Sathya Sai Central Trust Press Meet – Audio & Transcript
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As published by Radio Sai:
Sairam to all of you,
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
Let me welcome you to this meet. I think you know my colleague Mr. Naganand who is a member of Council of Management of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. To my left is Prof. Anantharaman, who is a very senior faculty member of our University and to whom we have now entrusted the responsibility of media coordination. I will speak a little more about this later. I am V. Srinivasan, Trustee of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust. May I sincerely request you not to confuse me with Mr. Venu Srinivasan.
We are meeting again within a period of two months after Bhagawan’sMaha Samadhi. We would like to give an update of all that has happened in this period.
The Board of Trustees Constitute a Board of Management for the Trust
The Board of Trustees of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust has been meeting at frequent intervals to consider many matters concerning the functioning of the institutions set up by Bhagawan Baba. To take care of the day-to-day functioning, a Board of Management of the Trust consisting of three Trustees has also been constituted. Necessary powers for operating the bank accounts have also been finalised with authority for the members of the Board of Management. All financial instruments have to be jointly signed by any two of the three members.
Update of Financial Matters
All financial obligations of the Trust are being met as they arise. Salaries of all staff of the institutions like the university, the hospitals, the schools etc. are paid on the due date. All statutory returns to various Government authorities have been submitted before the due dates. Donations received by the Trust are being credited to the bank accounts and receipts are duly issued to the donors.
University Has New Buildings
The educational institutions have reopened exactly on the due dates and are now functioning. New buildings for the Anantapur and Muddenahalli campuses have been inaugurated. A meeting of the Governing Body of the University has also been held.
New Staff and Equipment for the Hospitals
The hospitals at Puttaparthi and Whitefield are functioning normally. Response to the advertisement released for the recruitment of doctors and consultants was good; interviews have been held and orders have been issued to selected applicants. New equipment both Indian and foreign to replace old equipment as well as new additions are taking place in the hospitals.
Modernisation of Ashram Facilities
Modernisation works in the Canteen within the Ashram are going on. A plan for regular maintenance of the Ashram buildings has been set up to ensure comfortable stay for the visiting devotees. Proposals for installation of modern hi-tech equipment for the well-being of the devotees have been received and are being evaluated.
Yajur Mandir Inventory Duly Accounted For and Tax Paid
The Yajur Mandir housing the private chambers of Bhagawan Baba was opened on June 16 in the presence of the Trustees, members of the Council of Management and independent witnesses Justice A.P. Mishra, former Judge of Supreme Court of India, and Justice Vaidyanath, former Judge of Karnataka High Court. Detailed inventory of cash and valuables was taken and proceedings duly recorded and signed. All cash has been duly deposited in the bank accounts of the Trust. Valuables have been sealed and also deposited with the State Bank of India for safe keeping.
The Board of Trustees met for the first time after taking the inventory on June 27. They have taken the decision to pay necessary income-tax on the value of the inventory though no demand for tax has been received from the Income-Tax Department. Accordingly a sum of Rs.9.75 crores has been paid towards income-tax. The balance if any, will be paid after receipt of the detailed valuation report of the gold, jewellery, silver etc.
The Facts About the 35 Lakhs Seizure Episode
There have been many media reports regarding recent incident where a cash of Rs. 35 lakhs has been seized from a vehicle on the highway. The facts of this matter are as follows:
The Trustees had taken a decision that the Samadhi should be permitted to be erected for Bhagawan Baba within the main Sai Kulwant Hall. Several offers from devotees to bear the entire expenditure for this work have been received. It was therefore decided that the Trust would not directly undertake this work but permit it to be done by devotees under it supervision to ensure quality and aesthetics. Accordingly it issued a letter to Shankar Narayana Pvt. Ltd, Bangalore, who have been doing several works for the Trust in the past in honorary capacity, to act as Project Consultant and supervise this work. This work also would be done by them in honorary capacity.
A group of devotees approached the Trustee Mr. Ratnakar and expressed a desire to humbly contribute towards the project and handed over to him a sum of Rs. 35 lakhs. Since the Trust is not going to directly construct the project, it was decided to call the project consultant and give the funds to him to meet expenses in procuring all materials, services, etc. for the project. The money therefore was handed over to the project consultant in Prasanthi Nilayam in the evening of June 18. The car of the consultant agency was stopped by the Police enroute to Bangalore and the funds have been seized. The matter is under investigation by the Police.
The project consultant had filed a letter with the Police explaining that these funds have been given to them for the Maha Samadhi work and have asked the Police to release these funds to enable them to proceed with the work of Samadhi construction. The donors who gave this money have also filed affidavits in the Court giving their PAN numbers saying that they have given the funds to Mr.Ratnakar for the Maha Samadhi work. The Trust has no connection with these funds. It is to be noted that the funds were not seized from any vehicle belonging to the Trust or to any Trustee. Necessary statements as required by the Police have been duly given by the Trustees Mr. Ratnakar and myself Mr. V. Srinivasan. All information sought by the Police during recording of the statement have been given. The Trust reiterates that there is no loss to it in this matter.
Trust Appoints a Press Information Officer
In the past, the Trust did not meet with the Press regularly. However, we now propose to do so at regular intervals. We are also appointing a Press Information Officer; Prof. Anantharaman has agreed to take up this responsibility to coordinate all our interactions with the media.
Media Interaction Session
(from 11 a.m. till past 1 p.m.)
Media: After Rs. 35 lakhs was seized by the police at the check post, the Trust members made several conflicting statements. On the first day they said that the amount does not belong to them. Subsequently they stated that it belonged to 12 devotees but their names were not disclosed. Later it was said that the amount was given by devotees to L&T (a construction company) in connection with the construction of Maha Samadhi. Why did the statements change everyday? (Mr. Venkata Ranga Reddy from Andhra Jyothi in Telugu)
Mr. V. Srinivasan (V.S.): I request Mr. Naganand to answer this question.
