This bungalow in Khadki Cantonment area near Pune was taken over and later demolished
RTI documents reveal an official communication to President Pratibha Patil that new construction is “not the right option’’
In reaction to our report on how President Pratibha Patil has grabbed defence land, far in excess of her entitlement to build a palatial post-retirement residence, we now have further documents and photographs to show how two bungalows was commandeered for the President for demolition and reconstruction.
Things began moving when Pratibha Patil opted for Pune as her home after retirement. “The president has expressed her desire to settle down in Pune, Maharashtra on completion of her tenure on 25 July 2012. Keeping that in mind, Bungalow no 38 and 26A which are contagiously located within the Defence Cantonment area on Bombay-Pune Road have been identified.’’
Interestingly, the President’s office in that letter had taken the line that the bungalows should be only repaired and not demolished for construction of a new one, as recently February 1, 2011. However, almost in the same breath it also finds a specious way to justify allocation of property in excess of the eligibility of house accommodation for a President, post-retirement, when the intention was apparently quite different.
A letter written by Dr Christy Fernandez, secretary to the President of India, to home secretary GK Pillai on 11 February 2011 (obtained by activists), states that any new construction is “not the right option as it would not operationally be convenient and aesthetically acceptable.” Hence, the letter suggested that the next bungalow no 26A be used for office purposes.
Army man closing the gate after taking over the property
As per the inspection site report of the Defence Estate Office done on 23 and 24 June 2011, bungalow No 38, which has been acquired, itself has open space of around 3.40 acres which amount to 1.48 lakh odd sq ft. This by itself exceeds the eligibility criteria of house accommodation for a retired President. According to the home ministry’s rulebook, this should not exceed 4,498 sq ft.
Nevertheless, bungalow No 26A was also requisitioned on the claim that it would be required for office purposes, if No 38 were not demolished. That bungalow, as per the site inspection reports rests on 2.10 acres of land. So the total area allocated to the President is 5.5 acres, which is 2.42 lakh sq ft. That is official now, thanks to documents procured under the RTI Act, from the President's office and the Defence Estate Office in Pune.
Mr Fernandez, a loyal official, makes a case for the President needing more space in the letter to the Mr Pillai with this argument, “The bungalow No 38 does not have adequate space to set up the office and the related facilities required to be provided to a former President. Creating this extra facility in Bungalow No 38 would amount to additional construction to the existing building, which may not be the right option as it would not be operationally convenient and aesthetically acceptable. Hence, the request for using the adjacent vacant building for the purpose of setting up office, etc.’’
The letter continues to reiterate the aspect of repairs. It states, “Special repairs required prior to occupancy of the building and its subsequent regular maintenance and upkeep will have to be undertaken by the Defence establishment itself, as it would be administratively and operationally convenient to do so... It is necessary to take up the matter straightaway since the civil work involved will be time consuming as the building require heavy repairs particularly the one which remains unoccupied.’’
Army men removing a tank from the property, that was later found discarded near a road in Khadki
Bungalow No 38 was, until a few months being used as an official accommodation for a military officer. There is nothing wrong if this is given to the President as she or he is entitled to an existing government accommodation. However, it is a mystery how the argument made against demolition of an existing bungalow is used to usurp another one and then both are demolished to start a brand new construction. The letter from the President’s office, clearly seeks that the bungalow be vacated for repairs: “It is understood that Bungalow No 38 is presently occupied by the Commandant Works, Bombay Engineering Group and Centre (The Bombay Sappers) while Bungalow No 26A is presently lying unoccupied.
The matter was informally discussed with the Defence authorities who are inclined to allow the use of these buildings for the suggested purpose without any change of their ownership. Hence the matter may please be taken up with the Ministry of Defence for timely vacation of the premises to carry out requisite repairs to render them befitting for occupation on completion of the tenure of the President.’’
And so the mystery of the new construction has still to be unravelled. The ownership of one of the two bungalows is also a separate story.
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