President Pratibha Patil’s proposed retirement home in Pune continues to invite controversy despite the five-acre land having been returned. The reason: The Military Engineering Services (MES) has already spent an estimated Rs 1 crore, or one-fifth of the Rs 5-crore budget, on the half-constructed bungalow. And, construction continues in some parts of the area.
Retired defence personnel are demanding the site be used to rehabilitate widows and families of war soldiers. Some voluntary organisations are demanding the military be allowed to use it.
Senior officials of the Southern Command gave an assurance last week that the land will remain with the Ministry of Defence and be utilised as a defence asset.
Last week, Major General S K Yadav (admin) of Southern Command said at a press meet, “No decision has yet been taken. The land belongs to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The alternative use of the land is yet to be decided. The structure will be used as a defence establishment. It will be used for the best interest of the Army.”
However, some like Suresh Patil, retired colonel and founder of an NGO, Green Thumb, and another body ‘Justice for Jawan’, wants the work at the site to stop immediately. “I am going to meet defence minister A K Antony demanding an immediate halt to the construction activity. The MoD should built 102 flats on this land for widows of Army jawans,” he said.
Patil, who is the front-runner in raising objections to the construction, said that the proposed retirement residence of the President was on 2,42,000 sq ft land, which was much more than the 4,498 sq ft that she was entitled to. He also said the land allocated was in excess of norms and it was in the “A1” category that could only be used for military purposes. He and Commander (retd) Ravindra Pathak have taken up pension-related issues of retired soldiers on behalf of the Delhi-headquartered Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement.
“There were several reports regarding the defence land. The Army wants to be transparent. The bungalow was sanctioned by the MoD, and the decision would be taken by the ministry. It was the Ministry of Defence’s decision to allot land for the president’s post-retirement bungalow,” Major General S K Yadav said.
The contract to build the Rs 5-crore bungalow was given to the Military Engineering Services, which comes under the Commander Works Engineers, Khadki, Southern Command.