Mr. S.S. Naganand (S.S.N.): To the best of my knowledge there has been no inconsistency. The person from whom the money was seized had mentioned something; but once it was came to the Trustees’ knowledge there has been a consistent statement. What Mr. Srinivasan referred to in his opening remarks is the factual position – the money was given to Shankar Narayana Consultancy Services Private Ltd. This company has done a number of projects in the Ashram and in the hospitals; infact they have donated buildings worth several crores of rupees to the Trust. They are doing this holy work (of constructing theMaha Samadhi) completely free of cost, in an honorary capacity. The devotees who gave the money have given statements to that effect very clearly. Therefore there is no inconsistency.
Media: You say the Trust is very transparent; then why was Rs.11 crores found in Yajur Mandir. If the money was given to Baba, why was it not deposited in the bank? (Mr. Srinivasan from NTV Bhakthi Channel in Telugu)
V.S.: Upto the time of Baba’s Maha Samadhi, the Trustees had no knowledge of the Rs. 11 crores. Baba is the Founder Trustee, and the fact is Baba had no property of His own. He doesn’t even have a bank account in His name; all that He had was His dress. Whatever the devotees gave Him, He used it for public good. We can not know why He acted in a particular way but what we can firmly say is Baba never kept anything for Himself. The amount of good He has done for the people is common knowledge.
The Board of Trustees took charge of these affairs after Bhagawan’s Maha Samadhi and then acted as per law. Therefore as soon as the inventory was taken, we deposited it in the State Bank of India; we have the receipt. Now we also feel that for the value of cash and gold recovered we should pay income-tax. That is why even without any demand from Income-tax department, we have paid Rs. 9.75 crores (as advance tax).
Media: When Baba was in the hospital, a Press Release by the Trust signed by Mr. Ratnakar referred to a RBI rule and stated that the Trust accepts contributions only in cheques and demand drafts and not in any other form. Then how jewels worth Rs.11 crores were recovered? Who gave these? (unidentified reporter in Telugu)
V.S.: As I said before, the Board of Trustees took charge only after April 25, 2011 and until then they had no knowledge of this. As soon as we came to know of it, we deposited it in the bank.
The Trust now does not accept cash. We have no knowledge of where that money came from. Nevertheless, the correct position is whatever Bhagawan received He always kept it in the Trust and it was meant for the people; never for His personal use. Baba has not purchased a house or any such thing; He did not lead a 5-star life. In fact He is the embodiment of simplicity. Therefore the money kept by Him was meant only to be used for public good. We are all aware of how He used to feed lakhs of poor people every year; He was not creating money by a wave of His hand! Therefore once the Trustees took charge, this amount has been deposited in the bank.
Media: You just mentioned that the Trust accepted only cheques and the amount taken from Yajur Mandir has been deposited in the bank. Post this scenario, when the devotees contributed for the construction of Baba’s Maha Samadhi, why did you not accept that amount by cheque? Who are these devotees giving cash? The Samadhi is being built in the Ashram by the Trust; how can you say that the money does not belong to the Trust? (Ayesha from Star News in Hindi)
V.S.: Here you have to understand an important difference. The construction of the Maha Samadhi is not being undertaken by the Trust. Ours is a public charitable trust and we are not entitled to engage in any religious work. Therefore as per the law, the Trust cannot involve itself in the construction of temples, mosques, etc. A public charitable trust should spend only on the poor and downtrodden. That is why, though Bhagawan is our Lord and infact everything, we wanted to abide by the law and therefore entrusted the construction of Maha Samadhi to an interested devotee.
This money obviously does not belong to the Trust. The devotees who wanted to contribute for this holy task offered the amount in cash to a Trustee who in turn passed it on to the construction agency. Let me therefore reiterate that this money has nothing to do with the Trust whatsoever.
Media: If it is as simple as this then why did you not state this immediately after the cash seizure? Why was this kept a secret for so long? (Ayesha from Star News in Hindi)
V.S.: This incident happened on June 18. Shankar Narayana Consultancy immediately declared that that the money was being sent to them for the construction of Maha Samadhi; there is nothing to hide here.
Media: Do the junior employees working in the Trust like drivers, kitchen staff, etc. take orders from the Trust officials? (Mukesh Sarkar from P7 News in Hindi)
V.S.: Those who come for seva do the work assigned to them.
Media: Why was Rs. 35 lakh sent at night and not during the day to Bangalore? (Mukesh Sarkar from P7 News in Hindi)
V.S.: When money was received in the afternoon a call was made to the construction company and they were asked to come to Puttaparthi from Bangalore. This did not happen during the night. The money was given to him (a construction company employee) at 6.30 p.m. When they were returning after completing their tasks for the day, they had to face this inconvenience. We did not tell them to leave at night or any such thing; the fact is the money had to be handed over to the construction agency as early as possible. That is why we telephoned them to come and the amount was passed on immediately.
Media: We learnt from sources that the vehicle carrying the money did not stop at the check post and it had to be chased and stopped. (Mukesh Sarkar fromP7 News in Hindi)
V.S.: These are all lies, untruths.
Media: You declared about the cash found in Yajur Mandir but did not mention about the foreign currency. Secondly, when are you going to reply to the queries posed by the government? (Pramod from Zee News in Hindi)
V.S.: While carrying out the inventory in Yajur Mandir, we did not find any foreign currency.
Media: Didn’t find anything?
V.S.: Yes, nothing.
Media: Many devotees told on the camera that they have given in foreign currency to the Ashram.
V.S.: Yes, the Ashram does receive donations in foreign currency and the same gets deposited in the bank. But in Yajur Mandir there was no foreign currency.
Now coming to your second question. Till now there is no communication from the Government seeking any details. Even I am hearing reports that the request is likely to come. If there is any such requirement from the Government, we have absolutely no problem in providing the required details whatever they may be, be it submission of reports or balance sheets, or anything else. We shall certainly do this; there is no question about it at all.
