It was on February 1,2011,that President Pratibha Patil first expressed desire to settle down,post-retirement,in bungalows 38 and 26 A,which are contiguously located within the defence cantonment area on the Bombay-Pune road.
The letter by her secretary Christy Fernandez,to then Union home secretary G K Pillai,with a copy to then defence secretary Pradeep Kumar,said: The aforementioned buildings,used jointly,would measure up to a spatial area normally available in a Type VIII accommodation.
The land and the structures therein belong to the Ministry of Defence. While Bungalow No. 38 was occupied by an officer posted with the Commander Works Engineer,the old bunglaow (No. 26 A) on the adjacent plot was leased to one Pesi Anklesaria.
Following the Presidents letter,steps were taken by the Defence Ministry officials to acquire Bungalow No. 26 A from Anklesaria. Following a legal battle,the Defence Estates Office won the case in August 2011.
The Indian Express has found that following possession of the plots,tenders were issued twice for the construction of the bungalow for the president,with the price eventually brought down to Rs 4.66 crore below the Rs 5.18 crore sanctioned. This is to include the cost of construction of the bungalow and amenities.
In fact the first estimate submitted in July 2011 by the Military Engineer Services to the Ministry of Defence,put the cost of construction at Rs 8-9 crore. A guest house was cancelled from the plan,and in September 2011,the Ministry of Urban Development finally sanctioned Rs 5.18 crore. Officials in Southern Command refuse to talk about the matter.
While the President has now given up the bungalow,work started after contract was given following the second tender in December 2011,and construction is now nearly complete. It was expected to be ready by July 2012.
The controversy over the Presidents plans broke when around six months ago,Lt Col (retd) Suresh Patil along with Commander (retd) Ravindra Pathak and RTI activist Anoop Avasthy filed an RTI seeking to know what a former president was entitled to and what she was actually getting. They cited the Presidents (Emoluments) and Pension Act 1951 and Presidents Pension Rules 1962,to claim that at places where suitable government residence is not available for allotment to a retired president,the size of residence to be taken on lease to be provided to a retired president shall have a living area not exceeding 2000 sq ft.
A press release issued by the Presidents office on April 13,2012,countered this. The said 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.
It is common knowledge that houses of Union Ministers in the Lutyens Zone area (in Delhi),though belonging to Type VIII category,are not of any uniform size.
Quite logically,therefore,the Presidents Emoluments and Pensions Act does not specify a fixed living area for a former President when they occupy a government accommodation.
The mention of living area not exceeding 2000 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 government accommodation.
The Presidents office also pointed out that norms for Type VIII bungalows had been revised on April 18,2006,as per an official memorandum of the Ministry of Urban Development. These now say: The plinth area for Type VIII bungalow shall be 9175 sq ft.
While the RTI petitioners have also alleged that the two plots were meant to create accommodation for jawans,this was never the case.