The Indian Army and the Himachal Pradesh government appear to be heading for a confrontation over the strategically important Annandale ground here, which has been in possession of the army since World War II. The army claims that the ground, just three km from Shimla’s Ridge, is of strategic significance for it from the national security perspective, whereas Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal (pictured) said “it’s under illegal occupation”.
“The Annandale ground is under illegal occupation of the army since the lease of the property had expired over 30 years ago,” said a statement quoting Dhumal. Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA), headed by Anurag Thakur, a BJP leader and son of Dhumal, wants the ground’s transfer to the local administration for developing a multipurpose stadium there.
Dhumal’s assertions came after a Western Command statement said “the fact that Annandale ground is of strategic significance for the army from the national security perspective can never be ignored in favour of any game and gimmicks”. The army clarified that “the ground is base for launching disaster management and relief operations”.Local residents and sports associations under the banner of HPCA took out a public rally in Shimla on April 7, demanding that the ground be restored to the local administration.
The army, however, said, “The strategic significance of Annandale as a forward logistic and operational base for operations in the sector adjoining Himachal Pradesh is being overlooked in preference for a cricket stadium.” Tracing the ground’s history, it said a portion of Annandale was used by Durand Football Tournament Society instituted in 1888. This was taken over by the army during World War II to be used as a training camp. “The land is in possession of the army ever since and is used for numerous military operational and logistic activities. In the past, the ground has been jointly used by the civil administration and the army for conducting disaster relief and management exercises,” it said.
Dhumal said that the ground issue was brought to the notice of the central government when the National Democratic Alliance-led government was in power. “It was discussed with the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then defence minister George Fernandes. At that time top army authorities were also present. It was decided to provide army alternate land to carry on various activities and vacate the ground for sports related activities,” he said. The army is displaying its prowess in a disaster management exercise at Annandale today.