Nirmal Singh: Breaking Rules and Locking Horns with Army in J&K?
Former Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Nirmal Singh.
Former Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Nirmal Singh.(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

Nirmal Singh: Breaking Rules and Locking Horns with Army in J&K?

In the latest incident of responsible politicians breaking norms and rules while constructing residential accommodation in areas designated as security risks, is the present speaker of the state assembly and earlier deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Nirmal Singh.

His house, presently under construction, is on a plot 530 metres from the security wall of the Nagrota ammunition dump. The land was purchased in 2014. Nirmal claims that he and the present deputy CM, Kavinder Gupta, purchased the land through a company they had established in 2000.

This construction prompted the Corps Commander to directly write to the Speaker, Nirmal Singh, on the issue because the local administration was not responding to the Army’s repeated requests to stop construction work, considering his appointment.

The Corps Commander wrote that the house is “illegal” and “has implications on the security of a major ammunition storage facility as well as safety of all personnel living in close vicinity of the ammunition depot”.

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In response, Nirmal Singh claimed that the action of the army was “politically motivated”. He went on to add, “I have no legal binding that I cannot do the construction. What the Army is claiming, it is their view and not binding on me.”

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He went on to accuse the Army: “They (Army) don’t let people even construct a toilet. People are harassed. Why don’t they get a stay, they can’t do it? There shouldn’t have been an ammunition depot in this place.”

In August 2017, the same Nirmal Singh praised the Army for its functioning and retaliating to Pakistan ceasefire violations. In February this year he stated, “Army as an institution is making sacrifices for the country.” On being appointed speaker, he stated that he would work to serve the nation and the state.

How is accusing the Army of being political and refusing to obey orders issued by the local authority serving the interests of the nation and the state?

The violations as listed by the Army in the letter were:

The construction is in violation of the Works of Defence act 1903, as also Government of India, Ministry of Defence notification dated 26 September, 2002. Further, as per the notification issued by DC, Jammu on 7th August, construction activity within 1000 yards of the ammunition depot has been prohibited.

An ammunition depot is always a high-risk area, as it has explosives of multiple varieties stored in sheds. Distances are maintained between sheds to prevent sympathetic detonation between different forms of explosives and reduce damage in case of an accident.

Though well-protected, ammunition depots remain choice targets for anti-national elements. The explosion at the ammunition depot at Khundru, located close to Anantnag, in 2007, though accidental, had multiple terror groups claiming responsibility, which was rebuked by the authorities.

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The Ministry of Defence had issued guidelines to prevent collateral civilian casualties in 2002. Based on these guidelines, depots began interacting with state government representatives to notify a 1,000-metre area around the depot as no-construction zones.

These guidelines exist with all state governments and have been implemented in many cases. These are not aimed at securing the area for further construction or for harassment of local population, but for their own security, in case of any accident.

This distance has been violated over the years, compelling the government to have local DCs issue notices preventing any new construction within 1,000 metres of ammunition depots. Details of those who have constructed prior to the issue of guidelines have been noted and state governments asked to maintain these records to cater for compensation in case of accidents. Fresh construction is banned.

Nagrota is based in a region which has witnessed regular terrorist strikes. Hence, this depot would always be a prime target. As construction activity increases around the depot, it reduces the open area for surveillance and monitoring by security forces. If the top political authorities of the state are the first to break the rules, others would follow, only enhancing security risks.

Nirmal’s claims and defence of his actions are baseless and without understanding the reasons behind the Army’s actions. Considering his political experience, it is surprising that he claims the Army’s action is politically motivated and illegal – after all, the letter was sent in March, when he was the deputy CM of the state.

Since his violations were clearly listed, it would have taken him no time to clear the veracity of the Army’s claims and even study the notification of the DM. His statement indicates his stubbornness, immaturity and unwillingness to follow the law of the land, which he himself has vowed to protect.

The Army is clearly apolitical, which the nation is aware of, and hence there is no reason for it to adopt any political stance. Further, it is his own political party (BJP) which is in power at the Centre and in the state coalition. There is no opposition that could have influenced the Army to act, except the circumstances of his breaking rules and regulations.

It was forced to approach him directly, when local authorities, fearful of his appointment as Dy CM, refused to convey the message. Instead of seeking to cooperate, he has adopted an offensive approach and challenged the Army to obtain a stay order.

Legally, the Army can obtain a stay order as it is on the right side of the law, not him, and if it does so, then it would embarrass him and his party further. Stay orders have been obtained against illegal construction in Kolkata and other places and these cases are still being challenged in courts. The Adarsh building in Mumbai is a prime example. Most respondents have lost these cases, as they have bypassed the rules.

It would be the same in Singh’s case. Battling the case all the way to the Supreme Court would tarnish his image, not the Army’s.

It is for maintaining the dignity of his office and his standing in the BJP that he must offer an immediate unconditional apology to the Army and stop construction. It is also for the head of the party in the state, Ram Madhav, to force Singh to act in a dignified manner, rather than adopting an accusatory approach that would compel the Army to seek a stay order and embarrass the party and himself.

The earlier he responds, the better it would be for his dented image.

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(The author is a retired army officer based in Lucknow. He can be reached at @kakar_harsha. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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