Shimla: Locking horns with Himachal government over demand for handing over of Annandale ground for building a stadium, Army on Sunday said national security cannot be ignored for "game and gimmicks" but the Chief Minister hit back alleging the area was under military's "illegal occupation".

The 121-bigha dale, surrounded by thick forests just 4.5 km from Shimla's Ridge, has been under the army's control since World War II and has now become a bone of contention between the state government and the army amid an intensified campaign launched Himachal Pradesh Cricket association (HPCA) headed by Anurag Thakur, MP and son of Chief Minister P K Dhumal, to restore it to the state authorities.

Adopting a tough posture, the army today rejected the demand saying, "Annandale ground is of paramount strategic significance for Indian Army from national security perspective which 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".

The historic ground from where the Durand cup started, was major centre of activities during British rule and also a Race course, was leased to the Army during the World war II, to be used as a training camp and the lease expired some thirty years ago.

The state government had been asking the Army to handover the ground to be developed as a multiple sports stadium.

 Noting that the campaign, with full backing of the government was gaining momentum, Army said in a statement that "For quite some time now, ignoring the larger national interest and at the cost of national security and disaster management reports have appeared in media on the issue of construction of a cricket stadium at Annandale – an open and large ground under the management of Army since 1941.

 "Annandale Ground is of paramount strategic significance for Indian Army from the national security perspective.

 "The strategic significance of Annandale as forward logistic and operational base for operations in the sector adjoining Himachal is being overlooked in preference for a Cricket Stadium".

 "With such strategic importance both during war and peace, the piece of land has needlessly become an issue and it would be prudent and will do well for all concerned to put a lid on the issue and let the serene and pristine environs of Annandale be left untouched for utilisation in the larger national interest as has been happening for almost three fourth of a century now".

Reacting sharply to the army statement, the chief minister today said that "factually, Annandale ground belongs to Himachal and in under unlawful occupation of the Army".

Dhumal alleged that the "statement issued by the army is false, baseless, misleading, defamatory and aimed at maligning the clean image of the state Government in general and Chief Minister, in particular".

He sought immediate unconditional apology by the authorities responsible for issuing the statement, failing which he said he would file a defamation suit and initiate appropriate legal action.

Chief Minister said that it appears from the statement issued by Western Command that the Save Annandale campaign launched by the citizens of the town has been painted in a political colour to malign his image.

The Chief Minister said that the issue was brought to the notice of Government of India during the NDA regime and the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and defence minister George Fernades were apprised of the position and it was decided to provide alternate land to army to carry out various activities and vacate the ground for sports related activities in the capital town of Shimla.

He said 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.

Dhumal said that recently the Himachal High Court passed directions to the government to provide suitable space to give boost to sports activities amongst the young and youth residing in Shimla and citizens of Shimla formed a Forum in which 14 sports associations of the town joined hands to get back Annandale Ground.