The Ministry of Defence has issued a letter to the Chief Executive Officers of all 62 Cantonments in the country, seeking detailed information on road closures that restricted civilian movement in their respective jurisdictions.
â€śOn perusal of the list given by each Cantonment for the roads which have been closed by LMA without following due procedure (completely or partially) it needs to be clarified whether these roads were being used by civilian public or not before closure and whether vehicular traffic was allowed or not,â€ť the letter by Deputy Director General (Canntts), Shalini Pandey, reads.
The letter dated May 7, states that the response must be submitted before May 10.
The letter has come as a boost to citizens in Secunderabadâ€™s Cantonment area, who have been protesting against the closure of roads for several years now.
In the last week of April, citizens in the cityâ€™s Yapral area took to the streets, irked with the Local Military Authority's (LMA) decision to shut off roads to civilians, turning an 800-metre ride into an 8-km detour.
The locals alleged that the road was shut off so the LMA officials could enjoy playing golf and watch movies at the RSI Club situated in the area.
Earlier this week, several MPs and Vice Presidents of Cantonment Boards across the country spoke of "tragedies" that civilians living around military stations have to go through and urged the government to amend an archaic British era law relating to the administration of such area.
Though media was barred from covering the event attended by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and senior officers of the ministry, participants who spoke at the event, were of the view that civilians were being subjected to hardships by military men in cantonment areas.
They also complained that elected representatives had no say in running the administration of Cantonment Boards, headed by the military officer commanding the station.
Malla Reddy, the MP from Malkajgiri in Telangana, folded his hands and pleaded before the army not to treat people in Secunderabad Cantonment Board, which has the highest number of civilian population, "like Pakistanis".
"Why is there unnecessary fencing and diversion of the roads all the time?" he asked.
Responding to the latest development, S Chandrasekhar from Open Secunderabad Cantonment All Roads (OSCAR) thanked Nirmala Sitharaman for her patient hearing on May 4, and â€śunderstanding the veracity of the mismanagement by LMA, who have closed roads illegally in the name of security concern.â€ť
â€śThough Cantonments have the power to close roads, it canâ€™t be done without following the due processes of law and Section 258 of the Cantonments Act, 2006, even if there is a real security concern. Now the Directorate General, Defence Estates (DGDE) has directed the cantonments to comply with total factual reports of the roads closed under various categories,â€ť he said.
In a statement, the Federation of North Eastern Colonies of Secunderabad said, â€śAs part of a still ongoing campaign, over 1,500 affected members of the public have so far sent signed representations to MoD, drawing attention to the daily problems faced by them because of road closure.â€ť
â€śFNECS is grateful to the Minister for heeding the civilians' voices of protest and calling the meeting. FNECS also hails the unprecedented involvement of affected citizens who have used their democratic right to draw attention to the illegalities behind the road closure, and to the daily travails brought upon them by it,â€ť it added.
The federation called upon the CEO of the Secunderabad Cantonment Board (SCB) to give a â€ścorrect and factual picture of the status of the roads.â€ť
â€śThis is especially relevant because in the recent past there has been a lot of incorrect and incomplete information put out by various authorities in this matter. FNECS requests MoD to do the right thing and get the roads reopened immediately,â€ť the statement added.