Maharashtra Cantonments, an oasis in dense urban jungles

Mumbai: The Cantonments in Maharashtra, unlike most urban centres in the state, are renowned for their lush greenery, cleanliness, disciplined lifestyle of the personnel working and residing with their families there, virtually undisturbed by the civilian cacophony all around.

Maharashtra has seven Cantonment Board-administered areas, falling partly or within highly-populated civilian regions. While Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Dehu Road, Khadki and Pune fall in the Pune district, Deolali is in the Nashik district and Kamptee in the Nagpur district, there are specific zones for the armed forces (army, navy and air force) in Mumbai, Thane and other cities.

The Cantonments in Maharashtra have well-maintained common features, like huge open spaces, good internal roads, spacious living areas, top-class educational institutions, hospitals, facilities for leisure and recreation such as jogging parks, golf courses, swimming pools, theatres or cinemas, exclusive shopping hubs, with little or no civilian interaction.

Although the Cantonments have their own administrative setup through the Cantonment Boards, frictions with the local civilian authorities were common with the Cantonments jealously safeguarding their territories from the civilians, said a former air force officer, declining to be identified.

As a result, the civic bodies have to struggle hard for implementing town planning or common civic amenities and other public welfare schemes encompassing the Cantonment areas, often with stiff opposition. Most of the time, politicians are peeved when they are not allowed to campaign in these areas during elections.

A majority of Cantonments, carved out with strategic aims during the British era, are quite secluded and thinly populated. But the situation right outside their boundaries spells utter chaos and confusion.

Outside the serene Cantonment areas in both Mumbai and Pune, one often gets to witness densely populated unplanned settlements, massive traffic snarls, high pollution, near absence of greenery, and lack of open spaces or accessible leisure facilities.

“Though they respect us immensely, somehow this tends to create that feeling of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ amo­ng some civilians who envy the purportedly ‘cool life­style’ of the people living in the Cantonment areas,” said a retired officer with a laugh.

Despite growing urbanisation all around, the Cantonment areas would stand out like ‘oases’ in the dense urban jungles in view of the specific needs of the armed forces stationed there, he added.

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