Media: We understand from few quarters consisting of Ministers and Members of Parliament that there is a demand for the Government to take over the Trust. Are you mentally prepared for this? (unidentified reporter in Hindi)
V.S.: If that is the decision of the Government, what can we do?
Media: Would you oppose?
V.S.: From our side, all I can say is we will discharge our responsibilities concerning the Trust correctly. Beyond this, I cannot comment on what decision the Government would like to take.
Media: The Andhra Pradesh Government has reportedly asked for a detailed report on the Trust’s activities. Are you ready to provide that? Would you be ready for a monitoring role by the State Government? There have been suggestions that the Trust should be run on the lines of the Tirupati temple. What do you say to this? (Maya Sharma from NDTV)
V.S.: To answer your first question, if there is any enquiry or request from the Government to submit a report, we will certainly furnish it; we have absolutely no problem with this. Bhagawan Baba’s directions to us have always been to act as per the law; therefore any request from the Government will be promptly attended to. Regarding the second issue, if the Government wants to monitor us, we are open to it.
Regarding the last question as to if this Trust should be run on the lines of the Tirupati temple, let me inform you that this is not a religious trust. The Sri Sathya Sai Institutions are not religious institutions; they are spiritual and service institutions. On the contrary, the Tirupati Devasthanam is a religious institution.
It is not for me to comment on Government policies and decisions; they will decide on the best course of action. As far as we are concerned, we don’t feel that there is any such necessity; we are quite capable of managing the affairs of the institutions.
Also I would like to add here that Bhagawan Baba has set up adequate corpus funds for the university, hospitals, and all other institutions, and all of these are invested as fixed deposits with nationalised banks. Money has also been invested in government bonds. Today the income from these investments is quite sufficient to take care of our expenditure be it paying the salaries, or buying medical consumables, or submitting electricity charges and so on.
Many people say: “Now that Baba is no more, donations will cease and the Trust will not be able to run the hospitals and the university.” I want to assure everybody that Bhagawan in His foresight and vision has made adequate provision for running these institutions. Our job really is not to look for funds but to prudently and efficiently manage these institutions. Therefore the answer to your final question is I do not see any real need for the Government to set up a separate mechanism for running these institutions. However, this is not an adverse comment on the Government; the Government is supreme and they can take any decision they want.
My brother, Mr. Naganand wants to say something.
S.S.N.: I want to add that in addition to the monetary provision that is been made, Baba has also set up an institutional framework. In all our institutions, when Baba was signing the cheques and operating the bank accounts, He was the sole signatory. But after Baba has left, there is a system in force where nobody signs a cheque in his sole capacity; there is always a joint signatory.
The Trust has a financial controller and all the proposals go through different levels just like in a big corporate setup. When we receive a bill it is first checked and verified by independent agencies. Then, it goes to the finance department where it is scrutinised carefully; only then is the bill placed for payment. Before any item is procured, we always look at the budgetary provision.
Now our hospitals are buying consumables and equipment at far lower prices than any other hospital in the country. This is because all the suppliers know that our hospitals provide completely free treatment. We have received discounts in cases where we have not even asked for it. For instance, recently we bought a vehicle. When the management of that Tata company came to know about this from their dealer, they refunded the entire amount by cheque. We did not even send a letter to them asking for any such relaxation in price. This is how the society is looking at us.
We have proper systems in place everywhere. The hospital has an excellent purchase system. All the purchases are centralised at Prasanthi Nilayam. There are two very senior persons who have donated their entire life’s savings to Swami’s Trust and are now working in that organisation. Therefore everything is being done transparently. The system is there; there are competent personnel at different levels and the institutions are running in accordance with the guidelines. We are following corporate governance norms absolutely. There really is no need for apprehension of any kind.
V.S.: May I also add that in the folder which is given to you, there are lists of all the activities of the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust as well as the Sri Sathya Sai Organisations. You will notice that the work that is being done by the Sri Sathya Sai Organisations all over India, in some respects, exceeds what is being done by the Trust. All of this work which is being done in so many villages, catering especially to the poor, is voluntary. This Organisation is not under the legal control of Central Trust. All the volunteers who do free service in Prasanthi Nilayam whether in the ashram, hospitals or elsewhere come from the Sri Sathya Sai Organisations. Therefore this model is unique and very unlike some of the institutions mentioned today which have paid employees.
And if for some reason the Trust is not in the same wavelength as the Organisation, I don’t know what they will do to get all the volunteers to do the different kinds of free services going on. Also as you know lakhs of people are receiving free treatment. Today the poor who are sick whether they come from Nepal or Jharkhand or Orissa or Andhra Pradesh or Tamilnadu or anywhere else; if they have a heart disease or need a heart valve replacement, since their economic condition is so bad that their the only option is death. It is only Bhagawan Baba’s hospital which makes it possible for them to get another life. And this is being done here for all irrespective of religion, colour, economic status, region, race and so on. So the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust alongwith the Sri Sathya Sai Organisations are today serving humanity all over India. The Organisation assists in the running of 99 schools – 50000 students are being trained and since many of the teachers are devotees of Baba they are not asking for salaries; they offer their services free of charge to these schools. This is because they are inspired and motivated by Bhagawan Baba.
Similar activities are going on currently in 125 countries. Devotees of Baba are serving the needy in Africa, Mongolia, Columbia, Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and so on.
Media: When was the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust registered? There are reports that there are differences of opinion between the members of the Trust. Is that the reason why most of them are not present for this Meet? (Nagendra Reddy from Zee 24 hours in Telugu)
S.S.N.: The Trust was formed in 1972. For your information all the Trustees were present for the meeting held last evening. Mr. Ratnakar already interacted extensively with the Press yesterday. Mr. Indulal Shah and Justice Bhagwathi are very much here in Prasanthi Nilayam; they were there even on the last occasion. There are no differences of opinion between the Trustees or between the members of the Council of Management.
