President Pratibha Patil’s Pune land: How Moneylife’s flow of stories and use of social networking triggered citizen’s victory

The story of President Pratibha Patil’s palatial home was doing the rounds for quite sometime. However, it was only when Moneylife first wrote about it on 11th April and then followed it up with nine other articles that it triggered off a national debate in the media and social networking sites—a remarkable example of what the RTI, Internet, Twitter and Facebook combine can do what the largest of media companies cannot and will not do. A recap by Moneylife columnist Vinita Deshmukh

I happened to meet Col Suresh Patil (retd) at a felicitation function of Pune’s Padma awardees about four weeks back, when he mentioned about President Pratibha Patil building a palatial post retirement home in Pune. It was a short conversation but I kept this at the back of my mind and decided to follow it up, especially because he mentioned he had procured some documents under the RTI (Right to Information) Act.
Immediately the next day, I called him up and asked him to meet me along with the documents he was talking about the previous evening. When I went through the documents I was shocked to note that as against the home ministry rules wherein a retired president of India is eligible for maximum 4,498 sq ft of an ‘existing’ government accommodation, documents showed that she was building a mansion on a whopping 2,42,000 sq ft land. I wondered why the Pune media had not gone to town with this story, despite the fact that he had held a press conference. News items though had appeared, on an issue which was too potent to be tamed/silenced.
Three press conferences were held since July 2011 but there was tame reaction from the media in Pune. Col Suresh Patil (retd) who took up the campaign against this “land grab” not only held press conferences but visited newspaper offices to tell his story, but no one was listening. By any standard of journalism, it was a mind-blowing story for any journalist—of the President of India, Pratibha Patil who holds the highest office in the country, building a palatial post retirement mansion on a sprawling 2,42,ooo sq ft prime defence land in Khadki.

I penned this story with all relevant details in my RTI column of 11th April, which appears in Moneylife every Wednesday (and of which I am also the Consulting Editor).
Sucheta Dalal, the firebrand journalist who broke the Harshad Mehta scam in April 1992 and is the Managing Editor of Moneylife and Debashis Basu, the Founder Editor and Publisher, immediately sensed the importance of this story. They not only gave it the prominent place of on but used the social networking sites to good effect. Sucheta, who has more than 20,000 followers on the Twitter, tweeted the story link and so did Debashis. They also uploaded it on the Facebook. Lo and behold, by the morning of 12th April, it had gone viral and my story titled “President Pratibha Patil grabs 2,61,000 sq ft of land meant for soldiers and officers” had aroused the entire nation. In these days of the Internet, the marriage between an Internet website and social media networking can be formidable, as proved by the editors of Moneylife in first uploading the story prominently and then transmitting it in cyberspace.
Thereafter, the electronic and the print media followed up the story, with CNN IBN managing editor Rajdeep Sardesai giving credit to Moneylife and taking up the issue first in electronic media. And then everyone else picked up the story and highlighted it in their respective channels/newspapers. Even then, Indian Express tried to side with the powerful by blowing up the story on Col Suresh Patil who was being maliciously targeted by the Defence Estate Office for encroachment on some temporary sheds of his outhouse. This newspaper had nothing to say about one of the largest and shocking cases of irregularity done by none other than the President of India.
Thereafter, Sucheta and Debashis welcomed every story I wrote on the issue, based on additional documents under RTI by activists Col Suresh Patil (retd), Comm Ravindra Pathak and Anoop Awasthi, a formal naval officer and well known RTI activist (who was the one who procured vital documents under RTI).

