New Delhi/Shimla - The controversy over ownership of the Annadale Ground in Shimla Monday reached New Delhi with Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal raising it during the chief ministers' conference even as the army sought to clear the air by saying "there is no conflict with the state".
The 121-bigha green patch (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.
On Sunday, Dhumal threatened to file a defamation suit if the army did not apologise for alleging that the state government wanted to grab the Annandale Ground.
Speaking at the chief ministers' meet on internal security in the national capital, 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 here said.
Dhumal demanded an enquiry into the whole matter and asked for "suitable action against all those responsible in this matter".
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 logically, operationally and from the disaster point of view very critical," Sharma told reporters.
He said the army has "no issue with the state government".
Justifying keeping the ground in the army's possession, Sharma said it was also needed for carrying out relief operations in case of natural disasters in forward areas in the region.
"Considering the fact that this area falls under the high seismic zone and it has the history of flashfloods, yes the army needs its possession."
Sharma said the armed forces were regularly conducting exercises, both operational and disaster management in addition to routine training.
"It's a mother helipad (important point for landing and operations of helicopters) from where both relief and rescue operations are carried out quickly and smoothly," Sharma added.
He was here to oversee disaster management exercises of the army.
Sharma also denied that the army had issued any statement alleging that the state government wanted to grab the land.
"We have never issued any such statement," Sharma said, adding that "the army has nothing to say about the issues raised by the media (over the tussle between the government and the army over the ownership of the ground)".
He refuted reports of differences between the army and the state. "Both have good relations."
"It's a state which contributed maximum to the armed forces. Even the government is amiable with the army as it has promised to provide a land to the army for setting up a regimental centre."
The chief minister had said the land belonged to the state government and was under unlawful occupation of the army. He said the land was given to the army on lease for 10 years and the term was extended. He added that the lease had not been renewed for the last 30 years.
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.