After the British Empire in India was established and consolidated in the latter half of the 19th century, laws recognizing, prescribing, regulating and administering rights in lands and obligations arising therefrom were enacted in the Presidencies. These were the Bombay Land Revenue Code 1879, the Punjab Land Revenue Act 1887, the Madras Land Revenue Code, the Bengal Land Revenue Code, the United Provinces Land Revenue Code 1902, the Central Provinces and Berar Land Revenue Code etc.
Cantonments Act was brought into force in 1889. Thereafter, a subordinate legislation known as the Cantonment Code 1899, presented the rules on maintenance of the records of rights of the lands in Cantonments, and also laid down the rules for leasing out lands. After introduction of this Code, no grants were given in the Cantonments. The grants given till 1899 came to be referred to as “Old Grants”.
Many Cantonments were established after the first one, in 1765, at Barrackpore. In 1924, Cantonments Act 1924 was enacted in replacement of the earlier legislations and Codes.The land administration in the Cantonments was to be carried on under the Cantonments Land Act 1924, later replaced by the Cantonments Land Administration Rules (CLAR) 1937. The rights shown in the General Lands Register (GLR) prepared according to these rules. Dependable record of rights of lands outside the Cantonments was carried out under the Acquisition, Custody and Relinquishment of Military Lands Rules 1927, later substituted by the ACR(ML) Rules 1944, with the Military Estates Officer maintaining a Military Lands Register, (MLR) similar to General Lands Register of Cantonments.
With the establishment of the federal system of governance through the Government of India Act, 1935, the real estates of the Government of India were apportioned between the Central Government and the Provincial Governments.
Following independence of Pakistan, the assets that were with the Ex-state forces and the lands that had been in use for defence purposes accrued to the Government of Pakistan (Ministry of Defence) through constitutional provisions. These were brought on record and consolidated by Military Estates Officers. The Military Estates Officers were empowered to deal with all compensation claims, disputes and court cases pertaining to all lands of the Ministry of Defence. Prevention, detection and removal of encroachments on the defence lands was also added as a responsibility of the organization entrusted with custody. Presently, there are 11 Military Estate Circles in Pakistan.
Cantonments were established in the British era as separate administrative units with imposition of stricter laws. Improved sanitation, hygiene and security were provided to the British troops under the rules and orders promulgated by the Commanding Officers.
Initially, no private interests were allowed in the Cantonments. Subsequently, permission to build houses / bungalows / shops was given on lands provided on grants. More and more private bungalows and shelters for the service-providers in the bazars were permitted. Thus, a civilian group of people came to live in the Cantonments by the middle of the 19th century. The Regulations were made for proper lay-out of streets, soldier lines, bungalows, public buildings, shopping areas etc. Cantonments were considered more prestigious to live in.
Cantonments Act XIII of 1889 provided for the establishment of a Cantonment Authority to deal with various municipal functions in the Cantonments. It extended to the whole of British India. The Cantonment Authority consisted of Officer Commanding the Station, all Commanding Officers in the Cantonment, Cantonment Magistrate, Sanitary Officer, Executive Engineer and the District Superintendent of Police. The Officer Commanding the Station was the ex-officio President.
In the wake of the Government of India Act 1919, the successive Cantonments Acts and Codes were repealed and the Cantonments Act 1924 was introduced. This provided for elected civilian representation, levy of taxes, and regulation of building and trading activities. Parity was introduced in the civilian membership with official membership. Considering the fact that Cantonments are predominantly occupied by the army, this was very reasonable. It provided for all measures as in pure municipal legislation. The Cantonments were classified into three categories depending on the size of the civilian population therein. Depending on this the Cantonment Boards were authorized 3 to 15 members. The taxes to be levied were comparable to those in the adjacent municipality.
The Boards could maintain their own funds and appoint their own staff. The Officer Commanding the Station became the ex-officio President. A civilian officer belonging to the newly created Executive Officers Cadre, appointed by the Central Government was made Secretary to the Cantonment Board and its Executive Officer. The Board functioned under the supervision and control of the General Officer Commanding-in- Chief the Command, who had a civilian advisor Deputy Inspecting Officer independent of the Army to advise him. The General Officer Commanding-In-Chief was directly accountable to the Central Government. This scheme of administration continued even after the enactment of the Government of India Act 1935 and the Constitution of Pakistan. These made local self government in Cantonments a Central subject for purposes of legislation and control. Pakistan inherited 23 cantonment boards. Presently, there are 44 notified Cantonment Boards.
In 1975, a new Cadre named “The Military Lands and Cantonments Service” was instituted absorbing all the Military Estates Officers, the Executive Officers of the Cantonments and the Directorate in the Ministry of Defence. The appointments to this Cadre were made through the Civil Services Examination annually conducted by the FPSC.
The staff of the Cantonment Boards, are recruited by the Cantonment Boards and paid from their funds. All the activities of the Organization are monitored, and supervised from the Directorate of Military Lands and Cantonments, Ministry of Defence.