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The story of two soldiers who took on the Supreme Commander

Author: Vinita Deshmukh
Publication: Moneylife.in
Date: April 16, 2012
URL: http://moneylife.in/article/the-story-of-two-soldiers-who-took-on-the-supreme-commander/24988.html

Commander Ravindra Pathak (retd) and Col Suresh Patil (retd) who have been campaigning against excess defence land being taken by President Pratibha Patil  are well known activists in Pune.  Let’s see how far their tenacity takes them in this campaign which is connected with the highest chair in this country

 Col Suresh Patil (retd) saw death at close quarters when six of his colleague officers and 67 men were killed in the J&K sector in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Commander Ravindra Pathak (retd) too was challenging death, as he was given the task of clearing under-sea mines to make Chittagong Harbour operational, immediately after the same war.

 Today, both say they were gifted with a second life and hence, decided since then to give it back to the society, once they hang their boots, somewhere in the early 1990s.

 It’s a story of two soldiers and one mission – to fight against encroachment of defence land by the present Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, who is none less than the President of India, and it’s Pratibha Patil, this time round.

 Col Patil fired the first salvo in August 2011 when he got a whiff of President Patil  “grabbing’’ a prime defence land in Khadki cantonment of Pune, admeasuring a whopping 2,42,000 sq ft as against her eligibility of getting only 4,498 sq ft of an existing government bungalow in any part of the country, as her retirement home. 

 Col Patil, who formed the `Justice for Jawans’ organisation for ‘serving’ and ‘retired’ soldiers and officers who suffer many difficulties in terms of accommodation and other issues, took up the President’s retirement home issue, rather intensely.

 His initial war cry to halt this unjustified “capture’’ of land when the President’s soldiers and officers in the same city were being denied their rightful official accommodation due to lack of space, did not have much impact. It fell on deaf ears of the authorities as well as the media. In the meanwhile, Defence Estate officers of Pune were making hectic trips to and fro Pune-Delhi to make way for Pratibha Patil to legally get this vast tract of land, studded with two `living’ bungalows.

 Col Patil appealed to other defence NGOs to join in the campaign. That’s how Comm Pathak came into the picture. Since 2008, he was also working towards the cause of pension related issues of retired soldiers on behalf of the Delhi headquartered Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM).

 After the sixth pay commission, the IESM had taken up a campaign nationally to demand ‘one rank one pension’ as consecutive pay commissions recommended different criteria for soldiers and officers who may have completed the same years of service; belonged to the same group; and held the same rank; but drew different pensions depending on the year they retired.

 Protests manifested in the form of 25,000 soldiers and officers returning their medals to the Pratibha Patil, since 2010. As per the protocol, the President of India in his/her role as Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces is required to personally accept the ‘returned’ medals as a traditional form of protest. Ms Patil to date has not given an appointment and hence, the medals are lying in the Delhi office of IESM. Hence, the ire against Pratibha Patil was already there in the eyes of IESM members.

In early 2011, Comm Pathak decided to join Col Patil and ever since the campaign has picked up momentum. They collected incriminating evidence against her proposed retirement home through RTI. However, they got a luke warm response from the media until this week’s story in Moneylife made national waves and went viral on the social network. Suddenly the controversy is raging through all corners of the country.

 Col Suresh Patil (retd) is otherwise known as an environmentalist and has been involved in greening some parts of the cantonment. The two kilometre Bogra Walking Plaza that has been turned into a beautiful landscaped garden was once a stinking nallah. Similarly, he has greened another two kilometre stretch of a nallah bank in the Pune Municipal Corporation area, under his Green Thumb NGO. More details can be found at www.greenthumbindia.org.  Commander Pathak is active on this blog: http://iesmorg.blogspot.in/

- (Vinita Deshmukh is a consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at vinitapune@gmail.com)
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