By Priyanka Mittal:
As the President for the last five years, Pratibha Patel has lived a life like no one else’s. She assumed office as the 12th President of India on July 25, 2007; prior to the election she served as the Governor of Rajasthan from November 8, 2004 till June 21, 2007 and held other positions in Maharashtra.
She has woken up to the sound of trumpets in the courtyard of her magnificent palace in New Delhi, branded lavish trips around the globe with kin as a normal trend, and tried to set up a palatial post-retirement home in Pune in a defence area, while soldiers have been denied even the bare necessity of family housing.
Taking the issues one by one, during her tenure, she has undertaken 12 foreign trips, covering 22 countries across four continents and spent 79 days abroad as compared to 7 trips taken by Kalam during his stint as President. RTI applications have shown that Air India spent more than Rs. 169 crore on the use of chartered aircraft for such trips. An additional Rs. 36 crore has been spent by the Foreign Affairs ministry on her accommodation, daily allowance and miscellaneous expenses with her family and entourage accompanying her on many of such trips. Her defence being that family members accompanying the President is no breach of protocol as these are normal courtesies being extended in diplomatic relations. Nothing has been said about the frequency or the extravagant bills that it brought along.
Moving along to the most recent row involving the President grabbing 2,61,000 sq. ft. of land meant for soldiers and officers, let’s judge the scenario. On one side there are 800 jawans of the Territorial Army currently posed in Pune with residential accommodation for only 14. They are restrained from bringing their families and those who do so are forced to live in slum-like conditions in one-room dwellings, near the Pune cantonment. In the midst of such conditions, none other than the President of our country, decides to use this land for securing her post-retirement life by constructing a palatial house on this land.
Her defence was that the 2.61 lakh square feet land being developed for her bungalow premises under the Khadki cantonment Board in Pune would continue to remain with the defence ministry. The cause of resentment among the ex-servicemen was that they claim the President is allotted only 2,000 sq. ft. of built up area or a class five bungalow which should not be more than 5,000 sq ft. In contravention of these rules, Patil has been allotted 5.5 acres of government land for her retirement. RTI activist Anup Awasthi said: “When APJ Abdul Kalam left his post as the President, he took just two suitcases along with him. Our current President wants to take the entire Rashtrapati Bhavan with her.” As a result of rigorous analysis and growing public outrage, Patil has finally surrendered the land back to be used for defence. But why should the impoverished India be saddled with the liability of maintaining this extravagance during her lifetime?
Other allegations against Patil include her being accused of shielding her brother GN Patil for the murder of a politician, a women cooperative bank becoming insolvent after loan waiver to family members and relatives of Patil, a sugar cooperative being shut down for defaulting with bank loans to the tune of Rs. 17.3 crore of which Patil was the chairperson and director.
With the upcoming presidential elections with speculations including names such as Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee, India is being given a second chance at looking for redemption. It is sincerely hoped that the example of presidency set by Patil is overlooked and India chooses to look beyond tolerating greedy, inefficient and corrupt leaders for the next term.