Mr. Srinivasan is the All India President of the Sri Sathya Sai Organisations. Yesterday he was questioned by the police and that lead to a lot of media speculation. Therefore we considered it appropriate that we should request Mr. Srinivasan to be here today and take your questions. Merely because two of us are here does not mean that all the others are against us! The relationship between the members of the Trust is very harmonious. We have informed debates, discussions and then take decisions in the interests of the institution. Even yesterday there was not a single point in the meeting where any member said, “No, I don’t agree with this,” or “Do not do this”. All the decisions were taken unanimously.
V.S.: Also I want to inform you that we are now setting up a procedure for regular meetings with the Press. So it may not be possible for all Trustees to be present at all such meetings; kindly understand this. Someone is in Delhi, the other in Mumbai, and so on. Some are of course residents in Prasanthi Nilayam; however I am not one but I do spend most of my time in Puttaparthi. I have given up most of my other assignments. Physically I am here almost 60 percent of my time. Mr. Naganand is a very busy lawyer and Chartered Accountant, but he is also devoting so much time. Therefore in the future it might not be possible for all of us to be present for every meeting but that does not mean that there is difference of opinion among us. As per Bhagawan’s directions whether it is a meeting of Central Trust members or of a Sai Centre anywhere, all decisions are arrived at by consensus after proper discussion.
Media: The University receives grants from the UGC (University Grants Commission), then why are retired lecturers paid only Rs. 8000 or Rs. 9000 as pension. Similarly why are the salaries in the hospital very less compared to hospitals outside.
Finally, Mr. Srinivasan, when there was an allegation against you, why did you not resign? (Akbar from ABN Andhra Jyothi in Telugu)
V.S.: Firstly, we do not take any grants from the UGC for paying salaries. The UGC provides us grants only for specific projects such as research projects, library projects and so on. We have never asked the UGC to help us provide salaries. But we ought to give remuneration in accordance with the UGC laws in their respective pay scales and we are doing the same. The retired professors and lecturers from the University tell us that they do not require that much money; they want only a minimum amount as honorarium. We do not force them to take a particular amount as salary; it is not as if we give them a receipt of Rs. 10000 but pay them only Rs. 2000. Such things may happen elsewhere but never here.
Now coming to the second question, in the matter of paying salaries in the hospital we do not have to follow the norms of any regulatory authority like the UGC. Our hospitals serve the poor. When people join this hospital we openly ask them if they have an attitude to serve; this place is fit only for such people. If they feel that they deserve Rs. 10 lakhs which is what they would have received in say Apollo Hospital (a private super speciality hospital in India), here we cannot oblige them in that manner because unlike other hospitals we do not charge our patients. All treatment is offered absolutely free.
Nevertheless, we are now revising the salaries and we did inform this to the new professionals who had applied to our hospital; they may join if they like our proposal. Another point to note is that in Puttaparthi, the cost of living is very low. Education for the children is free. The house rent for the hospital quarters is minimum. The hospital takes care of their medical costs if any completely. Therefore, it is a different scenario here and we do not compel anyone to serve here.
Lastly, you asked why I haven’t resigned. Let me tell you it is very easy to give a resignation. In fact, it is a very tempting thing to do. I can just drop it and go, and engage myself in something else. But Bhagawan Baba has appointed me as a Trustee. For me it is a test, and if I run away out of fear I would be cheating Baba. Therefore even if people say I have lost my reputation I do not pay too much attention to it.
If such a thing would have happened in my company, I would have surely resigned. But this is the temple of Bhagawan. Baba chose us and gave this responsibility; I cannot shy away from it. Infact, I have thought about it a lot. I stood before the picture of Bhagawan and prayed to Him for guidance. The answer I got was – running away is not the correct thing to do. Therefore we need to stay together and discharge our responsibilies until our bodies permit us. We have to work; we are karmacharies, simple workers not elite individuals.
Media: One of the primary reasons why the Government of Andhra Pradesh has asked for a report on finances of the Trust is that there are several allegations of financial irregularities. Also there is a lot of speculation about how much the Trust is worth, some say rupees 40,000 crores, others 100000 crores and so on. Now, is there any move by the Trust to make the details of its finances public so as to dispel all these rumours and allegations? This has become more important ever since Rs. 35 lakhs was seized. (Reporter from CNN-IBN)
S.S.N.: Whatever the law requires we have disclosed – we have filed Income Tax returns; submitted the required returns to the Government of Andhra Pradesh; and with the Government of India, we have filed the necessary reports pertaining to the Foreign Contributions Act. All of this is available in the public realm. But the man on the street doesn’t know and the Press and the Media have reported so many things. That is why a lot of people are curious.
Therefore the Trustees are now seriously considering that in addition to all the statutory compliances which we will continue to do, we will also publish an annual report of our activities which broadly gives the financial transactions and activities of the Trust. Whether this should be done only for the Central Trust or also for all the allied institutions is something which has to be discussed. So I am sure you will see a different approach in the days to come.
V.S.: We will bring out the first report this November.
S.S.N.: Regarding how much the Trust is worth, I did answer this question in the previous Press Meet. Let me ask you this: How do I evaluate 60 acres of land in the heart of Whitefield (Bangalore); property in Bangalore is selling currently at rupees 15000/square foot. Do you want me to multiply 60 acres by square feet with the commercial rate? In fact this is irrelevant because the property given to us is for running a hospital and it is a free hospital where we are spending 50 crores every year. In a situation like this if you ask me the value, all I can say is we have not evaluated it. There are properties all over the country which run many institutions. For example in Ananthapur where we have a college the Trust owns 150 acres of land. This is next to the highway and was given by the Government and currently it is being used for the stated purpose. Therefore we are not able to put a ballpark figure about the worth of the Trust.
Regarding the other question, let me put this absolutely straight – there is no financial irregularity of any kind. Apart from this 35 lakhs which has been blown completely out of proportion there is not a single allegation. The newspapers reported that they found Rs. 5-10 crores of cash and the Press placed it on the front page. When and where did this 5-10 crores episode occur? Which bus was it seized from?