 I filed 10 stories between 11th April and 27th April. In these times when editors across newspapers prefer to be status quo-ists and don’t take chances with stories that take on the establishment, it was the courage of conviction of Sucheta and Debashis that brought the truth to tens of thousands of readers across the country and the globe.  Each of my stories was placed on top of the website and each one was posted on Facebook and Twitter to a large body of followers.
Of course, we never expected the story to reach the logical end so soon. It is an example of how democracy can win if the media plays it strong and powerful, the way Moneylife consistently did. There is also one bigger lesson to learn from the outcome of this story. That, every journalist should make RTI as an integral and mandatory part of his or her professional career. As it is—even with the ‘proof’ through RTI that land was illegally given to Ms Patil, the President of India’s official press release on Friday mentioned about vilification campaign against Pratibha Patil. However, the fact is, the black and white documents made her defence-less and she was compelled to surrender the land, within four weeks of Moneylife having broke the story.
Last but not the least, hats off to the three soldiers—Col Suresh Patil (retd), Comm Ravindra Pathak (retd) and Anoop Awasthi, a naval officer of short service commission. All three of them tenaciously fought the battle against all odds, with a mission to pursue it to the logical end. The next week, they had planned for a PIL in the Supreme Court, with Sucheta playing the mediator between them and the best lawyers.
However, good sense prevailed upon the President and she surrendered the land. So, it is apt that she be given due credit for upholding the highest tradition of democracy wherein peoples’ sentiments and laws are respected.
A very big lesson from this story is that, please do not be cynical. I kept questioning  myself, “Will anything happen?” It happened, and really fast. Long live democracy. Long live spirited journalism and activism. Long live peoples’ voices. Long live RTI and may it be used in the service of public-interest journalism.


(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])

Rajkumar Singh
1 decade ago
Hats off to the Team of Moneylife for an excellent job done. It sets an example for the public to understand their power of democracy to resolve any issue, without taking any legal recourse.
Adi Daruwalla
1 decade ago
Kudos to the efforts put in by Vinita deshmukh on the expose for the palatial house that the ex President would ahve accquired. Well for Prtibha Patil, she should understand that "intelligence to have and wisdom to lack is like a pack of boks on an asses back." President Patil it is at the right time you became wise, to revise the bad decision you had made.
1 decade ago
Well done Moneylife team .
Tainted President With Murder And What Not By Her Near Relatives.
Now Really Found Guilty.
Nagesh Kini FCA
1 decade ago
That a once considered 'above board' newspaper should vilify Col, Patil shows the level to which our journal has down graded itself. It also got egg on its face with its false alarm of an attempted' military coup front page report. It has lost whatever little credibility it had earned under distinguished editors like Arun Shourie and others. They too are a prey to the paid for journalism era.Very sad in deed!
Dr Vaibhav G Dhoka
1 decade ago
This resolution was due to pressure created and credit goes to moneylife team who has taken immense efforts.This PRESSURE phenomenon should used in more more such high profile case as well as agist regulators like SEBI/RBI/IRDA who take cunsumer or presisely investor for ride.AS they have nothing to loose for their INACTION.
dayananda kamath k
1 decade ago
congratulations and kudos for the eoman service to the country for preventing loot of the defence land and defence money. congress has the history of appointing such people to high posts to degenerate the dignity of that post and they can get what is required form that post.
A K Ramdas
1 decade ago
The only way to stop this kind of fooling by the party in power is to change the system of selecting the President. There should be direct selection of President by the people of India, exactly similar to the US Presidential form of elections. Only the dedicated individual who has a track record of public service who has no taint of corruption need to be chosen as President. Naraanamurthy of Infosys is one of the best available for this purpose. If not, why not recall
Dr Abdul Kalam our former President?
dayananda kamath k
Replied to A K Ramdas comment 1 decade ago
apj abdul kalam may be the best among the present contenders. but we must not forget that he has failed in his basic duty as president when he dismissed bihar govt from a foriegn land based on telepohonic communication. so he has failed in his duty when he should have exercised more caution. and his action has been comented by supreme court. when congress is in power every president behaves as if he is serving the party. and when any other govt is there they exercise all the powers they have to block even the good decisions of the govt.
Replied to dayananda kamath k comment 1 decade ago
The President doesn't take decisions directly,he is advised by his office bearers and also the by government is power.
President cannot be blamed squarely.Kalam is a suitable candidate and maintains decorum and dignity of the Office.
dayananda kamath k
Replied to Sandeep comment 1 decade ago
it is very sad that an elected govt is being dismissed and president did not exercise minimum probity and ordered dismissal from a foriegn land. if he does not exeercise power then any one can be made president becasue he has to act as dictated by his so called advisors. he has failed at the crucial duty as president. if he is such a upright person he should have resigned as soon as supreme court reverted the desicision.
Replied to A K Ramdas comment 1 decade ago
You recommendation is far step gone ahead.This is unnecessary wastage of resources,both financial and human.The President in America is the head of governance which is not the case here,mostly being figure head.
Prime Minister's Office, which is non-existent in USA, is the central core of administration here.
a k ramdas
Replied to Sandeep comment 1 decade ago
Thank you Mr Sandeep; I am aware of the difference between our President and the
US Head of State. I am talking not of redistribution of power, but merely suggesting that the election of President, instead of being left to an electoral college of elected reps, why not have the voting public have a say in such matters? Who was paying for the construction of this palatial edifice for the President, how will this be used now?
Replied to a k ramdas comment 1 decade ago
Your reply is nothing but akin to beating around the bush.Your suggestion is fruitless as President who has no direct authoritative powers to governance,cannot make his/her presence felt.Hence electing him by people doesn't bring any difference to them.
The purpose is not served.
Moreover, it will be a tremendous drain on resources.
A constitutional amendment bringing some powers to the Office of the President,may help people if elected directly.
1 decade ago
Congrats to Vinita and the Moneylife foundation for successfully preventing another developing scam. The entire nation should be grateful to you for this gutsy performance. I am not prepared to give any credit for the President for giving up the land because she would have been forced to do so, once you approached Supreme Court. Our job is only half done. What the President and the defence officials tried to do was illegal. Who gave the sanctions for this? Should we not bring these guilty people to book? Public interest will be fully served only if these people are punished - so that it will refrain others from similar illegal acts.
1 decade ago
Now the reason for returning the land, being given is that she is "pained" by the charges. LOL!
As if the great deeds she did as Governor of Rajasthan, alloting a princely sum of 2 crores for war widows, was from her own pocket!

