Nilayam during his winter sojourn, which is barely a few kilometres away from the golf course.

An organization demanding reopening of closed roads, Open Secunderabad Cantonment Roads or OSCAR, was formed, and they also moved the Hyderabad High Court.

In the incidents that followed, one of the main documents that was being talked about, was a High Court order dated September 2014, which said that the LMA was free to close the roads that came under its administration. 

With six roads now under the SCB, according to the RTI, citizen activists plan to step up their protest.

"This means that the Army has to immediately reopen the six roads that come under the SCB. It is shocking that the most disciplined Army in the world, can be so dishonest and literally indulge in fraud," says Chandrasekhar Sankaran, from OSCAR.

Chandrasekhar also argues, that this would amount to a contempt of court, and lying under oath.
 
"When we first went to the court, they came with a counter-affidavit saying that the roads belonged to the LMA. This RTI has exposed them. They have misled the court," he adds. 

Chandrasekhar goes on to add, "Since the roads belong to the SCB, all development works are done with local taxpayers' money, and it belongs to the public."

Armed with the RTI and the documents related to the 2014 court affidavit, the activists now plan to approach the SCB and the LMA.

The citizens in the area are also embroiled in another army-civilian conflict over the closure of the Gough Road near AOC centre.

For more than two years now, the Army has been trying to block access of the road to civilians, with residents hitting back with several petitions and rallies.

After several meeting between MLAs, MPs and the intervention of the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Union Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, the road stands open for civilians right now, except between 10pm and 6am.
As of now, the Army has stated that it will close the road from May 30, 2017, and has agreed to coordinate with the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) for alternate routes.