While activists campaigning against President Pratibha Patil’s palatial post-retirement home in Pune are starting a signature campaign today in Pune for citizen support, they are waiting for some crucial answers to their queries invoked through the RTI Act
While the work (though slowed down) is in progress at the 2,42,000 sq ft defence land in Kirkee Cantonment, Pune, where President Pratibha Patil’s palatial mansion in is under construction, RTI (Right to Information) activist Anoop Awasthi who is also part of the campaign against this construction, has asked a series of RTI queries that could further nail the President.
Mr Awasthi is part of the team lead by war veterans Col Suresh Patil and Comm Ravindra Pathak, in the mission to compel President Patil to surrender the land to the defence authorities. Mr Awasthi served as a naval officer (JCO rank) for 15 years. A tenacious RTI activist, Mr Awasthi had also fought a silent battle in the Lavasa campaign.
Some of the RTI applications lying with several defence offices in Pune further pinpoint the illegality involved in the defence authorities handing over this land for such construction:
Date of RTI application: 29th March
Office to which RTI query sent: Chief Executive Officer, Kirkee Cantonment Board
(Awasthi’s remarks: The contract has been allegedly given to contractors who are not registered with MES—Military Engineering Services— a mandatory clause)
Date of RTI application: 20th April
Office to which RTI query sent: Garrison Engineer, MES, Khadki
(Awasthi’s remarks: The contract has been again allegedly given to contractors who are not registered with MES, a mandatory clause)
Date of RTI application: 20th April
Office to which RTI query sent: Headquarters Southern Command
(Awasthi’s remarks: This information would give the crisis-like situation in accommodation for the thousands of officers and jawans who serve at the headquarters of the Southern Command. Against this backdrop, President Patil building a palace is very stark)
Date of RTI Application: 14th April
Office to which query sent: Principal Director, Defence Estate Office, Southern Command, with similar RTI queries filed to Tree Officer, Pune Municipal Commissioner and CEO, Kirkee Cantonment Board
1. Number of trees brought down to facilitate construction on above said land
2. Copy of permission from Tree Department/respective authorities
3. Revenue received from these trees
4. Name and details of contractors appointed
(Awasthi’s remarks: Under the amendment of the National Tree Act Policy 2006, punishment is stringent as it includes imprisonment and a penalty of Rs10,000)
Date of RTI application: 19th March
Office to which query sent: Deputy Director General, Defence, Raksha Sampada Bhavan, Delhi
(Awasthi’s remarks: Both the bungalows are on A1 Defence land—which means it can be used strictly for military official purpose. Under what rule has it been given for President Patil’s personal use?)
The Only RTI that was answered was in the regard of lot allotment
Date of RTI application: 29th March
Office to which query sent: Defence Estate Office, Pune
Details regarding the nature of land.
Date of Reply: 18th April
Reply: The 26A and 38 Bungalows are on A1 land.
Comm Ravindra Pathak (retd), Lt Col Suresh Patil (retd), and Anoop Awasthi are sitting outside the Pune Collector office from 1100 to 1800 hrs on 25th and 26th April to launch their signature campaign. Puneites are requested to visit them and sign the paper. Volunteers are welcome, they write in their press note.
Here’s a petition grievance letter posted by Comm Ravindra Pathak on the website of the President of India:
The registered number is
Your Request/Grievance Registration Number is: PRSEC/E/2012/06069
Dear Hon Smt Pratibhatai Patil President of India,
“We the undersigned appealed to you to return the Army A 1 land that you have selected for your stay post retirement.
“Madam, documents reveal that your office has twisted the facts and told half-truths to cover up the manipulations in getting this land to you for use post retirement.
“If you care to look at the letter written by your secretary to the home secretary with a copy to the defence secretary you will find following error.
“The letter states that you have selected Pune as the place for post-retirement home. Madam welcome to Pune. The letter also states that bungalow number 38 and 26 A have been selected. Dear Madam President, who has given this right to your secretary to select the plots where you will stay? The rules state that in areas outside New Delhi highest type of existing government accommodation shall be made available.
“Further the letter states that your secretary has spoken to the defence secretary. Why has this been done by your Secretary? That is the job of the home secretary.
“We hope you are aware that your type VIII entitlement ends in New Delhi. Outside New Delhi your entitlement is only 4,498 sq ft plinth with additional 1,065 sq ft for your office security, etc, of temporary and portable specification. Please note no rules talk of size of plots in the entitlement. So why has your secretary brought our plot sizes? We are sure you are aware that even in Delhi all Type VIII bungalows do not have same size of plot.
“Dear madam how has your secretary has come to a conclusion that a plot of 1,29,373 sq ft is not adequate to meet all legal needs of the President? What is the FSI your secretary has used?
“We hope that a serving military officer who staying in bungalow No 38 was made to shift residence for the sake of your palace. Is this fair play?
“Madam President your secretary has clearly stated that special repairs would have to be carried out. Madam we hope you are aware that special repairs do not include pulling down of the old structure.
“Please see the photo to see how much environmental damage your Special repairs have done.
“The secretary further goes on to state that that special repairs and further maintenance would be required to be carried out by Defence establishment. Why should the defence establishment bear the cost of your retirement the secretary suggests that unless there is a reason no cost would be borne by home ministry or the urban development ministry?
“Dear Madam if it is the duty of defence establishment (read army) to bear the cost of your retirement as Supreme Commander after a tenure of just five years why is it that you have not bothered to look after the interests of your soldiers who live in slums and your retired soldiers who are being wrong pension even after the recommendations of Sixth Pay Commission and why is your government fighting every case of veterans in the court?
“If the Supreme Commander for five years service, living in luxury of Raisina Hill gets so much, then please give at least four times more to those who have served in hardships for more years than you.
“You have refused to be the chief patron of one of our veterans’ organizations. We hope you were aware that all past presidents have graced that patronship in the past.
“We the citizens are worried and angry that you are setting a bad and dangerous precedent of people in high government posts to usurp army land meant for army use only. None of her predecessors ever asked for such a favour and were happy retiring in modest residences.
“We request you to reconsider your and only your decision to stay on army land meant for army use and return the land for army use.”
Comm Ravindra Pathak (retd)
(Vinita Deshmukh is a 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 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 [email protected])
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