Under pressure, president forgoes post-retirement Pune home

New Delhi, April 27: Amid a raging controversy, President Pratibha Patil Friday voiced “pain” at being portrayed as insensitive to war widows and and announced that she will forgo her post-retirement accommodation in Pune as “misgivings” continue to persist “despite clarifications” on allegations of land grabbing.

“The president has been reading and watching the unfolding of some fallacious observations regarding the accommodation in Pune which she was to occupy after relinquishing the office of the president,” the Rashtrapati Bhavan said said in a statement.

“She chose not to react as she has always held herself answerable to the constitution of our country and her conscience,” the president’s office said.

“It was expected that once the facts were made public it would convince the concerned people. But despite clarifications given by the president’s secretariat, it is unfortunate that the misgivings continue to persist,” the statement added.

The president’s house had first issued a statement in April 12, asserting that no rules have been violated in a plan to build a post-retirement home for her in Pune.

Patil’s decision to forego her planned post-retirement home came a couple of days before she leaves on an eight-day trip to South Africa and Seychelles.

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.

Lt. Col. (retd) Suresh Patil who is involved with the Pune-based ‘Justice for Jawan’, part of NGO ‘Green Thumb’, had alleged that 260,000 sq ft has been alloted to for the president’s retirement home in Pune’s Khadki cantonment. He questioned why a house with a plinth area of 4,500 sq ft was being built by bringing down two British-era country bungalows.

In Mumbai, the retired officer immediately welcomed the president’s move. “It’s good news. Tears of joy rolled down my cheeks,” said Suresh Patil. “I was fighting a lone battle for the last six months, almost single-headedly,” he said, adding that he could not have heard better news.

The president’s decision to spend her retirement at a newly-constructed Pune house was seen by many as a marked departure from a long-held tradition according to which retiring presidents spent the rest of their time in a government accommodation in the national capital or retuened to their respective home states.

The president’s spokesperson, Archana Datta, voiced outrage at what she called falsification of facts. “It’s a fabrication of facts. The media has projected that the president is against war widows. This is not true,” she said.

“What has pained the President the most is the fact that she is now being portrayed by some people as one who, by agreeing to accept a defence accommodation for her post retirement home, is insensitive to the cause of war widows and ex-servicemen,” said the president’s office.

“The accommodation proposed to be allocated to her by the Ministry of Defence was never indicated as one earmarked for war widows. It was to be allotted to her for use as her post retirement residence only during her lifetime with no rights of ownership, transfer lease, etc.”

The president’s office asserted that the president has been working for the welfare of the defence personnel, especially war widows, and hoped that “this will put an end to all misgivings in this regard.”

“She has always been proud of our brave jawans who are ever-ready to display their spirit of sacrifice while defending our borders. She has the highest regards for our war widows who have lost their dear ones for the sake of security and integrity of the nation,” it added.

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.

IANS