Moneylife’s expose in 2012 on the then President Pratibha Patil’s land grab of 2,60,000 sq ft of prime A-1 Defence Land in Pune’s Khadki Cantonment for a retirement home, had forced her to return the land. The plot will take on a new avatar as the Rajendrasinghji Army Mess and Institute, from 15th August.
Two clubs coming up at bungalows 26A and 38, which were initially being re-modified and re-designed for Pratibha Patil’s luxurious personal home, will now be dedicated to army officers and to other ranks. An invite is being circulated within army circles, calling for memberships from the station headquarters of Aundh and Kirkee (Khadki).
Hectic activity is going on in the sprawling premises with the leveling of the ground and the bungalows being spruced up through refurbishment of walls and interiors. It is all very hush hush. When this writer called on the phone number mentioned in the invite calling for membership, the person on the other side said he has been directed not to disclose any information unless I provide my Army credentials. When contacted, the Southern Command authorities, too, were tight-lipped. However, on visiting the premises, I gathered from a reliable source supervising the construction and renovation that work was going on apace to meet the deadline.
The bungalows will have a mess of their own. Besides, it would be open for community gatherings. I noticed some guest rooms being done up. There is ample open space in front of the bungalows, bordered by trees, some of them having been hacked during Pratibha Patil’s house construction time. Landscaping too is on the anvil, but priority is being given to do up the bungalows first.
It may be recalled that Moneylife had exposed this issue. It all began with a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by a former army officer, Colonel Suresh Patil, to the Home Ministry seeking information of rules for allocation of a home to the President of India, after he or she retires.
The reply from the Home Ministry said, “…under the President’s Emoluments and Pension Act, 1951 and rules framed under the President’s Pension Rule, 1962, where suitable government residence is not available for allotment to a retired President, the size of the residence to be taken on lease to be provided to a retired President shall have a living area not exceeding 2,000 sq. ft.”
“A place where government-owned accommodation is allotted to a retired President, the size of the residence is comparable to a residence allotted to a Minister in the Union Council of Ministers and if the highest type of government residence available as a particular place is less in size than a residence allotted to a Minister in the Union Council of Ministers, the highest type of accommodation available at that place shall be allotted to the ex-President. At present, a Minister is entitled to a plinth area of the bungalow as 4,498 sq ft.”
Moneylife thereafter got access to other information through RTI, one of which from the Secretariat of President of India’s office too questioned such a precedent. Moneylife began its investigative series on 12 April 2012 by highlighting different aspects of the issue every other day and, on 27 April 2012, a press release from the President of India’s office stated that she was returning the land. Editors Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu used Facebook and Twitter effectively to make each story go viral on social media.
At the ground level, Col Patil, Commander Ravindra Pathak of Indian Ex-Servicemen’s Movement (IESM) and former naval personnel, Anoop Kumar Awasthi, founder of Justice for Jawans (JFJ) fought hard to build public pressure.
Here are some links:
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005, and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book, “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte”, with Vinita Kamte, and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”