1 decade ago
Congrats for the good work. Mighty and greedy President has been shamed and felled. This should serve as a lesson for the greedy politicians. Blank looting of country is not possible. Alert citizens are watching and such campaigns will be wholeheartedly supported by the ever vigilant activists and citizens
1 decade ago
Kudos to Vinita, and the team at Moneylife for highlighting the issue and waking up the common man.
More power to your ilk.
Best Wishes.
Aniruddha Sengupta
1 decade ago
Having played an important role in the whole episode, there is absolutely no harm in gloating about your achievement. Otherwise how can you increase the number of your readers both offline and online? All the best to the ML team!
p k
1 decade ago
this was really fantastic.

now we have another SHAMELESS CONGRESSI KALMADI who is ready to go for the IOC olympic election.

how shamless and thick skinned a person can be !!
1 decade ago
Allow the story to die now.You are flashing the old story(yes, old) on the front headline of your portal to keep the momentum going.I hope you are not cashing on bringing the matter to limelight.I have high regard for this magazine for holding on to journalistic morale in this era of crass commercialisation.
I wish you are not in the same bandwagon as others.
1 decade ago
Congratulations to all of you at Moneylife, especially to Vinita Deshmukh, who broke and pursued the story, when the rest of the media played safe and sat on the fence. Kudos to Veeresh Malik for his promotion of the campaign and of course to all the RTI activists and former soldiers in Pune whose persistence against the odds, finally paid off.
Replied to Java comment 1 decade ago
Yes immense thanks to Veereshji for the support in taking over charge of replying to readers' mails and all the time giving good suggestions and advice. Very grateful
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