Monday, November 1, 2010

Armies and Cities

My column on Yahoo! this time asks whether military establishments should move out of metropolises. Read it here.


Anonymous said...

Nice Article Girish...But you hit the nail on the head - the private builders and politicians will make a mess of the reclaimed land in ALL cases for their short term greed. Just look at the level of graft in all Commonwealth Games projects....

Anonymous said...

Lets not be selfish by asking the defence forces to move out of the metros just because your think that presence of defence forces will make the metros a military target. Don't they have right to educate their children in good schools, don't their families have right to move around in good market places of metros? When the defence personnel vacate these metros will you ensure that good schools and other facilities too move out with them? What an idea sir ji! You want the defence forces to protect you like a chowkidar but you would not like to stand alongside with them for the fear of becoming a target. Please use your pen to improve our society, cultural ethos and values to make the nation a better place rather than thinking selfishly. We all have to die one day the only question is how? Which we can not predict. In any case, during war metros are always a very lucrative target to demoralise the entire nation. So those who think like you might as well move out of metros now before it is too late because war can take place any time.

Girish Shahane said...

Anonymous, the idea of metros becoming a target is not the main reason behind my suggestion.
The schools and markets idea is precisely what the Yes, Prime Minister clip is about.
Manufacturing has been moving out of metros for decades; the military, too, needs to be flexible.

Anonymous said...

Girish seems to forget that the problem of migration to cities is because those people who migrate to the city do so from states which do nothing to improve the infrastructure to retain these migrants. contrary to the five year plans which was to ensure development of villages .58 years since being declared a republic our visionary politicians seem to have done nothing towards moving the cities to the villages rather than the other way about.leading to bursting at the seams and overburdening the natives of the cities. Cheers Girish, u seem to be helping the cause of mad development mooted by our beloved politicians. Finally, when u need the armed forces to protect cities from aerial attacks I wonder what u have up ure sleeve?

Girish Shahane said...

Anonymous, firstly, I have never said that installations required for a city's defence should move out; that would be ludicrous.
Second, I have specifically stated that, should areas vacated by the military follow the same path as cities like Bombay have done in the past few decades, we will end up worse off than we were.
Third, if military bases shift to relatively underdeveloped regions, this will spur exactly the kind of infrastructural development that has been absent so far in those areas.

Atty said...

Girish,I do not agree with your thesis at all.Why should the Armed Forces sacrifice some of the best real estate they have in Mumbai or Delhi to make way for commercial exploitation?Who will come to occupy Navy Nagar and NOFRA after you drive the Navy out of it?Who will come and stay in Ahilya and Aditi?Or Gangotri and Bhagirathi?Only land sharks and real estate honchos mixed up with politicians - look at what is happening in the Parel Mills land.For that matter even in Delhi Pune Secundrabad or Chennai,the Army holds some of the best lands.These pieces of real estate have become 'best' because the Armed Forces have maintained them for decades.There is a huge housing crunch in the Services.I reckon you yourself are a former Navy officer's son.Did you not have a quality life and schooling in South Mumbai?Would you have accepted the proposition of quitting your South Mumbai school and proceed to, say, Karwar for high school?Have you forgotton that even today sailors families resort to a bizzare arrangement called 'sharing'?The answer to India's urban mess is not to vacate the cantonments but to derive some inspiration from them and make other places equally livable and aesthetic.I find your logic that shifting military establishments from cities to villages will 'bring up' those areas equally funny.By that line of thinking,you are treating the military like a guinea pig.Since military is disciplined, keep shepherding it around.The civil society should coexist with the military in cities where military is already there.These city postings serve as a relief and change for those officers who spend long periods of separation in field areas.Moreover,military acts like a final insurance of civil authorities in law and order issues and natural calamities.We can quote many examples from our history - prominently flag march by Army after the 1993 communal riots in Mumbai-they finally brought peace to a city wounded over and over.

Girish Shahane said...

Hi Atty,
Thanks for your note. It isn't commercial exploitation I'm concerned about so much as general development. There can be no expansion or reclamation in South Bombay because security concerns will prevent it.
Most military students attend Kendriya Vidyalays, and good ones can be created anywhere.
I'm not asking the armed forces to simply 'give up' land, so much as leverage it for better facilities for themselves. When cantonments were first built, they were often isolated; towns came up around them. Today in the US, the major army bases function on this model.
As far as the army offering assurance in case of civil strife is concerned, that happens after many days have passed, enough to bring in battalions from other parts of the state. The army is never the first line of defence in case of riots, and should not be put in that position.

Harjodh said...

As a son of an army officer and having seeing the defence life, I have the following reservations against your article --

Firstly, just because the defence forces bowed to the civilian pressure for BSE and Taj, does that mean they should do it now also and walk away from a city altogether?

