Off hot seat, Bush buys but Pratibha seeks

New Delhi, Nov. 16: When George W. Bush wanted a post-retirement home, he had to buy one for $3 million.

When Pratibha Patil wanted a bigger government bungalow, the Centre scurried to sanction the building of extra rooms at its own cost.

America does not provide ex-Presidents with official accommodation and sticks to the rulebook. India, which does allow the perk, has been only too happy to change the size regulations on Patil's demand.

The former President, who lives with her husband, son, daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law, had found the 2,000sqft Pune house allotted to her too small. She sought an additional 2,500sqft.

Sources said the urban development ministry forwarded her application to the home ministry, which has given an in-principle approval to making the necessary changes to the rules.

Under the President's Pension Rule, 1962, former Presidents are entitled to a Type 8 bungalow on a par with cabinet ministers. If they prefer to live in a place without such bungalows, they are to be given the highest type of government accommodation available.

If the place lacks any suitable government accommodation, a leased house with living area not exceeding 2,000sqft is to be allotted.

Controversy began dogging the subject of Patil's retirement home even before she stepped down on July 24. After she decided to live in Pune, the urban development ministry arranged a plot in a defence area and fixed a Rs 7-crore budget for construction of the house.

Two Raj-era bungalows were demolished to open up a 6.5-acre (2.6 lakh square feet) plot, where a 4,500sqft house was to be built. Patil was forced to give up the house after a group of ex-servicemen filed a PIL arguing no former President was entitled to such a huge house.

The ministry then chose a four-bedroom, 2,000sqft house in Pune belonging to the Maharashtra PWD. Patil now stays in a Type 8 bungalow in Delhi, waiting for the Pune house's renovation to be complete. Sources said this could take another six months.

Type 8 bungalows, most of them built by Lutyens himself, have no fixed size: their compounds vary from one acre to six acres and floor area from 2,500sqft to 10,000sqft. The one where Patil now stays is among the smaller Type 8 bungalows, with a plinth area close to 3,000sqft.

No other former President has been involved in such controversy. The first and second Presidents, Rajendra Prasad and S. Radhakrishnan, had returned to their personal homes in Bihar and Chennai after retirement. So did V.V. Giri and Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy.

R. Venkataraman went back to Chennai for a while before returning to Delhi to spend his last days.

"The trend of former Presidents moving into government accommodations in New Delhi has been seen only in the past several years," an official said.

Zail Singh, Shanker Dayal Sharma, K.R. Narayanan and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had all moved into government houses in New Delhi, settling for the specified Type 8 bungalows.

As for Bush, he lives in an affluent neighbourhood at Preston Hollow, Dallas County, Texas. The 8,501sqft house, which sits on a 1.1-acre plot, backs up into a creek.