(At this moment, there was absolute silence in the hall)
Here is my humble prayer: Please be objective. Please don’t condemn us. Please don’t print things which are incorrect and then fail to retract when the truth is pointed out. You have a very important responsibility. I appear in many many cases for the Press. Recently I appeared in contempt proceedings where we defended the right of the Press saying this is our job, our duty and the court accepted that argument. But this is coupled with a responsibility. Therefore my sincere prayer is please examine the news you receive and if you have made a mistake own it up.
Can you publish today to say that there was no seizure of 5-10 crores cash? And you ask me about financial impropriety!
You are talking about this meagre 35 lakhs, I don’t know how many crores of rupees we spend every month for the different service initiatives. Therefore, the question about financial irregularity is completely misplaced. I deny it entirely. There is no financial impropriety.
Media: Puttaparthi now is on the headlines for wrong reasons. Will all the activities of the Trust continue? Who are going to be the future members of the Trust? When and how are the students going to be involved in the affairs of the Trust? The current members of the Trust are of high calibre, will it be the same for the future members of the Trust? (Rangareddy from unidentified media channel)
V.S.: Firstly as I have already stated Bhagawan has made enough provision for us to continue all the institutions. We only have to manage it properly. We are not worried about the next month’s salary, electricity bill or anything like that. Therefore all activities whether in Puttaparthi, Bangalore or elsewhere will continue without any disruption.
Regarding future Trustees, we definitely want to have people on whom Bhagawan has showered much love and affection; they have to be gradually given more positions of responsibility. We want to ensure that just as the current Trustees have been chosen by Bhagawan, the people who are going to be the future Trustees are of a calibre which Bhagawan would have approved. This is going to be our main guideline for the selection of Trustees.
We certainly want to give more role to the students. We are now giving them individual projects. For example, the assignment of preparing the annual report of the Trust has been entrusted to a Task Force consisting of mainly alumni and students of the university. Prof. Anantharaman is aware of this.
Similarly we are also forming Task Forces to execute many initiatives that are being taken to make life more convenient in the hospital and in the ashram which includes installation of high-tech equipment. The alumni are looking at quotations and selecting the equipment; they will be making a presentation to the Board of Management to enable the Trust to take decisions. Therefore I can assure you that in the future there definitely will be more role for the students.
Media: We learnt that the funds of the Trust are invested in Fixed Deposits. How much has been deposited and where? Secondly is it true that Dr. Safaya is resigning from his post as the director of the hospital? (Pullaiah from Vartha in Telugu)
V.S.: Let me answer your second question first. Dr. Safaya is now 80 years old and has not been keeping good health; still he continues to serve, he has not resigned as yet.
Infact even when Bhagawan was there he was praying to Him to relieve him from the responsibility. He has now served for so many years and he continues to be a devotee of Baba. Therefore we now want to make proper arrangements with his approval and set in place a succession plan so that after him there is a competent person to head the hospital. I will ask Mr. Naganand to answer your first question.
S.S.N.: Just a word about Dr. Safaya. Few months before Swami went into hospital, one day we were with Swami and Dr. Safaya prayed, “Swami, please give me leave from now on.” Swami looked at him and said (in Hindi), “Tum kidhar jatha hain mujhe chodke? (Where will you go leaving Me?)” Immediately Dr. Safaya’s eyes became moist and he said, “I don’t want to leave You and go, but my physical condition is such that I want some rest.” Therefore Dr. Safaya is fully committed to Bhagawan but if his health doesn’t permit him to continue, we cannot help it; we will have to find someone else.
Now on the other question about deposits, it is very difficult for me to tell you off the cuff about the total number of deposits, the banks in which they are invested, and so on. However as Mr. Srinivasan mentioned we have an Investment Team comprising of Swami’s former students who are working in the Finance Department under a Finance Controller. They constantly keep an eye on various bank deposits and the prevailing rates of interest, renew these deposits whenever needed, and so on. So, at this moment I cannot give you details to the last rupee about our investments. However as Mr. Srinivasan pointed out we are going to publish an annual report. In any case, this information is already available in our balance sheet which is filed with every statutory authority. As mentioned earlier all deposits are made only in nationalised banks; we have not invested in any private bank.
Media: If it is illegal for the Trust to accept contributions for the construction of Maha Samadhi which is purported to be a religious activity, would it not be financial impropriety for the construction company building the Samadhi to accept cash payments for this purpose?
Secondly, when the inventory report of Yajur Mandir accounted for even 50 odd paisa in Indian currency why there were no details about the few dollars found? (Rakesh from The Hindu)
S.S.N.: The few dollars found have been deposited in the bank. There is no question of anything else being there other than what is deposited in the bank.
Coming now to the financial impropriety you are talking about, the payment of money to a contractor in cash is not illegal. I do not know of any law which states you cannot make such a payment. When I constructed my house, I had to make some of the payments in cash because the contractor said when he goes to the market some of the sellers insist on cash payment. So even though every rupee of mine is accounted for, the other person does not want it that way but he gives me a bill. There is no law which says that there can really be no cash payment at all.
The second aspect here – as Mr. Srinivasan already explained – is that the construction of the Maha Samadhi is really not an activity of the Trust but of a group of devotees who have come forward to endow thisSamadhi to the Trust. And this is nothing new; it has happened in many cases.
Many of the buildings here have been endowed to the Trust in this manner. For instance, even this building (the Indoor Stadium) came up when a donor came forward to bear the entire cost of this construction. So he gave the funds to the Trust to be used for this purpose.
There are other cases when the donors have taken Bhagawan’s permission to engage a contractor to construct the building on Trust’s property and then offered the entire structure to Baba. This is accounted for in the books of the Trust as donation in kind. In either case, it is completely accounted for. Now in the case of the Maha Samadhi construction we have permitted another agency to do the structure in our premises because essentially it is a religious activity and as a public charitable trust we cannot commit our resources for it. Therefore this methodology is well-tested and very much within the four corners of law; there is absolutely no problem.