Secondly – as regards army land being occupied being squatters, could you give specific, concrete examples of it? As far as I know, if any squatters enter army land, they are thrown out.

Thirdly – I believe you are taking a narrow view only of the cantonments located in major areas, more specifically that of the Indian Navy in Bombay. If you do take a holistic view – consider the location of cantonments of the Army and Airforce also, you'll realise that most military bases are located in remote areas. For every one cantonment in a major area, there are 100's more in remote areas. Do you want that all cantonments in metropolises or large towns should move out?

Also, cities usually develop around army cantonment. Does that mean the army must make plans to move out every time cities develop?

Fourthly – during war, military installations move to the border or critical areas. Cities are anyways rendered free of defence installations except critical ones.

Lastly, what about the costs of building newer installations? Surely that money can be better spent elsewhere. Compare the costs of building a new cantonment, in Karwar for example(including residences, dockyards schools and all other infrastructure) versus the amount gained by selling navy nagar (which actually comes to defence forces)

Kapil said...

Rather than shifting army base out of Mumbai, won't be better to shift parts of the city elsewhere? Mantralaya, Bombay High Court, University, stock exchange: why all of these need to be Colaba? Mumbai can not grow, because its a peninsula, afterall. I have read somewhere that when Navi Mumbai was planned, the idea was to make it seat of administration, what is Gandhinagr to Ahmedabad. It would have taken the load off south Mumbai considerably, freeing it up to be a hub of corporate and shipping offices.

Girish Shahane said...

Harjodh, Kapil, great responses, thanks.
Harjodh, as far as security issues go, it isn't only the BSE and Taj that are or were the problem. Look at INS Kunjali and the shanties right around it, for example.
I believe army land in Cuffe Parade is being occupied by squatters, very close to the Adarsh society, in fact.
I agree that most bases are outside major cities. That's proof of the capacity of the armed forces to provide schooling and accommodation for large numbers outside the metros. I don't believe a large city will develop quickly around new cantonments, the current mess took 200 years to reach a critical stage.
Wars these days are prosecuted with such immediacy that there will not be much time for entire installations to be moved, presuming such a war does occur.
Kapil, I agree many other institutions should also shift. The Diamond exchange finally did, after two decades of dawdling.

vamsilp said...

i fully agree with harjodhs views .Mr Girish you should keep in mind that the there are many cities which have army bases at the heart of the cities which occupy a lot of space .For example in secundrabad many part of this city are covered by defencce installations but no one is complaining because they know that defence of the country is responsible for protecting every square inch of India day and night 24 by 7 .No one would mind giving a portion of the cities land to the defence forces even if it is in the cities center You should also keep in mind that the people of defence forces are our own people oue own country men who should be given the no1 priority , than compared to the political goons which usually people give unfortunately.Jai Hind!!

jjogi said...

next send the police out

Harjodh said...

Girish - Thank you for your reply.

Just a couple of things again:

Firstly : Are you sure about INS Kunjali? I've visited it and there's only Navy there. Or are you referring to INS Shikra in Colaba (Formerly INS Kunjali - 2)?

Secondly, yes there are squatters in Cuffe Parade area. But they are outside the walls.

Thirdly, again.. with the examples you give, you are taking a narrow view of defence land on Bombay more specifically in Colaba (not in santacruz or madh island). When you say in your article "The army itself has not been able to stop some of its land being occupied by squatters. " I would presume you are talking of the entire lands of the army all India. The squatters are on the lands situated outside defence lands.

Just because some nearby land is occupied by squatters, is no good reason to move out. The Adarsh housing project should also be moved out then.

Fourthly, you are correct when you say large cities do not develop quickly around cantonments. My question is that when they do, should the army move out? Should the army be a nomad after 200 years?

Lastly, Girish, I disagree with your views on wars. Warfare doesnot happen overnight, one has to collect resources , move to border. Presuming a war would occur, what would happen? Leaves would have been cancelled much earlier and infrastructure mobilised. War doesnt happen just in blink of an eye. Its gradual with tensions rising slowly and then any country preparing its threat response accordingly.

I know the comments are long Girish. I really appreciate the effort you take to reply to them.

yogi said...

In principle it will be better if the military bases were away from civil areas. By same token it will be even better if these bases were located in one homogeneous piece of land. Now to inform Mr Shahane, both of these principles were followed and are followed even today whenever a military base is established. For ease of understanding of Mr Shahne Karwad is one such example. But on the other side these bases act as magnates for civil population who gravitate to the vicinity fo these bases to seek employment as also to leverage the infrastructure and facilities of the bases for economic advantages. These factors slowly but surely turn these bases into the fulcrum of growth Cases in point are Aizwal, capital of Mizoram, Kohima, Capital of Nagaland, Shillong, capital of Meghalaya, Ranchi in Jharkhand, Banglore, Secunderabad, Ambala and many more. Let us see what will happen when the military moves out from these places? For a short while there will be gold rush to exploit newly available land and then the city will have to get used to live without it's green lungs and inherent sense of security. SO what is the answer? Simple ensure planned growth of cities without the civil authorities attempting to piggyback on military infrastructure.

