Home > News > Specials
The Rediff Special/Onkar Singh
October 15, 2004
President A P J Abdul Kalam has brought about a number of changes at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the two years that he has been in office.
They become evident the moment you enter the reception of the palatial building on Raisina Hill that has become the home of India's first citizen of India and a symbol of vibrant Indian democracy.
The dull reception area has been given a facelift with new floors, large paintings, comfortable sofas for visitors as they wait for their new computerised photo entry passes.
The Ashok Hall, the venue of important official ceremonies including the swearing in of the prime minister and the Union Cabinet, has also undergone subtle changes.
"President Kalam noticed that the Persian paintings were developing cracks at some places and needed to be touched up. Digital copies of the paintings were made and put up in place of the originals, while a team of experts was engaged in restoring the paintings. A separate room next to the Ashok Hall was also allotted for the purpose. The process took about six to eight months, after which the originals went back up," says S M Khan, press secretary to the President.
Very fond of the company of children, Rashtrapati Bhavan plays host to students from at least two schools every day.
The President has met over 400,000 students personally in the past two years. He has also set up a Children's Gallery at Rashtrapati Bhavan to promote a scientific temper among children.
His also interacts with children on the Internet in a major way. Children e-mail him their suggestions and queries and get their replies within 36 hours. On an average he receives 400 e-mails every day and replies are sent to them within a stipulated time. Students who want to contact him can access his official web site.
Along with children and science, President Kalam's passion for nature and religion is also legendary. He has set up two herbal gardens and one 'spiritual garden' in the Bio-diversity Park next to the Mughal Gardens.
The first phase of the garden was opened in October 2002. The park covers an area of 10 acres in different locations within the President's Estate. "It is being developed as a sort of gene bank of rare and endangered medicinal plants and also as a means to educate people and create awareness about the herbal wealth of the country.
"The landscaping of the park has been done in such a manner both utilitarian and aesthetic. It adds both beauty and value to the President's estate," says Khan.
Other additions to the Mughal Gardens are driftwood exhibits, hanging baskets and foliage and a large variety of fragrant roses.
Another amazing creation was the 'Tactile Garden,' a unique herbal garden for the visually impaired. It was specially opened in April 2004 to allow visually challenged people to get a feel of trees and shrubs.
The most unique of President Kalam's creations, however, is the Spiritual Garden. Here plants and trees associated with various religions practiced in India are nurtured. The idea the President wishes to convey is that 'if plants and trees can grow together why not people?'
Over two hundred gardeners are employed at Rashtrapati Bhavan to tend to its plants, 60 of whom work exclusively in the Mughal Gardens, the Herbal Garden and the Spiritual Garden.
Last but not the least, the Presidential kitchen is also being modernised with a view to provide hygienic working conditions for those virtually living amongst condiments and spices.