Media: Is there is any written will of Baba? (unidentified reporter)
S.S.N.: To the best of our knowledge there is no will made by Bhagawan Baba. A will is a formal document which has to be in writing, be witnessed and signed by the author; in this case Baba should have signed it. Till now such a document has not surfaced; we have not found anything in His personal quarters.
I have been serving as the legal advisor of the Trust for several years and am aware of most of Trust’s documents. If such a document existed generally I would know of it. Swami had never told me that He would like to make a will. Therefore to my personal knowledge there is no will, and physically we did not find one. Therefore I am certain it does not exist.
The second aspect here is about His instructions. There are some people claiming that Baba had given them some directions which they will reveal at an appropriate stage to the devotees. All can I say about this is it would be very difficult for the Trustees to act legally on any oral instruction.
Nevertheless, if the concerned devotee has some suggestions which are in good interest of the Trust or the ashram, the Trustees would definitely apply their minds and implement them.
Media (to Mr. V.S.): We learnt that Mr. Ratnakar was involved in coordinating the efforts to collect donations for the Samadhi construction which had to be passed on to the construction agency. Then, how did you get involved in this affair?
V.S.: The fact is it is not true that Mr. Ratnakar was given the responsibility of collecting money for the constructing of the Samadhi. I only said that those devotees who had given money to Ratnakar wanted this to be handed over to the Project Manager of the construction agency. Mr. Ratnakar requested me to accompany him when he was handing over this amount. I had no idea who had given the money to him. Just because I was present at his request – I obliged because he is also a Trustee and like a younger brother – many stories were created stating that I was involved in the incident. My role in this whole issue was minimal; I only accompanied him.
Media: Why are the audited reports of the Trust not published in newspapers? All other public charitable trusts do it. Secondly, when the inventory of Yajur Mandir was being done, why were there no representatives from the Media or the Government as witnesses? (Vishwanathan from HMTV)
S.S.N.: Regarding your first question, there is no law which requires us to publish our accounts in newspapers. About five years ago there was a proposal to introduce an amendment to the Income Tax Act to make it compulsory for all the public charitable trusts to publish annual accounts in newspapers. When this was moved, there was a lot of debate and the Parliament finally did not approve the proposal; so the amendment never happened. To the best of my knowledge no public charitable trust is publishing its financial figures in any newspaper; atleast I have not seen any such report. You generally see advertisements of corporate bodies; they have to do it because as listed companies they are legally required to publish their financials every quarter. However, this is not the case with charitable trusts. We are in line with every other charitable trust, none of them are publishing their accounts and legally there really is no need for it. If your think that we should do it, I am afraid nobody has done it till now, so we have also not considered it thus far.
Your second question was on inventorisation. Now in this situation where do you draw the line? Someone will say ‘call the Media,’ the other ‘invite the family,’ the third ‘call the Government,’ the fourth ‘call a foreigner,’ and so on. You should undertand that we are all responsible members of the Trust selected by Bhagawan Himself. We have no personal motives or agenda in any of these things; none of us had earlier entered Swami’s room. Mr. Srinivasan has been coming here for the past 40 or more years, even he has never seen Bhagawan’s room. Therefore we never knew that these things existed.
When we came to know of it, we devised a procedure. We already have very eminent people as Trustees – one is a former Chief Justice of India, the other a very senior Chartered Accountant, the third a former Chief Vigilance Commissioner, Government of India, and so on. Mind you, none of them take even a rupee in any form. I can tell you with certainty that we are all spending from our pockets for rendering service. We travel in our own vehicles and never take a single paisa for anything. Therefore we have nothing personal in this Trust; we are giving our time and energy as our offering to Bhagawan.Actually today I was supposed to be in Goa for a case but when the Trustees asked me to stay back, I cancelled that trip because my first duty is to Bhagawan. Therefore you must understand why we are doing all this.
Going back to Yajur Mandir inventorisation, the Trustees decided that it would be better to have some representatives either from the Government or elsewhere. So we had informal discussions with some Government officials and decided to invite two very senior individuals, one a former Justice of the Supreme Court and the other a former Judge of the Bombay and Karnataka High Court. Again, these are people who have no axe to grind. Even though they are in their late seventies, both of them were there till 12.30 in the night and left the premises only after the entire exercise was complete.
Media: But both of them are Baba’s devotees.
S.S.N: No, Justice Vaidhyanatha has barely come to Puttaparthi in the past twenty years. I do not consider him a Baba devotee in that sense.
Media: You said you had discussions with some Government officials regarding this. Who were they?
S.S.N.: Yes, we did discuss with senior officers of the Government but we cannot disclose their names.
V.S.: Actually, there is no requirement for us to divulge that information. In fact the Government officials told us to go about it ourselves. So the Trustees decided to have some independent people to oversee this exercise. I am sorry, I cannot name with whom we had informal discussions. I am telling you this looking into your eyes; it is not as if our actions are malafide! Whether you want to believe this or not is your choice.
Media: Why should members of the Trust enter Yajur Mandir when there are allegations against them? (Krishna Mohan from TV9 in Telugu)
V.S.: Yajur Mandir was opened prior to all these allegations. Please be factually correct in your questions.
Media: Can you share the names of 12 devotees who have donated the 35.5 lakhs rupees? How is this money going to be accounted? (Vaishanavi from NewsX)
S.S.N.: The names of the donors have been given to the court. The donors too have filed affidavits along with their PAN numbers and other details – all of this is there in court files. At this point I do not want to give their names and enter into a big debate about who they are, where they are from and so on. In any case, this is not something which the Trust is aware of or concerned with.
The second question is about accounting. As I mentioned earlier once the Samadhi is complete and offered to the Trust it will be treated as donation in kind.
