Shimla: The Indian Army and the Himachal Pradesh government appear to be heading for a confrontation over the strategically important Annandale ground, which has been in possession of the Army since World War II.
Snubbing the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) once again for demanding possession of the ground for developing a multipurpose stadium, the Army on Sunday said the country`s security can`t be ignored for any game.
"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," a Western Command statement said.
The 121-bigha green patch (one bigha is 0.4 hectare), just 3 km from Shimla`s Ridge, has been a flashpoint between the state and the Army as the latter does not allow the ground for civilian use.
The Army clarified that "the ground is base for launching disaster management and relief operations".
HPCA headed by Anurag Thakur, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament and son of Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, on April 7 took out a public rally in Shimla, seeking the ground`s transfer to the local administration.
Dhumal said the state would be presenting a memorandum prepared by a local group, Citizen Forum Annandale, to the Government of India for returning the ground to the state government for a multipurpose stadium.
A statement by the Chief Minister`s office said the matter was in the knowledge of the top brass in the government.
He asked MPs from the state to meet the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister to hand over the ground to the state as its lease expired 30 years ago.
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.
"Shimla and adjoining areas are located in a high seismic zone. The significance of Annandale for disaster management was witnessed in Sikkim during the earthquake last year. With such strategic importance both during war and peace, the piece of land has needlessly become an issue," the Army said.
To prove its right over the ground, the Army is displaying its prowess in a disaster management exercise at Annandale on Monday.