Trees axed to make room for President's retirement home

Taking a strong stand against the chopping of several trees on the construction site of President Pratibha Patil’s retirement home in Khadki, Lt Col Suresh Patil (Retd) and his NGO for environment protection Green Thumb plan to take the issue to the Bombay High Court.

Lt Col Patil said four big trees were completely destroyed on the premises where the President is constructing twin bungalows. The President’s home is coming up on a 2.61 lakh sq ft plot.

President Patil’s retirement home has been in controversy from the first, with Lt Col Patil and other ex-servicemen protesting against the project on the grounds that the defence land should be used to benefit retired military men as many among them could not afford residential property in the city.

MiD DAY published a string of reports on the issue, starting with ‘Keep Army Land for Our Men, Not Prez: Retired Service Men’ on August 31, 2011. “How many more violations are to be tolerated before the President’s residence comes up on the sprawling, 2.61 lakh sq feet of land?” Lt Col Patil (Retd) said.

“We are not only going to court, but also staging an agitation next week before the Collector’s Office gate on behalf of Green Thumb and Justice for Jawan, an ex-servicemen’s anti-corruption forum.”

Killed: A hacked tree at the construction site in Khadki yesterday. President Pratibha Patil’s twin bungalows are coming up on the plot. Pic/Krunal Gosavi

Lt Col Patil clarified that their stir should not be seen as a campaign against President Patil. “We don’t have any grievances against the President, but where her residence is being constructed is defence land and it should be reserved to provide accommodation to army men, widows of war martyrs and injured soldiers.

We also want the homeless ex-servicemen to be allotted residence on priority basis,” he said. Referring to a copy of a notification (GSR No 1328) of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Lt Col Patil said the possibility of the retirement home exceeding the allowed area should alos be looked into.

“A retired president is entitled to have furnished residence on area not exceeding 2,000 sq ft,” he said. Lt Col Patil and RTI activist Anup Avasthi had filed an RTI application with the President’s Office seeking information on the allotment of accommodation to former presidents.

In the reply, the Ministry of Home Affairs had cited Section 5 of the President’s Emoluments and Pension Act, 1951, and rules framed under the President’s Pension Rule, 1962.

“It is stated that if a suitable government residence is not available for allotment to a retired president, the size of the residence to be taken on lease to be provided to a retired president shall have a living area not exceeding 2,000 sq ft,” Lt Col Patil said.

The other side
The President has been dragged into the Khadki land issue as she is a soft target, said Archana Datta, Officer on Special Duty, Rashtrapati Bhavan, over the phone when asked to comment on the issue. “Whatever allegations Col Patil is making are wrong and baseless. Why a hue and cry is being made when President Madam has expressed a wish to live in Pune after her retirement?” she said.

“Lt Col Patil and the local media should expose the Cantonment land mafias instead. They know that the President Madam can’t speak anything and therefore she has been made a soft target.” On the tree cutting issue, Datta said: “Order to cut trees in the Khadki land residence was not given by the President. Col Patil should ask this question to the Ministry of Defence.”

Datta also refuted allegations of new construction being undertaken. “The President is not making any new construction but only revising the old structure, that’s all,” she said. “The rule of living area of 2,000 sq ft built-up with free electricity, water is only applicable for accommodation in Delhi. The President is entitled to get suitable accommodation outside Delhi.”

Cops thrash two activists
Ramchandra Ghanekar and Ram Gaikwad, two activists working with Lt Col Suresh Patil (Retd), were beaten up by the Khadki police yesterday when the Green Thumb and the Justice For Jawan groups gathered at 3 pm near the site of
the President’s under-construction twin bungalows in Khadki.

Letter to chief Justice of India
Commander Ravindra Pathak (Retd), who supports Lt Col Patil on the issue, has drafted a letter (copy with MiD DAY) to be sent to Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia to pursue the matter. “We want to raise the retired president’s residence issue before him. The letter will be sent to him soon,” Commander Pathak said. 

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