I received a number of responses, almost unanimously negative, to my column about armies and cities. One of the best exchanges was with a respondent named Harjodh, who disputed my statement that defence land was commonly encroached upon: "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." He said I was taking a very Bombay-biased view, and that even in Bombay encroachments were on civil land outside defence boundaries: "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."
At the time, I could not find much material to back up my claim, which was based on personal conversations from the past. However, in the forty days since then, a lot of information about defence land has been made public. We were first told what a huge bank of unutilised land the forces own. Now we have details of how much of that unutilised land has been taken over illegally.
"The defence ministry has now admitted that around 11,052 acres of its 17.30 lakh acres of land across the country has been encroached or occupied illegally.
Leading the list of states where the maximum number of encroachments has taken place is Uttar Pradesh (2,949 acres), followed closely by Maharashtra (2,285 acres), as per information provided by defence minister A K Antony in a written reply to Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
Some others in the list include Haryana (961 acres), J&K (722 acres), Assam (617 acres), Punjab (494 acres), Bihar (456 acres), Madhya Pradesh (448 acres), Rajasthan (418 acres), West Bengal (406 acres), Gujarat (304 acres) and Delhi (107 acres)."
11,000 acres may be a lot of land, but accounts for less than 1% of the total holdings of the military. The land currently being used in legal ways is 2 lakh acres. That leaves over 15 lakh acres unutilised or under-utilised.