Decolonising India’s Public Spaces, One At A Time



In his seminal work “The Wretched of the Earth”, Frantz Fanon recounts an anecdote that highlights the psychological influence of colonialism on the colonised. He describes the emotions of inferiority and self-hatred that always come up in those that have been subjugated by overseas powers. This underscores the significance of dismantling colonial legacies to heal the collective psyche of a nation and restore a way of dignity and satisfaction. The Union Government has been dismantling colonial legal guidelines and legacies one by one. The newest one within the sequence is the dismantling of cantonments. By dismantling these cantonments, India not solely reclaims its public areas but in addition indicators its dedication to breaking free from the shackles of its colonial previous.

In the aftermath of their victory over Nawab Siraj ud-Daula on the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the East India Company established cantonments all through India, starting a legacy of colonial affect. The first of those cantonments was based in 1765 at Barrackpore, close to Calcutta.

Christopher Cowell from Trinity College, Dublin, has made important contributions to understanding the historical past of cantonments in India. Though his doctoral thesis, “The Cantonments of Northern India: Colonialism and the Counter Urban, 1765-1889,” is presently underneath embargo, his insightful essay “The Kaccha-Pakka Divide: Material, Space and Architecture in the Military Cantonments of British India (1765-1889)” is extremely really helpful for these inquisitive about exploring this subject additional.

Cantonments have a wealthy and various historical past, with their origins rooted in European navy practices. The origin of the time period may be traced again to the French phrase “canton,” which refers to a nook or district, as exemplified by the cantons in Switzerland. Initially, they served as short-term shelters for troops throughout harsh climate or when foraging was restricted. Lancelot Turpin de Crissé’s influential work, ‘An Essay on the Art of War’, highlighted the significance of inside connectedness in cantonments because of the want for preparedness. This precept formed the event of cantonments throughout British rule in India, resulting in a versatile but constant association of navy services. Under Robert Clive’s affect, cantonments developed into a novel, everlasting city complicated, showcasing the British East India Company’s rising confidence in its capacity to take care of stability within the Bengal and Bihar areas.

From the very starting, cantonments had a definite system of segregation in place, separating the Europeans and the native sepoys. Clive, in a letter to the Select Committee at Fort William (10 July 1765), emphasised on constructing new cantonments and the significance of strategically positioning forces to “defend the nation and protect the lives of males”. He argued that the buildings for Europeans must be sturdy, sturdy, and handy, contemplating the long-lasting and rising affect of the Company within the area. Clive additionally talked about that the buildings for sepoys may very well be much less sturdy because of their higher capacity to deal with the native local weather due to their weight-reduction plan, temperament, and structure. From the start, the ideas of kaccha and pakka buildings have been divided primarily based on race and local weather perceptions.

As cantonments proliferated, they facilitated the military’s capacity to take care of a level of separation from the native populations of pre-existing Indian city settlements. This was, partially, to allow efficient surveillance, guaranteeing that the Company’s spatial safety measures maintained a “removable” high quality. This distinct separation additionally granted the military management over the inner improvement inside cantonments. Consequently, the military was capable of set up legal guidelines governing every cantonment enclave, figuring out the exclusion or differentiation of assorted populations and practices inside these territories. This strategy in the end bolstered the colonial technique of sustaining management and dominance over the colonised areas. Cantonments have been ruled by the Indian Cantonment Act. The regulation was notably thorough and included provisions addressing even issues like prostitution inside cantonments. The Cantonment Act (XXII of 1864) differentiated prostitutes primarily based on their affiliation with Europeans, subjecting solely these engaged with Europeans to regulatory measures.

The Cantonments Act was enacted in 1924, and the Military Lands and Cantonments Service emerged as a Central Service within the Nineteen Forties. In an try at disengagement from a colonial previous, the title of the service was altered in 1985 from Defence Lands and Cantonments Service to the Indian Defence Estates Service. The persistence of cantonments in trendy India exemplifies a powerful case of path dependency, illustrating how historic selections and occasions proceed to exert a major influence on establishments and infrastructure in former colonies to this present day. At the time of independence, there have been 56 cantonments, with a further six established post-1947. Ajmer, the newest cantonment, was notified in 1962.

It is essential to look at the extra benefits of ending cantonments, in addition to the apparent goal of dismantling the colonial legacy.

