Citizens say that out of the 25 roads that were shut by the Army, only 11 have been opened while 14 are yet to be opened to the public.

Civilian-Army standoff escalates in Secunderabad as some roads still remain shut
news Conflict Friday, June 01, 2018 - 09:52

The jubilation over the roads being reopened in Secunderabad’s cantonment area was short-lived, after tensions escalated between civilians and the Local Military Authority (LMA) yet again.

On Thursday morning, the police bundled leaders of the Congress party into trucks after they staged a protest outside the office of the Secunderabad Cantonment Board (SCB). Slogans of ‘Azadi’ rang through the air, even as board members of the SCB met with Vice President J Ramakrishna.

The conflict between civilians in Secunderabad and the LMA is a longstanding one that can be traced back to several years.

Recently, citizens felt that they had won a hard-fought battle after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a directive to reopen all roads in the Cantonment. The directive came after a meeting convened by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with Members of Parliament and elected Vice Presidents of all 62 Cantonment Boards on May 4, 2018.

However, tensions between the two groups have since only escalated.

Background

The SCB is a local municipal authority that comes under the administrative control of the MoD and functions as a local self-government. After the Cantonments Act of 2006, Secunderabad was classified as a Category 1 cantonment, owing to its large civilian population.

Elections to the SCB are held every 5 years and half the members on the board are civilians, while the other half are military nominees. At present, 7 elected members are affiliated to the ruling TRS party in the state, while one member is associated with the Congress.

The SCB office

The present conflict began when the LMA began closing down key arterial roads, citing security concerns.

The closure of roads affected hundreds of residents living in areas abutting the AOC like Marredpally, Neredmet, Safilguda, Sainikpuri, Ammuguda and Yapral, among several others.

After close to 5 years of rising tensions, in the last week of April this year, locals in the city’s Yapral area took to the streets, irked with the LMA’s 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.

Read: 8 km detour for 800 metre ride: Hyd citizens hope MoD will stop Army blocking roads

Another point of contention is the LMA’s proposal to close Gough Road.

File photo

While LMA officials had shut the road from 10 pm to 7 am over the last 3 years, it was recently reopened after the MoD directive. However, there are still allegations that the Army personnel stationed at the entrance of the road are stopping those on morning walks and jogs.

What citizens say

The citizens say that there is no clarity on the LMA’s stand and point to a communication gap.

“For example, if there is a marathon in Hyderabad, the traffic police inform citizens in advance as much as they can, through all media, so we are prepared for it. However, there is a communication gap in case of the LMA,” says CS Chandrasekhar, Secretary, Federation of North Eastern Colonies of Secunderabad (FNECS).

Chandrasekhar also says that this was ‘deliberate’ on the part of the LMA.

“The MoD has given a blanket order to open all roads that were illegally closed in violation of Cantonment guidelines. But the LMA is still stopping pedestrians and creating confusion. If needed, they can ask time to ascertain traffic density and take steps to ensure that security is not compromised. But they can’t keep misleading the public,” he added.

Speaking to TNM, Telangana Congress spokesperson Krishank Mane agrees that tensions have escalated between the civilians and MLAs since the gates were reopened.

“They are bringing up sensitive issues, citing security of personnel and their families living in the cantonment. I completely agree with the premise but Secunderabad cantonment is very different from the other ones across the country,” he said.

Krishank being detained by the police

Arguing that unlike cantonments in areas like Pathankot, which are at the border, Krishank points out that the Secunderabad cantonment is situated in a densely populated area with close to 10 lakh civilians living in and around it. 

“Different gates have different demands locally. The cantonment is not situated at a border area, and the civilians and LMA must live in peace with each other,” he says. 

Krishank recently led a protest at the Golden Palm FAFA Road, where students complained that they had to take a long detour to reach their school.

“As far as this gate is concerned, we are demanding that the LMA should at least allow school students to pass through in the morning and evenings,” he said.

The Congress leader also lashed out at the TRS and the BJP for their “hasty celebrations without even fighting for the issue”.

Counter campaign

Meanwhile, a counter campaign has been started online by families of armed forces personnel living in various cantonments in India.

An online petition on Change.org started by Preeti Bardia has already amassed close to 15,000 signatures.

Stating that the cantonments were the homes of the families of soldiers who were serving the country in uniform, the petition says, “Our children play in parks fearlessly, study in schools mostly located within the premises and grow up in these cantonments, (so that) soldiers who are posted to border areas can do their duties without any concern about their families back home.”

The petition also stated that “the opening of roads will greatly affect the security of these places.”

Responding to the campaign, the FNECS in a press release said, “Cantonments are not pure military stations. By definition, they are places where armed forces and civilians stay together. Most cantonments are surrounded by civilian areas, and the roads which pass through cantonments are arteries that interconnect these civilian areas to each other.”

It also pointed out that the roads in Secunderabad were connected for over 150 years, helping farmers on one side reach markets on the other side of the army area.

“This is the reason why the Cantonments Act and the Cantonment Land Administration Rules explicitly recognise Public Right of Way on these roads. Civilians are not interested in entering premises and campuses by the sides of the roads, which can anyway be guarded using in-premises security techniques. Blocking roads does nothing to improve security when the entire 20-km perimeter of the cantonment is porous,” the FNECS stated.

Where it stands

The roads shut by the LMA fall under several categories. While A1 land (in case of Gough Road) is under control of the LMA, as dictated by the Hyderabad High Court, the SCB has a say in the closure of roads that fall under other categories.

In 2017, after a two-year battle, an RTI reply from the Defence Estate Office had revealed that 6 roads out of 12 that have been shut in the Golf Course area came under the jurisdiction of the SCB.

Read: After two-year battle, RTI reveals that six roads closed by Army come under Secunderabad board

File photo

Citizens say that out of the 25 roads that were shut by the Army, only 11 have been opened while 14 are yet to be opened to the public.

The SCB and DEO have also reportedly sent a report to the MoD, arguing that the LMA closed roads without following due procedures laid down in Section 258 of the Cantonments Act, 2006.

The SCB has continued to state that all roads will be gradually opened once the security concerns at a few of the gates are addressed. However, with the LMA remaining mum, the ball remains in its court.

Despite attempts, TNM was not able to contact General-Officer-Commanding (GOC) Major General N Srinivas Rao.

Read: 'Reopen all roads in Secunderabad Cantonment', Malkajgiri MP tells Army officials

 

 

With inputs from Balakrishna Ganeshan

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