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Dhumal meets PM as Army moves to resolve Annadale ground row

New Delhi/Shimla, April 16 - Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal Monday took up his government's row with the Army over possession of Annadale ground in Shimla with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh even as Army chief Gen V.K. Singh said he would speak to the chief minister to resolve the issue.

The Army ordered a probe into the press release from its Chandimandir-based Western Command that said the strategic significance of the ground for the Army from the national security perspective 'can never be ignored in favour of any game and gimmicks.'

Dhumal, who was in the capital to take part in the meeting of chief ministers on internal security, said he met the prime minister over 'the way the army people are interfering' on the Anandale issue.

The chief minister said Army officers were making press statements. 'Indiscipline in central forces is an issue of serious concern,' he said.

The chief minister also met Defence Minister A.K. Antony on the issue.

Asked whether he would go ahead with his threat of filing a defamation case, Dhumal said a press statement has been given by the Army. 'I have said if an unconditional apology is tendered it is fine, otherwise I am filing a defamation suit in the court.'

Gen V.K. Singh told reporters that he would speak to the chief minister on the row.

'Ours and the chief minister's relationship is very good,' Singh told reporters.

'Something has been published. They (Western Command) have told us something who has committed a mistake. They will rectify it,' Singh said.

The 121-bigha picturesque green ground (one bigha is 0.4 hectare), just three km from Shimla's Ridge, has been a flashpoint of confrontation between the state and the army as the latter does not allow the ground for civilian use.

The issue also reverberated at the meeting on the internal security. Dhumal said the ground 'is in the illegal possession of the defence authorities as its lease had expired many years back'.

'He (Dhumal) also took up the issue of the army authorities raising the issue in media by not only distorting the facts but also making false and baseless allegations against the state government,' a statement issued in New Delhi said.

Dhumal demanded an enquiry into the whole matter and asked for 'suitable action against all those responsible in this matter'.

Soon after, army spokesperson Col. Jagdeep Dahiya said in a statement in Delhi that a probe had been ordered.

'With regards to Annadale land issues, the army has instituted an inquiry into the press release issued by Western Command headquarters, which was derogatory against the state government and chief minister of Himachal Pradesh,' army spokesperson Col. Jagdeep Dahiya said in a statement in Delhi.

The release, issued by the Western Command public relations officer S. Pavitar Singh on Saturday, had claimed that strategic significance of Annadale ground for Indian Army from national security perspective 'can never be ignored in favour of any game and gimmicks being played at the cost of larger national interest, national security, army training and disaster management purposes, which are not negotiable at any cost'.

Dhumal has already refuted allegations that the state government wanted to take the possession of the ground as his son Anurag Thakur - a BJP MP and a cricket administrator - wanted to build a cricket stadium there.

In Shimla, Brig A.K. Sharma of the army's Western Command told reporters that the 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.

'The Annandale ground is logistically, operationally and from the disaster point of view very critical,' Sharma told reporters.

He said the army has 'no issue with the state government'.


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