New Delhim : President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday confessed that after coming to Rashtrapati Bhavan, one thing he misses most is his frequent interactions with media persons, something that he enjoyed during his four-and-half decades in politics and holding different portfolios in the government.
At an interaction over tea with select journalists at Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee –who has just completed three years of his presidency — said: “Such kind of informal gatherings I used to have for four and a half decades before becoming president. Since then, I don’t think I have interacted with journalists, except on anniversaries (of my becoming president).”
Towards the end of his speech, during which he dwelt on the changes he has brought about in Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mukherjee signed off saying he misses getting to interact with media persons.
Mukherjee said his effort after becoming president has been to “demystify” the president’s house.
He confessed that though he had been living in the vicinity of the presidential palace since the late 1960s, he had no knowledge of Rashtrapati Bhavan.
He said that two days before his swearing-in on July 25, 2012, he asked his daughter Sharmistha to find out information about the palace he was set to become the occupant of.
She visited the premises and educated him about Rashtrapati Bhavan, he said.
Mukherjee said that since he opened up Rashtrapati Bhavan to the public, more than two million people have visited in the past three years and he was hopeful more would visit.
He said that since his “health problems” in December last year, he has reduced the number of his tours.
His focus has been more on touring within the country, he said, and added that he has so far made more than 105 tours, or three tours a month.
While he has visited all the states, including some more than twice, he has not been able to visit two states – Gujarat and Goa.
A tour to the two states had to be cancelled earlier due to his ill health, Mukherjee said.
The president also said Rashtrapati Bhavan and the estate, which has 7,000 residents, is being converted into a Heritage Township — complete with infrastructure like banks, post office, improved drainage, water system, water for the extensive gardens among other things.
All dilapidated buildings of the colonial structure are being renovated, keeping in mind the original edifice.
The horse stable is being converted into a museum, and the second stage would be completed before his term ends, the president said.
Another important step he has introduced is financial inclusion of all residents of the President’s Estate through opening of bank accounts.
A major initiative is to convert Rashtrapati Bhavan into a Smart City, said Mukherjee, by utilising the resources to the optimum.
Focusing on his emphasis on education, the president said he was the ‘Visitor’ to 114 central universities and has been focusing on improvement of standards, which he said have improved.
Mukherjee has also been stressing that the universities fill up the forms of rating agencies, which they did not do earlier.
He said the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru was at the No.5 position among the BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and at No.1 in terms of research papers published.
He said 31 Indian institutions have figured among the top 200 in the BRICS universities ranking this year.
Mukherjee’s twitter handle @RashtrapatiBhvn has also garnered 80,000 followers, his press secretary Venu Rajamony announced.