Media: Is there some kind of a divide between the members of the Trust and the family? Other day a family member said that there was a threat to her life. Some other family members have also complained that when Baba was in the hospital the details about the condition of His health were not shared with them. They say they had no clue about the recent Rs. 35 lakh contribution too. Why is there no transparency between the Trust and the family?
(Govind from Headlines Today)
V.S.: Firstly please understand that we are Trustees of a public charitable trust. Officially we do not recognize any family member – let us be clear on this. The law governing Trusts has put down the duties of the Trustees. We cannot give a special recognition to any claim made by a family member. Nevertheless, we certainly keep the lines of communication open with them; we respect their views. However my categorical reply to this question is this: We are not required to give out any information specifically to family members which we are not sharing with other people. Please make note of this; I do not want to be ambiguous about it!
Coming to the next question, what is the normal recourse for a person facing a life threat? He or she goes to the police station and lodges a complaint. One can follow this course of action. As far as I am concerned, I can categorically say that I have not threatened anyone’s life.
Finally there was a question about sharing information about Bhagawan’s health. Please note that when Baba was in the hospital the family members were given all the privileges possible. The problem arose when everybody wanted to go to the ICU! Even we never went inside for many days because the doctors did not want any infection in the ICU. So it is not as if someone was granted exclusive permission which was denied to the family members.
You say we have not maintained Baba’s health file. How do you know? Have you read the newspaper a week ago? Now it is illegal to disclose the private health reports of any person. In fact some of the doctors who disclosed information about Bhagawan’s health condition when He was in the hospital have committed a breach of law! We have to respect Bhagawan’s private rights.
Media: From now on how would the Trust decide about its future initiatives? And where would the funds come from? Secondly, what do you have to say to the ordinary people in Puttaparthi who are very disturbed with the current happenings. For instance, many of the shopkeepers say they have had no business for the last ten days and it looks like the local economy is only getting worse. (unidentified reporter)
V.S.: Let me take your first question. Our immediate concern is to make sure that all the present activities continue and we do have resources to run everything.
Baba had Divine vision to take up new projects. But we are human beings. So we will carefully deliberate on how we should utilise the funds of the Trust for public charitable works and then decide on new activities. In any case, you may be aware of the recently launched Sri Sathya Sai Vidya Vahini Project, which is a web-based learning system for rural schools. The Trust has already started spending money for this programme. Similarly we are looking at all the schools run by the Sai Organization throughout India; most of these are in rural areas and they do need additional infrastructure and facilities. We are now considering and evaluating these proposals.Baba had Divine insight to decide on these matters but now we have to follow a professional and pragmatic approach.
With regards to what message we have for the residents of Puttaparthi, our only appeal to them is not to be carried away by all these reports and news items floated by the Media. Whether they believe the Trustees or not, they need to have faith in Bhagawan. They are what they are only because of Baba. They should not feel that Baba has disappeared. Bhagawan was there, is there, and will be there! Baba’s presence is felt by millions of people all over the world even now. Whatever He wants He will make it happen. If the Trustees have to be removed He will ensure that. Everything is in His hands; nothing is impossible for Him. Therefore my sincere appeal to the people and residents of Puttaparthi is to have faith in Bhagawan and be patient. All of this (the recent media concocted controversies) will also pass and we will do our best to discharge the responsibilities given to us by Bhagawan.
Media: There are rumors that Puttaparthi is becoming a safe place for black money after the Swiss Bank. What do you have to say to this? (Damodar from I News in Telugu)
S.S.N.: Mr. Srinivasan has already very clearly answered this question. From the time the Trustees have been in position, we have not received any cash donation. Regarding the source of money that was found in Bhagawan’s chambers, we have no idea; the current Trustees were appointed just a few months ago. Therefore this is a wild allegation. Bhagawan in His Divine wisdom had received the money we found in Yajur Mandir and it is now being utilised for public good. The moment we came to know of this amount we deposited it in our banks; it is not black money as we have paid tax on it.
Media: What do you have to say about the various exemptions that you have been enjoying from the Government? (Damodar from I News in Telugu)
S.S.N.: Looking at various beneficial activities being undertaken by the Trust, if the Government has awarded us some concessions it is only to appreciate the work that is being done.
Media: According to Government Order 428 you have an exemption not to allow inspection by the police. How many exemptions have you received? What are they and since when are they applicable?
S.S.N.: There are any number of public charitable trusts in India. Depending on the facts and circumstances of each case the Government exercises its power. It is not a quid pro quo; it is not as if the Government says that today I am giving you this exemption tomorrow you give admission to my student in your college, or that today I am giving you this tax exemption, you make sure that the patient I send gets treated in your hospital. When Bhagawan was there, no such conditional donations or exemptions were solicited or accepted.
Regarding allowing inspections by the police, the administration of the ashram is under the control of the Secretary. When Bhagawan was there he took His instructions to make arrangements for anyone coming to Prasanthi Nilayam. I remember whenever senior policemen came to the Ashram, they were treated with great respect. For example whenever the Collector or the Superintendent of Police were here they were well received and were given place in the front row when Bhagawan came for darshan. Baba also used to talk to them and bless them; I have personally seen this any number of times. In fact every time there was a change of shift of the five or six constables who used to be Swami’s personal security guards, Baba used to call and speak to them, bless their families and also give them gifts. Therefore, if anyone feels they were not given respect, it is not correct.
Media (to V.S.): When Mr. Ratan Tata was here recently, why was he allowed to enter Yajur Mandir? Secondly, it is being reported that you (Mr. Srinivasan) are in contact with Mr. Chidambaram (the Home Minister of India). Is this true? Is he trying to protect you or the Trust? (Ayesha from Star News in Hindi)
V.S.: Firstly, the other day Mr. Ratan Tata was here only as a devotee to pay his obeisance to Bhagawan’s Samadhi. He has no connection with the Trust. Rumours of him becoming a member of the Trust are absolutely incorrect. He returned the same day after having Bhagawan’s Samadhi darshan. He did not go to Yajur Mandir.
