5 Sandalwood Trees Stolen From Raj Bhavan Garden

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Pune: In a major security breach at Raj Bhavan, the residence of Maharashtra Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao in Pune, thieves chopped down five sandalwood trees and escaped with them on the intervening night of April 30 and May 1.

The incident came to light on Tuesday, when gardeners realised that only the stumps of the sandalwood trees remained on the premises. The robbers had also left behind a black metallic tree saw.

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One of the trees stood only 100 metres from the main entrance gate of Raj Bhavan, where a police officer is deployed. The Governor’s residence is located a stone’s throw away from Chaturshringi police station on Ganeshkhind Road.

This is the second such incident in the last two years at the Raj Bhavan. After thieves escaped with four sandalwood trees from the premises in 2016, police had carried out a safety audit and suggested measures such as increasing the height of the compound wall to 15 metres and chopping branches of trees jutting beyond the boundaries.

While these measures were adopted by Raj Bhavan, they apparently failed to deter the robbers, who managed to break open gate number 3 to enter the premises. Earlier, three policemen used to guard Raj Bhavan in each shift but since 2015, only one police guard is deployed to keep an eye on the 32-acre compound, said the Governor’s office.

“Policemen used to be stationed at the rear gate of the residence… but with only a skeletal staff now, only one policeman is stationed at the entrance gate… the number of such incidents has been increasing,” said a Raj Bhavan official. Incidentally, there are no CCTVs on the Raj Bhavan premises. The Raj Bhavan located in Mumbai and Nagpur have several high-resolution and night vision CCTVs installed by the local police. A request for CCTVs has been pending with Pune City Police since August 2014.

Meanwhile, the Governor’s office had expressed extreme displeasure with the Pune City Police.

Comptroller of the Governor’s Household, Vasant Salunke, told The Indian Express, “This is not the first incident of sandalwood theft at the Raj Bhavan… we had written to the Pune Police Commissioner’s Office, but no concrete steps were taken. Instead, the number of police personnel has shrunk.” Other than the Governor, the residence is open only for VVIPs such as the President, the Prime Minister and the Lok Sabha Speaker, who stay here during their official visits to the city. The Governor of Maharashtra usually spends a month at the Pune Raj Bhavan during monsoon.

The Governor’s residence is taken care of by an officer-in-charge and other staff including five gardeners, housekeeping staff and cooks, among others. In 2013, the then Pune Police Commissioner, Gulabrao Pol, had written to the state Director General of Police and requested that at least two police inspectors, 12 police inspectors or sub-Inspectors, eight assistant sub-inspectors and 42 guards be deployed at the Raj Bhavan in Pune. But such a large deployment was never sanctioned due to manpower crunch in the city police force.

Ravindra Kadam, Joint CP, Pune, admitted that the security at Raj Bhavan was not adequate. “The security arrangement provided at an important establishment like Raj Bhavan is inadequate. We will definitely try and augment the strength. I will ensure that there is no compromise on the safety of Raj Bhavan.”