The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a corruption and criminal conspiracy case against former director of Kalakshetra Foundation and Padma Shree awardee Bharatnatyam dancer Leela Samson, and four others for alleged irregularities in renovation of Koothambalam Auditorium in Chennai.
The case was registered on Thursday on the basis of a complaint filed by Chief Vigilance Officer of Ministry of Culture to the CBI.
The agency received a complaint on May 31, 2017 that "unfruitful expenditure of Rs 7.02 crore" was made on account of renovation of Koothambalam Auditorium of Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai.
The case has been registered against Leela Samson, the then Director of Kalashetra Foundation; T S Murthi, the then Chief Accounts Officer at Kalakshetra Foundation; S Ramachandran, Accounts officer at Kalakshetra Foundation; V Srinivasan, Engineer at Kalakshetra Foundation and Ravi Neelakantan, Proprietor, CARD and Chennai Engineers.
It was alleged that work order for renovation was awarded by the Foundation's officials at higher rate through the architect consultant Centre for Architectural Research and Design (CARD) in violation of General Financial Rules.
The Kalakshetra Foundation is an institution of national importance and functions brought under Ministry of Culture as autonomous organisation. The Foundation receives aid every year from the ministry for its developmental activities.
It was found that Foundation had built an auditorium, named as Koothambalam, in 1985 for stage performance. In 2006, it was decided to upgrade the auditorium. Its renovation was discussed in several financial committees as well as governing body board meetings.
In 2009, a civil works committee under Leela Samson was formed. The committee was to prepare necessary estimation based on the recommendations of the governing board calling for tender and place it before the finance committee for approval.
Samson, the director, authorized the governing body to spend the amount intended for the plan on the advice of the civil works advisory committee.
It was found that the civil works committee appointed consultant architect CARD in 2010 to receive, analyze and advise on appointment of contractors for renovation works. CARD selected five contractors. Further, some more contractors were selected by the civil works committee for renovation of the work.
The contractors were given work order on nomination basis. The FIR, a copy of which is with TNM, states that the open tender process would have created necessary competition, and allowed for renovation to happen at better rates.
“The contractors were given work order on nomination basis without following the open tender process. In all 28 works related to renovation of the Koothambalam viz. Civil work, Anutone Board fixing work, electrical work, HVAC work, slab cooling work, sound system, stage lighting, sculpture etc., were carried out with an total expenditure of Rs. 7.02 Crores,” the FIR states.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audited the expenditure of the Foundation and brought out various lapses in executing the renovation works in a report submitted in 2011. It was also pointed out that the renovation works were undertaken without formal sanction of the governing board and financial committee of the Foundation.
This led to huge controversy after which Samson resigned from the post of Director and member of the civil works panel in 2012.
Thereafter, the matter was referred to Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) of the Ministry of Culture. The CVC, which conducted its enquiry in April 2016, “pointed out certain irregularities viz. works allotted without tender, estimates not prepared, poor quality of work, interest free advances were given to the firm, substandard work etc.” the FIR says.
Then, the Central Public Works Department team in Chennai also inspected the work and assessed that Foundation spent approximately Rs 62.20 lakh more than the estimated amount. The team also found that the contracts were awarded at a higher rate and payments made to the contractors accordingly.
“Had open tender was resorted to, instead of limited tender quotations in selection of firms for award of work / supply orders for equipment, it would have ensured proper competition and would have resulted in award of work supply orders at a reduced rate. The officials failed to bring on record the lapses relating to non-adherence to the laid down procedure or lack of approval of the competent authority viz. Finance Committee and Governing Board which resulted in serious audit objections leading stoppage of works. Thus, the officials caused financial loss to the KF’s exchequer,” the FIR says.
In 2017, the vigilance department of the ministry forwarded the complaint to the CBI after which a preliminary enquiry was carried out.
The complaint alleges that Leela Samson, and the others abusrs their “official position in criminal conspiracy with each other which resulted in wrongful loss to Kalakshetra Foundation and corresponding wrongful gain to themselves […].”
The officials have booked under the 120-B (criminal conspiracy) read with 409 (criminal breach of trust by a public servant) of the IPC as well as the Prevention of Corruption Act.