Around 100-150 people sleep in an approximately 2,500 sq ft dormitory,sharing space with bed bugs and mosquitoes. There are two toilets and the smell in the room is enough to guess how unclean they are. The space in front of the toilets too is occupied by people. While all guests are senior citizens,almost 90 per cent are patients suffering from BP,heart problems,cancer and paralysis.
Every few days,the lot is replaced by new people who just change the composition of the number of diseases. Many are neither poor nor rich and the fact that they are getting free/subsidised accommodation during visit to the city is enough to stop them from complaining.
This may look like the description of a refugee camp or rescue shelter,but it isnt. The men occupying the dormitory are retired Armed Forces personnel who have spent the prime of their lives guarding the nations borders. The dormitory is nothing but the rest house that the state government has constructed for them in Ghorpadi coincidentally opposite the National War Memorial. It has been five years that yet another facility planned to accommodate additional 70 ex-servicemen (ESM) has been caught in procedural delays,making veteran soldiers the real victims.
Corporal (retd) Arun Patil came to Pune from Solapur on Saturday to get treatment for heart blockage. He has now been advised seven tests that extend his stay till Thursday. I hope the tests get over fast so that I can go home. Staying at the rest house will only aggravate my disease, he said.
I have kidney stone and easy access to the toilet is a necessity. There are just two toilets and reaching there as people sleep on the floor is no easy task, said Rajendra Kadam (73),father of a serving Army subedar,as he occupies the space next to a window that overlooks a waterlogged pit,a breeding ground for mosquitoes and incidentally the foundation of the proposed rest house. The rest house remains the only shelter for ESM who come to the city for treatment at Command Hospital or ECHS clinic. But there is no ambulance, said Prakash Bhame,an ESM.
The present rest house,inaugurated in 2004,has a capacity to accommodate 75 ESM in 24 rooms two for officers. The number of people on a given day is 150-plus,including mothers/ widows of ESM. The state governor gave nod to the new rest house on May 20,2008. An adjacent plot was identified and permissions were sought from the Pune Cantonment Board by the Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare (DSW). But over the years,the proposal has been doing the rounds of PCB,DEO and Headquarters Southern Command. In the meantime,the cost of the project has escalated from Rs 2.8 crore in 2008 to Rs 3.5 crore currently.
In the latest development,the PCB on July 10 declined a nod to the plan. Arti Mahajan,VP,PCB cited the reason as approval of GOC-in-C,Southern Command,is pending. The DSW authorities claimed they have been doing a routine follow-up in the matter. The PCB reverted,asking us to change the plan and do away with the parking space. We submitted revised plans on November 16,but to no avail, said retired Maj Milind Tungar,deputy director,DSW.
What seems to be holding the sanctions is the unauthorised construction DSW carried out over the years. DEO G S Rajeswaran on December 4,2012,wrote to PCB,You are requested not to accept the proposal for new construction unless the previous unauthorised construction is regularised. But more importantly,DEO gave an option saying,Both proposals of regularisation and new construction may be simultaneously processed to save time,keeping in view the welfare of ex-servicemen.
Why isnt the PCB processing the two requests together as advised by the DEO? asked Tungar even as the ESM continue to suffer.