(1) Lord Clive pioneered the technique of creating distinct residential areas for the Company’s forces, positioned simply exterior the modern city facilities and alongside important commerce routes, such because the river Ganga. His intention was to attenuate interactions between the Englishmen and the native inhabitants, guaranteeing that self-discipline throughout the forces was maintained and uncompromised. However, through the years, because of speedy urbanisation, these cantonments have more and more turn out to be built-in inside metropolis boundaries, with some even located close to metropolis facilities. This has resulted in disorganised development within the adjoining areas because of the absence of complete improvement methods. Apart from this, the emergence of each formal and casual companies has contributed to unchecked waste manufacturing within the areas surrounding these cantonments. Although cantonments typically possess in depth tracts of largely unoccupied land and preserve a low inhabitants density, the encircling areas are typically densely populated. As civilian areas inside cantonments shall be handed over to the city native our bodies, it’ll assist in the optimum utilisation of land particularly in densely populated cities like Delhi.

(2) Although cantonment boards are impartial, they depend on close by municipal our bodies for important companies like water and sewage. Also, the presence of autonomous administrative frameworks hinders the planning course of, leading to suboptimal distribution and oversight of sources. Merging them with the municipal our bodies will deal with these impediments in service supply to the residents.

(3) According to data from the Defence Estates Office, the Ministry of Defence possesses a formidable 17.99 lakh acres of land, with 1.61 lakh acres located in 62 strategically designated cantonments all through the nation. Enhancing the usage of present lands in city areas is a compelling and sensible strategy to growing their inhabitants capacities. Once the civilian areas throughout the cantonments are handed over to city native our bodies, it’ll assist these our bodies elevate way more income. This income won’t simply come out of the property tax.

(4) There have been lot of restrictions for constructing or rebuilding constructions throughout the civil areas of cantonments.

234. Sanction for constructing. – No individual shall erect or re-erect a constructing on any land in a cantonment- (a) in an space, aside from the civil space, besides with the earlier sanction of the Board; (b) in a civil space, besides with the earlier sanction of the Chief Executive Officer,  nor in any other case than in accordance with the provisions of this Chapter and of the foundations and bye-laws made underneath this Act referring to the erection and re-erection of buildings: Provided that if an erected or re-erected constructing is supposed for public functions, then it shall be made accessible to and barrier free for the individuals with disabilities.

Section 235 of the Act is much more restrictive. Residents are required to provide discover if they’re planning to assemble or reconstruct a constructing – in the event that they make important alterations, enlarge or convert a constructing’s goal, cut up or merge residing areas, or make modifications that might negatively influence the constructing’s stability, security, drainage, sanitation, or hygiene. The constructing plans must also compulsorily conform to present legal guidelines and constructing by-laws. Every cantonment has its personal constructing by-laws. We discovered it tough to pay money for these by-laws over the web. However, as one may guess, these by-laws are very restrictive. In a lot of the cantonments, one can construct on the bottom ground plus one. This can also be one of many explanation why unlawful constructions which don’t conform to constructing by-laws have cropped up in a number of the cantonments. It’s no shock that the tax collections of the cantonment boards are additionally very low. Thus, amalgamation with civic our bodies will assist eliminate such provisions and permit residents to construct higher constructions that permit optimum utilisation of land.

(5) In the previous fiscal yr, a staggering 74% of cantonments (46 out of 62) confronted funds deficits and acquired grant-in-aid from the Defence Ministry. A sum of Rs 190 crore was allotted to those struggling cantonments, and it was utilised for important improvement works equivalent to repairs, drainage, road lighting, and water provide. This monetary help comes along with the income generated by cantonment boards. Though it’s a tiny portion of the general Defence funds, the query is, ought to the Defence Ministry be liable for funding the event of civil areas?

(6) Civilians who have been ruled by cantonment boards can lastly entry and profit from state authorities welfare schemes supplied by municipal firms and municipalities. This not solely ensures the equitable distribution of sources and companies but in addition fosters a extra inclusive atmosphere for residents throughout the cantonments.

By dismantling these cantonments, India reclaims its public areas, integrates civilian areas with municipal our bodies, and indicators its dedication to progress towards a brighter future. The legacy of cantonments will undoubtedly persist, however their dismantling marks a vital step towards decolonisation and progress.

Bibek Debroy is the Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) & Aditya Sinha is Additional Private Secretary (Policy & Research), EAC-PM.

Disclaimer: These are the private opinions of the creator.



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