An RTI activist from Pune, Col Suresh Patil (retd) remarked, “Dr Rajendra Prasad donated his land to Vinoba Bhave and here we have Pratibhatai Patil taking away the land for of her own men
Consider this: Eight hundred jawans of the Territorial Army (TA) are presently posted in Pune but there is residential accommodation for only 14. This being a family posting (a bonanza offered after a harsh field station posting), each jawan desires to bring his family, otherwise left behind in his hometown, when he is guarding the nation’s frontiers, often in a challenging geographical terrain. However, due to lack of official accommodation, a jawan is asked by his seniors to refrain from getting his family to Pune. Those jawans who decide to get their families to Pune nevertheless, live in slum-like conditions in one-room dwellings, near the Pune cantonment, with no drinking water facility. In addition, paucity of residential accommodation for hundreds of soldiers and officers in the Indian Armed Forces in Pune is causing great inconvenience to the families.
Now consider this: Pratibha Patil, president of India and the supreme commander of the armed forces is building a palatial home for herself on a whopping 261,000 sq ft of land in Khadki Cantonment in Pune (out of which the bungalow occupies about 4,500 sq ft). The land belongs to the defence. It will now have a fortified home, the construction of which is nearing completion.
The president is eligible for only 2,000 sq ft bungalow in any part of the country if he/she wants the government to hire a home for him/her, after retirement. Otherwise, he/she is entitled to a government-owned Class V bungalow (around 4,500 sq ft) if it is available. He/she is not eligible to build a home on government land. Some former defence personnel from Pune who are campaigning against this illegality are taking strong objections to the fact that Ms Patil is constructing her house on government land, when hundreds of jawans and officers are facing official accommodation crisis.
This revelation under the Right to Information (RTI) Act was procured by Col Suresh Patil (retd) and founder of Justice for Jawans (JFJ), RTI activist Anup Awasthi and Indian Ex-servicemen Movement (IESM) who are campaigning against Ms Patil’s ‘snatching’ away land meant for soldiers and officers.
The RTI application was sent to the president’s office. As per the reply, 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”.
The reply under RTI also stated that she is eligible to drinking water and electricity supply, free of cost, throughout her life.
States commander Ravindra Pathak, member of the IESM and who invoked the RTI, “taking away more than 2.5 lakh sq ft of defence land is sheer looting by Ms Patil. We are sending a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to take up the case suo moto. We have no money to pay for lawyers’ expenses.”
Col Suresh Patil (retd) elaborates, “Two defence bungalows have been pulled down to make way for Ms Patil’s bungalow and the vast expanse of land, over 2 lakh sq ft has been fortified for her. We are saying that let her keep the 2,000 sq ft she is entitled to and give away the remaining land for constructing official accommodation for soldiers and officers. Otherwise, there are numerous bungalows in the three cantonments of Pune and she could have been given accommodation in one of these.”
No other president has made such claims for personal gains, alleges Col Patil. He adds says, “Dr Rajendra Prasad donated his land to Vinoba Bhave and here we have Pratibhatai Patil taking away the land for of her own men—after all she is the supreme commander of the armed forces.”
RTI in this case provided information but who’s going to tie the proverbial bell round the cat? Hence, we need a strong anti-corruption law.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also 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. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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