Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has rejected any reports, quoting Western Command that Government of Himachal Pradesh were acting under the influence of so called, forest mafia, for making pressure upon the Army Authorities to return the Annandale Ground, which factually belonged to the Government of Himachal Pradesh and is under unlawful occupation of the Army.

Chief Minister has called the statement as baseless labeling defamatory allegations, aimed at maligning the clean image of the State Government in general and Chief Minister, in particular. The Statement states that the State Government was loosing forest cover and wanted to gain the same by taking over the Annandale area, was also astonishing. While the fact is that the Annandale Ground is under illegal occupation of the Army since the lease of the property had expired over thirty years ago.

Chief Minister said that the issue was brought to the notice of Government of India when National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government was in power in the Centre and discussed in detail in South Block with the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Union Defence Minsiter, George Fernades where top army authorities were also present. It was decided to provide army alternate land to carry on with their various activities and vacate the ground for sports related activities in the capital town of Shimla. He said that the State Government identified several alternate locations for relocation of the army activities and made local army authorities to inspect the same before approval and as expected they all were rejected.

Prof. Dhumal said that recently the Hon’ble High Court of Himachal Pradesh passed directions to the Government of Himachal Pradesh to provide suitable space to give boost to sports activities amongst the young and youth residing in Shimla so as to give exposure to the budding sports talents. For getting the Annandale Ground back, the citizens of Shimla formed a Forum in which 14 sports associations of the town joined hand to get back Annandale Ground. The forum launched an exhaustive signature campaign amongst the sports lovers and awakened citizens of the town which was supported by 1.08 lakh signatures. The signatures alongwith a Memorandum were presented to the Chief Minister. Copies of the Memorandum alongwith personal letter of the Chief Minister were being forwarded to the Prime Minister and Union Defence Minister to apprise them of the sentiments of the people and with the request to take appropriate action in the matter to get the ground evacuated from the army.

Chief Minister said that from the press statement issued by the Western Command it appears that the campaign of Save Annandale launched by the awakened citizens of the town has been painted in a political colour to malign the clean image of Himachal Pradesh and the Chief Minister, individually. He said that the army authorities were attempting in vain to continue its illegal possession of Annandale Ground for over three decades under the garb of preserving forest cover. While the fact is that the State had registered increase in its forest cover by hundreds of square of kilometers during past few years which had been certified by a survey conducted by the Forest Reseach Institute of Government of India, Dehradun.

Hence the statement issued by the Western Command is false, baseless and misleading. Prof. Dhumal has demanded immediate unconditional apology by the authorities responsible for issuing the statement failing which besides filing defamation suit against the concerned authorities’ appropriate legal action will also be initiated.