Coming to your second question, I am as close to Mr. Chidambaram as you are! I have no special relationship with him. If I happen to see him whenever he comes to Chennai I do greet him and he too responds accordingly. In any case, what is the need for me to go to him? It is not as if we have done anything wrong or are stuck in a great problem. Nevertheless, I cannot say I do not know him or he does not know me as I have been the President of CII (Confederaton of Indian Industries). But there is nothing more to it.
Media: Is there any particular reason why Media is not entertained in the Ashram? (Vishwanathan from HMTV)
V.S.: We understand the concerns of the Media. That is why we are now setting up a Public Information Centre to which all of you will have access. From now on we will have a very structured relationship with the Media and Prof. Anantharaman will head this centre. Please give him a little time to set up his office, establish contacts with you all, and so on. Then you can have a one-to-one contact with him.
Media: Why is Satyajit not speaking to the Media? Is he under a gag order? (Ayesha from Star News)
V.S.: Satyajit is not under a gag order or anything like that. He is a free individual. Of course, being a former student he is a bit apprehensive to straightaway face the Media. But he has nothing to hide and it is not as if we have told him to keep away from the Media or otherwise.
He is intelligent and quite transparent. He is not a member of the Trust but is spearheading one of our recent activities; he is now concentrating completely in the Vidya Vahini Program. We have given him leadership role in this project and he is now taking this mission forward.
Media: In a petition that you have lodged in the Anantapur Court in 1993 you have referred to the Trust as a Religious Organisation. What do you have to say about this? Where is Central Trust registered? (Srinivas from ABN Andhra Jyothi in Telugu)
S.S.N.: In Andhra Pradesh there is a single act for both Religious and Charitable Endowments. Our Trust is also registered under that law. I do not know which petition you are referring to; in any case what probably would have happened is they would stated that we are registered under the Charitable and Religious Organisations Act. It is very clear from our Trust Deed that we are a public charitable trust registered in Hyderabad under the Andhra Religious Endowments Act. If you want more clarifications about what happened in 1993, I need to see that petition.
Media: Why were relatives not present in Yajur Mandir when the inventory was being taken?
V.S.: Mr. Ratnakar is a relative, he is also a Trustee.
S.S.N.: Besides there are 250 relatives. Whom should we call and actually why should we? It is a matter involving the Trust. So we took the suggestion of some senior officials from the Government and devised our own procedure to go about it.
Media: Apart from money and other valuables many of Baba’s other possessions might have been recovered from Yajur Mandir. What are you going to do with this? (Chandra Shekar from ETV in Telugu)
V.S.: We have many exhibition areas like the Chaitanya Jyothi Museum, the University Display Hall and so on. So we will decide on the right place to place these Memorabilia. It is just two months since Baba left us and we are now just settling down. In fact in Shirdi, Baba’s personal items like His umbrella, grinding stone, etc. were displayed after several years. But we want to do this as early as possible.
Media: Where is the Golden Chariot now?
V.S.: It is very much there in Sai Kulwant Hall. We will take a suitable decision regarding its display too.
Media: In the background of so many allegations, how do you think you can regain the confidence of people to run the Trust? (Sai Kumar from TV5 in Telugu)
V.S.: I have already talked about it in the opening statement. The fact that all the institutions are running in the normal fashion is itself the indication that we are working as we believe we should. Just because some allegations were made it does not mean we have done anything wrong.
As I told you before it is very easy to resign and quit; it is actually very simple. But then who will take up this job? Mind you, this is a very complex institution. I have been with Baba for 40 years and have served Him in different capacities. On one side the All India Sai Organization has 6 lakh volunteers and 30,000 centers. In fact I am now going to Jharkhand to attend a youth conference. I am continuously traveling all over India.
Actually a few years ago I prayed to Bhagawan to appoint a younger person to take over as the All India President of Sai Organisation. Swami in His wisdom asked me to continue for some more time. It is He who is giving me the energy to work. Nevertheless I am also a human being and definitely we will be having younger people coming not only into the Trust but also into the Organisation. We are true to Bhagawan and we feel it is our duty to serve. Why should I tolerate all these allegations? In 50 years of my professional life I never had a single allegation. Actually these allegations have pained me a lot. That is why I prayed to Bhagawan. And the answer I received was I cannot run away just because there is a threat. I will remain a devotee till my last breath, whether I am an office bearer or not is not important.
S.S.N.: I want to make a small statement. We appreciate the Press and the Media, and know how important their role is in society because truth has to be brought out. Our only request is this: Please do a bit of introspection. If you have published something which is incorrect, my appeal to you is that you should correct it; this is possible. As I told you I appear for a number of news and media companies in my professional capacity. They tell me: “Sir, I get a call from the police at 12 in the night mentioning about a crime. My print is closing at 12:30, what should I do? How can I verify?” I said, “You must have a system in place. You ought to have a source who is believable.”
All of you are working from market information which people give you. We have said on record that there are vested interests trying to discredit Swami’s institutions. Therefore kindly introspect. Today, you know me or Mr. Srinivasan only because of our association with Swami’s institution. Tomorrow we may not be here but His institutions will go on; we need to protect these institutions.
Please know that none of us have any personal agenda. If you discover that you have written something wrong, please retract your statement. Other day someone sent me a sms saying Mr. Srinivasan is arrested. So I immediately called him and he said, “I am in my home.” Then we informed the Press about this incorrect report but not one Media house published it. There were wrong reports of cash seizure worth 5-10 crores. We told you the information is absolutely false but again not one paper published this. You have a responsibility to God. Therefore for heavens sake, please introspect. Let us not bring Swami’s institutions down. It is important that we all work for His institutions because we are all part of society. If we bring an institution like the hospital down, who is going to serve there?
V.S.: May I now thank you all. We have spent more than two hours and fifteen minutes together. In any case, as I mentioned earlier from now on we will have a system for regular interactions with the Media. Jai Sai Ram.