Indian Army Updates

The abolition of cantonments: What does it entail for urban local bodies?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: urban local bodies

Mains level: disbanding cantonments and its advantages and disadvantages and challenges for urban local bodies

Central Idea

  • Recently, the Ministry of Defence took a significant step towards disbanding cantonments in India with the notification for the abolition of Yol Cantonment in Himachal Pradesh. This move is part of a larger plan to convert military areas into exclusive military stations, while merging civilian areas with neighboring urban local bodies (ULBs).

Historical Context

  • The 62 cantonments spread unevenly across the country are considered archaic colonial legacies that originated after the East India Company’s victory in the battle of Plassey.
  • These cantonments were primarily established for quartering troops, but over time, civilian populations settled within their jurisdictions to provide support services.
  • The current administration of cantonments is under cantonment boards, which function as deemed municipalities and perform civic duties similar to ULBs

Their features

  • Cantonment Boards are democratic bodies comprising elected and nominated members.
  • In terms of Entry 3 of the Union List (Schedule VII) of the Constitution of India, Urban Self Governance of the Cantonments and the Housing Accommodation therein is the subject matter of the Union.
  • The Station Commander of the Cantonment is the ex-officio President of the Board, and an officer of the IDES or Defence Estates Organisation is the Chief Executive Officer who is also the Member-Secretary of the Board.
  • They have equal representation of elected and nominated/ex-officio members to balance official representation with democratic composition.
  • They maintain ecological balance while providing better civic facilities to the residents.

What is the plan?

  • The plan is to carve out the military areas in all cantonments and convert them into “exclusive military stations” with the Army exercising “absolute control” over them.
  • The civilian areas, in turn, will be merged with the local municipalities, which will be responsible for their maintenance among other things.

Advantages for the Military

  • Focus on Core Responsibilities: By separating civilian areas from military stations, the military commanders would be relieved of non-military responsibilities. This would allow them to concentrate more on their core duties, such as training troops and maintaining war preparedness.
  • Elimination of Political Involvement: In some instances, army officers have found themselves getting involved in local politics within cantonments, despite lacking background and training in this area. The merger of civilian areas into ULBs would reduce the army’s involvement in local political matters.
  • Homogeneous Management: The merger would enable uniform and homogeneous management of military stations strictly under the control of the army. This would facilitate streamlined decision-making processes and enhance operational efficiency within military establishments.
  • Enhanced Security: With civilian areas separated from military stations, there is a potential improvement in security arrangements. Military installations can implement stricter security measures without concerns about civilian populations living in close proximity.
  • Increased Flexibility: Without the burden of managing civilian functions, the military can respond more flexibly to changing security needs and allocate resources more effectively. This flexibility can enhance the overall operational capabilities and readiness of the armed forces.

Benefits for Civilian Residents

  • Property Regulations: Relief from restrictive property regulations, making it easier for residents to transfer, mutate, and develop properties without excessive limitations.
  • Reduced Inconvenience: Mitigation of road closures within cantonments, resulting in less inconvenience for civilian residents in terms of movement and transportation.
  • Access to Welfare Schemes: Integration with ULBs grants civilians access to social welfare schemes provided by the government, which were previously unavailable due to the cantonment’s non-plan sector status.
  • Economic Opportunities: Removal of stifling restrictions on construction and economic activities encourages growth and urbanization in merged areas, potentially boosting employment and economic opportunities for residents.
  • Municipal Laws: Residents come under the jurisdiction of ULBs, ensuring that municipal laws and services are applicable to them, leading to better governance and provision of essential services such as water supply, sanitation, education, and street lighting.

Potential Concerns

  • Uncontrolled Construction: There is a possibility that the merger of cantonment areas into ULBs may lead to uncontrolled construction and commercialization, particularly in hill station cantonments. This could result in the loss of the charm and environmental integrity of these areas.
  • Insufficient Services: ULBs may struggle to provide quality services and governance to the merged areas. Existing cities already face challenges in delivering services, and the addition of new areas with limited revenue may further strain the capacity of ULBs, potentially resulting in inadequate infrastructure, healthcare, and other essential services.
  • Environmental Impact: The removal of restrictions on construction and economic activities may have negative environmental consequences, such as increased pollution, strain on natural resources, and encroachment on ecologically sensitive areas. Proper environmental safeguards should be in place to mitigate these potential impacts.
  • Resistance to Resource Allocation: Existing councillors and political constituencies may resist diverting funds from their own areas to support the merged areas. This resistance could impede the equitable distribution of resources and hinder the development and provision of essential services in the merged areas.
  • Capacity Constraints: ULBs may struggle with limited manpower, technical expertise, and administrative capacities to effectively govern and manage the merged areas. The sudden addition of new areas may overwhelm the existing administrative setup, hindering their ability to provide efficient and responsive governance.
  • Revenue Generation: Merged cantonment areas may have limited revenue-generating potential, which can pose challenges for ULBs in generating sufficient funds to sustain and improve services. The existing revenue streams of ULBs may need to be re-evaluated, and new strategies for revenue generation may need to be implemented to support the merged areas.

Way forward

  • Comprehensive Planning: The government should undertake comprehensive urban planning exercises to ensure orderly and sustainable development in the merged areas.
  • Strengthening ULBs: To address the challenges faced by ULBs, the government should provide adequate financial resources, technical support, and capacity-building programs.
  • Public Participation: Engaging the public and stakeholders in the planning and decision-making processes is crucial. This can be achieved through consultations, public hearings, and feedback mechanisms.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation: Regular monitoring and evaluation mechanisms should be established to assess the progress and impact of the merger. This would help identify any shortcomings or challenges and enable timely corrective measures to be implemented.
  • Collaborative Approach: Collaboration between the central and state governments, ULBs, and other relevant stakeholders is essential. A coordinated approach will facilitate effective decision-making, resource allocation, and the implementation of policies and programs.
  • Long-term Perspective: The merger should be viewed from a long-term perspective, considering the social, economic, and environmental implications. It is important to strike a balance between development aspirations and the preservation of the cultural and environmental heritage of the merged areas


  • The decision to merge civilian areas of cantonments with ULBs carries both advantages and challenges. While the military stands to benefit from the separation, civilians can expect relief from restrictive regulations and improved access to welfare schemes. However, concerns about uncontrolled development and the ability of ULBs to deliver quality services warrant attention. Future mergers emphasize the need for government intervention to adequately fund cities and support their expanding responsibilities.

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