The historical reasons required for building different cantonments depend on the prevailing political and military realities of different times. For example, the Secunderabad Cantonment was established to assist the Nizam of Hyderabad against local opponents, while the Lucknow Cantonment was established to keep pressure on the Nawab of Awadh and eventually to occupy the kingdom. Likewise the need for a cold climate for British troops and the strategic importance of the Doab established the hill Cantonments and the present Cantonments in Uttar Pradesh, respectively.

However, irrespective of local factors, the paramount consideration in setting up all these Cantonments was the need for military camps in various strategic locations in India to establish, maintain and consolidate the rule of a foreign power. Spread of diseases like, diarrhoea, malaria, and venereal diseases among the troops necessitated the cantoning (insulation) of these military camps from the local population.

Records of 19th-century British India reveal that the health and hygiene of the soldiers was one of the main areas of concern that the rulers of the country had to contend with. This consideration coupled with the desire of an alien ruling elite to distance itself from the native population led to the development of an insulated type of character in all these cantonments which has continued till date.

While most of the cantonments were established in the early 19th century, it took almost seventy-five years for specific civil and military administration, which are still present in the sixty-two cantonments of the country.

Adhocism guided the initial administration of all these cantonments and a large set of rules and regulations developed to suit the needs of local administrators. Command officers were in charge of both civil and military administration. To assist the commanding officer in his civil duties, there was also a group of civil officers such as sanitary officers, executive engineers and civil surgeons. He also consulted the magistrate of the district on important issues of civil and criminal administration.

This system of informal consultation was later codified into a permanent structure called the Cantonment Committee by Act XXII of 1864. This act was the first attempt by the British to end the observance of the cantonment administration till then. It legalized cantonment administration and granted sanctity to organizations like Cantonment Committee and Cantonment Magistrate (current CEO) with retrospective effect. Cantonment committees were empowered to regulate and administer civic functions. However, due to some notable changes the Cantonment Boards have now shifted from purely governmental bodies to democratic nature with the inclusion of elected members. But more importantly, the board is now playing the role of agencies for the main development of the cantonments along with the erstwhile role of regulatory and civil administrator.

These committees are the original precursors of modern Cantonment Boards present in all the 62 Cantonments today. With the departure of British in 1947 a great deal of change was brought about by the succeeding nationalist regime in both civil and military spheres but elements of continuity are still visible in the Cantonment Boards. The Cantonment Boards have been instrumental in maintaining the distinctive character of the Cantonment developed during the 150 years of the Cantonment Board’s rule. This uniqueness of the Cantonments is largely the result of the Cantonments Act, 2006 governing the Cantonment Boards today and which are heavily attracted by the rules and regulations developed during the 19th century.