Lt Col Suresh Patil (Retd), chief trustee, Justice for Jawans and Green Thumb Environment Group, was ecstatic over President Pratibha Patil’s decision to give up the plot of military land designated for her retirement home at Khadki in Pune. MiD DAY first reported on the issue on August 31 (‘Keep army land for our men, not Prez: Retired servicemen) and subsequently followed up on the developments as they happened. Lt Col Patil had spearheaded a relentless campaign to protest against the 2.16-lakh sqft plot of military land at Khadki being specially converted to make way for the President’s retirement home.
“This is a moral victory for our eight-month-old agitation to get back the land for war widows and injured soldiers,” he said. Archana Datta, special officer on duty to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, published a letter on the website, which declared that the President was relinquishing the Khadki land and her intension was also conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through an official letter.
Lt Col Patil said, “God is great! Our President Madam has voluntarily reacted to our plea to leave the land for war martyr’s widows and injured soldiers. We welcome her decision and grace to leave the land for the wider perspective of the nation. I personally thank MiD DAY for its strong support from day one till today. The battle for justice would not have been possible otherwise.” Lt Col Patil, along with Commander Ravindra Pathak (Retd) and Anup Avasthi had organised a signature campaign recently before the office of the Pune Collectorate and submitted 1,143 signatures supporting the demand for the land to be relinquished.
“We had not lost hope and were planning to file a PIL in the Delhi High Court to stop construction work on the plot, where over 15 trees were hacked,” Pathak said. A jubilant Avasthi said that their agitation was a success, though it came after taxpayer’s money had been used to conduct some work on the plot. “We are all thrilled as our agitation to seek justice for the homeless jawans has come through. I welcome the President’s decision although it came late, thereby causing loss of taxpayer’s money since an estimated amount of between Rs 4 or 5 crore has already been spent on the bungalow,” Avasthi said.
Veteran women’s activist, Vidya Bal, who supported Justice for Jawans and Green Thumb Environment Group, said, “I have written a letter to President Patil to express my gladness over her decision and for respecting public opinion.” Meanwhile, officials from Southern Command, which is headquartered in Pune, stated that they were aware of the new development about the Khadki land reserved for the President’s retirement home. “We have not received any orders from the top to take any further course of action,” a senior officer said.