State Congress Committee President, Mr. Kaul Singh and leader of opposition, Mrs. Vidya Stokes allegedly said that the ruling BJP in the state is in league with the land mafia. They told reporters, “The government is giving protection to the land mafia in the state”. Their assertions came a day after Chief Minister, Mr. Prem Kumar Dhumal raised the issue of ownership of the Annandale ground in Shimla during the Chief Ministers’ conference, even as the army sought to clear the air by saying “there is no conflict with the state”.
The issue hovers around the prime chunk of 121-bigha Annandale ground, surrounded by thick forests and situated 4.5 km from Shimla’s ridge. It has been under the Army’s control since World War II. MP, Anurag Thakur, who is also heading the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), has begun a campaign to have it restored to the state for constructing a multipurpose stadium.
Mr. Singh said, “Top political functionaries have purchased a huge chunk of land around Annandale ground. Now the government is eyeing to get the land vacated (from the army) and hand it over to the HPCA,” he also added, “under the guise of developing a stadium there it is aiming to develop malls, private cottages and five-star hotels in private areas in the vicinity of Annandale”.
The Congress leaders said “since the issue of ground is related to the national security, the state should resolve it amicably with the army”. They also question the government for extending favours to the private commercial organisation like HPCA. The party seems to have changed its stand in wake of coming MC Shimla and assembly poll in the coming months as BJP was raising this issue vigorously. In past successive years, Congress government have been raising this issue with Army authority seeking possession of ground.
In Shimla, Brig. A.K. Sharma of the army’s Western Command told reporters on Monday that the Annandale ground which is in its possession since World War II is strategically and logistically important for the army to carry out exercises and operations in forward areas. He said that the army have no issue with the state government.
Mr. Dhumal said that the land belonged to the state government and was under unlawful occupation of the army. He said that the land was given to the army on lease for 10 years and the term was extended. He added that the lease had not been renewed for the last 30 years.