Girish Shahane said...

Harjodh, Yogi, thanks a lot for your responses. I have just written a further blog post which I hope will clarify my point on some of the issues you've raised.
Harjodh, I agree that the issue of squatters is pressing only in Bombay, less so in other metros where the army is stationed. Perhaps the fact that I live in Bombay made me put it in, but it is only one of a number of issues I raise vis-a-vis military camps.
One thing I agree with you about is that the military maintains its cantonments very well, and civilians have not shown anything like the same care anywhere in the nation. It is therefore likely that redevelopment following a military withdrawal will replicate the urban planning disasters we have seen elsewhere. In that sense, my argument hinges on a big IF: the argument is valid if, and only if, the land acquired / reclaimed following a military withdrawal is used judiciously.

Girish Shahane said...

As far as Kunjali goes, I'm speaking of the helicopter base near Sassoon docks. It's been a while since I visited, I didn't know about the change of name.

Anonymous said...

NO to moving out and one more time NO.Your giving out examples of 'Yes Prime Minister' does not prove that you know the meaning of essential breaks after operational tenures of soldiers and officers.If u had been a soldier, all the more painful to read the article.Else I wish u had served some time. Balanced article but I wish policy makers don't take any cognisance of it.

Girish Shahane said...

I don't understand why essential breaks need to be in big cities, frankly. Far better facilities can be built in places with less pressure on land.
Thanks for calling the piece balanced, appreciate it. I'm not claiming this is necessarily the correct path forward, I just want to put it forward as something to consider carefully and dispassionately.

robby said...

Dear Mr Shahane please consider that the Army does not just need recreation, lakhs of Armymen's Children need good and reputed Schools to go to, they also need to grow up in metros so that they are not left behind in the race to progress. Inspite of trying for decades the Government has not been able to convince even doctors to move to Villages as there is no infrastructure there as such their children face a bleak future if they move to Villages. Similarly the Armymen are not machines. They need to secure their Children;s future too. Central Schools and living in Secluded Cantonments is no answer. I am sorry I do not Subscribe to your views.
Robby Sharma, Kanpur

Girish Shahane said...

Robby, I am not asking the army to go to villages. The analogy with doctors being sent to villages doesn't seem precise to me because, unlike those doctors, the army has the resources to set up its own infrastructure.
However, I take the point you make, which others have also stressed, that armymen deserve their share of leisure and entertainment.

LotusEater said...

Hi Girish

"I don't understand", "I am not asking", "I don't believe"," I am not claiming"... err what do you want Girish?

Ok, here is a test - ask any prepubescent boy : Hey listen the city is growing so much, the navy has way too much land do you have any considered opinion of what can be done to make this city great again?

And the answer will always be * drum roll please* "Oh! shift the Military out."

In the military they are always told to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong Girish, maybe civilians ( and I do not mean 'civilian' it in a derogatory way - no offence to those who choose not to serve)need to take it down a notch, and think of some real solutions instead of blaming the military for all the ills of our great city all the while having them on your speed dial, just in case.

Girish Shahane said...

Err, you don't seem to have a problem understanding my argument, so why ask what I want?

If you've read my article, you will understand I have not BLAMED the military for anything. What I have suggested is that there is a trajectory in the inter-relationship of military camps and urban areas. Up to a point, the two are mutually beneficial, but beyond a certain density of population, they cease to be so.

The point nobody criticising my argument picks up on is that the problem is not one way: the city impinges on the military's efficiency and security as well. The city if not to BLAME for this, any more than the military is to blame for short-circuiting certain potentially useful developments.

As for having them on speed dial, since we're close to the 26/11 anniversary, you might have noticed that having all those forces helped Bombay not a bit during the terrorist assault. I don't expect help from the army in such instances, that's not what the army is for; but to suggest our security depends on their presence is mistaken. There is a section of the force devoted specifically to defending important installations; those forces will, of course, need to be located within urban areas. I'm only speaking about the rest.

There's been a lot of breast beating about sacrifices made by the armed forces. I've asked two questions in this regard, never answered by the breast beaters:
1) If you are so concerned about the well-being of the forces, why not demand a negotiated withdrawal from Siachen, where soldiers suffer most and most needlessly?
2) What about the vast tracts of land that the armed forces own but do not use? Should they not be audited and put to better use? Why is there no demand for this kind of progress?

What you and your ilk appear to advocate is complete inertia, letting problems build till they become insoluble.