Why does a President need 2.60 lakh sqft land for a retirement home? It is another matter that the land in question is in a cantonment area and it does not have enough space to accommodate defence personnel and their families. Is it plain vanity?
It is possible that the rules allow so. The President’s Emoluments and Pensions Act, 1951, provides that the President is entitled to accommodation after demission of office. It does not specify the exact size of the plot he/she is entitled to, though the reply to an RTI application reveals that the size of the residence shall be comparable to a residence allotted to a minister in the Union council of ministers. However, the legality of the allotment is not what we are discussing here.
President Pratibha Patil has been gracious enough to give up the land. But why did she decide to be graceful after a full-blown controversy over her retirement home? She could have averted land grab and other nasty charges, unfortunate accusations to be levelled against the head of the country, had she been more alert to the public resentment over the piece of land earlier. Of course, it was not her decision in the first place; the allotment is made by the government.
“The President was very much pained at fabricated observation in the media that this land was being transferred to her. She has decided to forego her post retirement home in Pune. The President has not decided where she will go for her post retirement home,” said the president’s spokesperson Archana Dutta. Earlier, her office had claimed that no illegality had been committed. This is a welcome move.
However, the damage to her image seems to have been done already. Not long back there were reports that she spent a mind-boggling Rs 205 crore on her foreign visits, surpassing the record of all her predecessors. Still earlier, her son and Congress MLA from Amaravati Rajendra Sekhawat allegedly used his status as President’s son to acquire land for a college run by a charitable organisation headed by him. She could have avoided the latest one.
Former defence officials are up in arms against her being allotted such a huge piece of land. An RTI application filed by them revealed that her proposed post-retirement bungalow was being built on defence land which is in far excess of what she is eligible for. The protesters argued that a bungalow was being constructed on the allotted plot in violation of rules.
Suresh Patil, a retired Lt Col who heads Justice for Jawan organisation, claimed that a house with a plinth area of 4,500 sq. ft is being built for her by bringing down two British-era county bungalows. The response from the Rashtrapati Bhavan that “the land in question is a defence land and the question of transfer of land to any individual does not arise” has not cut ice with the protesters.
“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,” Datta said here in a statement.
She might have a valid argument but the President has already lost the perception war what with the history of controversies behind her. Any defence, however legally justified, would have cut no ice on her detractors. It was finally a good move though.
Gestures matter a lot in public life. Small sacrifices win big goodwill points. If only she had thought of it earlier!