NEW DELHI: President Pratibha Patil finds herself in a controversy over her post-retirement home in Pune, but her office Thursday rejected allegations of land-grab as "malicious" and asserted that no rules have been violated.
An organisation of ex-servicemen in Pune has claimed that over fives acres of land had been alloted for her residence after she leaves office at the end of her five-year-term in July.
Suresh Patil, a retired ex-serviceman involved with the Pune-based 'Justice for Jawan', part of NGO 'Green Thumb' group, has alleged that 260,000 sq ft has been alloted to her in Khadki cantonment in Pune. He has questioned why a house with a plinth area of 4,500 sq ft is being built for her by bringing down two British-era country bungalows.
"To say that a house is being constructed for occupation by the president on demission of office by 'snatching' or 'grabbing' land meant for soldiers is factually incorrect and malicious. The land belongs to the ministry of defence and will continue to remain with the Ministry of Defence," Archana Datta, OSD to the president, said here in a statement.
Datta clarified that the title of the land is not being alienated in any manner and the ownership of both the land and the house Patil will be occupying will continue to remain vested in the government. Therefore, there is no substance in the allegation of personal gains, she said.
Under the the President's Emoluments and Pensions Act, 1951, the president of India is entitled to accommodation after demission of office. "It is therefore the legitimate entitlement of the president to occupy an accommodation provided by the government and all former presidents have availed this benefit," Datta said.
Datta pointed out that the rules provide that the size of the residence to be provided to the president on demission of office shall be comparable to a residence allotted to a minister in the union council of ministers.
She added that the President's Emoluments and Pensions Act does not specify a fixed living area for former president's when they occupy a government accommodation.
"The mention of living area not exceeding 2,000 sq. ft. is only indicative and applicable where a suitable government residence is not available and a residence is to be taken on lease/rent basis, which does not apply in the present case, since the president will be occupying a government accommodation."
Patil's office asserted that the president is not coming in the way of residential accommodation being provided to Territorial Army cadets.
"Merely because the president has chosen to reside in the cantonment area cannot be viewed as being apathetic or indifferent to the welfare of the soldiers. Surely, the city of Pune and surrounding areas have enough alternative land available for their accommodation," said Datta.
The controversy over Patil's post-retirement home comes close on the heels of a slew of Right to Information applications that have shown that her trips abroad since she assumed office in July 2007 cost the exchequer a whopping Rs.205 crore ($40 million). This, the RTI said, surpasses the record of all her predecessors.