Even before the city was chosen by Pratibha Patil recently asher retirement destination, it seems to have been her preferred place for a visit during her five-year tenure as president of the country.
A reply to an application filed by this reporter with the outgoing president’s secretariat under the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveals Patil made 13 visits to the city during her tenure. The information provided says she spent 37 days and 24 nights in the city.
Little wonder, then, that Puneites heaved a sigh of relief after the election of Pranab Mukherjee as the new president, as they had to go through quite an ordeal because of the traffic congestion resulting from the VIP security arrangements during Patil’s visits.
According to the information given by the president's secretariat, all the visits Patil made to the city were for official purposes. Reacting to the information on Patil’s visits to the city, activists who had opposed her palatial post-retirement residence in the city have alleged that although the president’s secretariat claimed that all her visits were official, they suspected most visits were for personal reasons.
The RTI application also sought information about the total revenue expenditure on Patil’s visit along with the expenditure on security during her stay in the city, but these details were not revealed by the secretariat.
Cost borne by state
The president’s secretariat replied that the entire expenditure was borne by the state government. It said the desired information might be sought from the state government. The information given by the president’s secretariat also disclosed that there is no prescribed protocol on the number of visits a president may make to a particular city.
Colonel Suresh Patil (Retired), who fought a successful campaign against the grant of a palatial post-retirement residence for Patil on land that could have been used for soldiers and officers, said: “It could have been understood if Patil had come to attend inauguration functions of government institutions, but during her tenure she sometimes came to the city to inaugurate city-based private institutions.”
In November last year, Pratibha Patil inaugurated a private international animation school. “Before making official commitments, authorities should have understood that the expenditure on her visits, which is sometimes in the crores of rupees, ultimately come from the pockets of the citizens in the form of various taxes paid to the government. Besides, the entire government machinery has to be on its toes until she reaches her destination safely,” Colonel Patil (Retired) said.
Officials on toes
On occasions when VIPs like the president, prime minister, chief minister or any foreign dignitaries visit any city, government hospitals and the local police have to be on their toes till the VIPs leave the city. Leaves of the all employees of the government department concerned get cancelled and they have to be on 24-hour duty till the VIPs leave the city.
Commander Mukund Lele (Retired), who had witnessed the extreme traffic chaos in the city during President Patil’s visits, said: “I doubt whether each and every visit by Patil to the city in the last five years was official. She could have understood that a single visit to the city disturbed the routine life of the citizens as they had to face the problem of traffic snarls for hours.”
Ex-serviceman and RTI activist Anoop Awasthi claimed that President Patil attended such unimportant inaugural functions in the city as could have been inaugurated even by a localleader.
“I have raised the issue earlier and also conducted a signature campaign on the same,” Awasthi said. Officer on Special Duty to the President Archana Datta said that she strongly refuted the claims of social and RTI activists that Patil had made officials visits for personal reasons. “She could not make any personal visit to the city in the name of official visits,” Datta said.
Some presidential visits
>> During her visit to the city from January 6-8, 2011, President Pratibha Patil had no official engagement on January 7
>> Patil attended the convocation function at a deemed university in Pimpri and visited the Agriculture College in the city on her last visit to the city from June 8 to June 10 this year
>> During a four-day visit to the city, on November 30, 2011, Patil attended a number of functions, including the inauguration of a private international animation school and a function at a deemed university