New Delhi: The process for admitting new members to the India International Centre – one of the capital’s storied cultural institutions – is under scrutiny for corrupt practices. A special audit of new memberships, granted between October 2014 and April 2017, found that they were processed in a “highly irregular manner”.
In some cases, auditors said, memberships were granted “even without taking proper approval of the sanctioning authorities.”
The audit was conducted by Chandiok & Guliani, a firm of chartered accountants, and was submitted to the IIC’s director in September 2017. In many instances, it said, “names were added in handwriting to a computer-printed list without mentioning the reasons for doing so… in such cases, the possibility of names being added after obtaining approval of the sanctioning authorities cannot be ruled out.”
Ceiling of associate members exceeded, director’s approval bypassed
The auditors said there was a “clear violation” of rules, laid down by the Board of Trustees, in relation to the maximum number of STAM (short-term associate memberships) given at any point of time.
They also expressed concern that “the list containing the names of individuals/ firms/ companies proposed and approved for allotment of STAM membership did not contain the signature/ approval of the director. It appears, in our opinion, that the director has been bypassed in the whole process.”
Several names appear to have been included after approvals were accorded.
“In our opinion, the sanctioning authority, while giving approval, should mention the serial numbers of the individuals approved for membership on the note itself, thereby reducing the risk of additions being made after obtaining of approval,” the report said.
The report also put a question mark on the manner in which new members were inducted, without even the signatures of approving authorities. “A list containing 54 names… to whom membership was allotted by IIC, does not contain any signatures of the approving/sanctioning authorities.”
These names were “allegedly recommended by Trustees/ HODs”, but there was “no copy of correspondences available with the membership department to this effect.”
At least 59 members were allotted membership without proper approvals, the report said.
Names added after approval
On perusal of another list of 28 names (all hand-written), the auditors observed that some names figured twice. Further, “approval was taken from the president twice as his signatures were appearing on two different places with different dates. It appears that certain names were added later to the list and approval of the president was taken thereafter.”
“The system of taking approval of the president twice on the same list, in our opinion, appears to be irregular,” the report said.
A case in point was a name that appeared against serial number 20 in the list for associate membership. It was evidently “added after taking approval of the president, as the said name was squeezed in the very little space available right above the signature of the president.”
Likewise, the list containing names for regular and STAM memberships had the signature of the president at the top of the page, where it should have been at the end. “The possibility of adding a name after taking the approval of the president, in our opinion, cannot be ruled out,” the auditors wrote.
’19 memberships allotted without approval of president’
A total of 19 individuals were allotted membership between October 2014 and March 2015 “without obtaining proper approvals from the sanctioning authorities or the president.” Furthermore, “the said list of 19 individuals was not forwarded to the membership department.”
The fact that the president was bypassed assumes significance as the audit primarily relates to a period when senior advocate Soli J. Sorabjee – one of the five life trustees of IIC – was also the president.
Last year, there was a bitter squabble between him and another life trustee, former Jammu and Kashmir governor N. N. Vohra, over Sorabjee’s continuation as president. Vohra aspired to the position, and did ultimately become president after Sorabjee quit.
Even after Vohra took charge, however, social circles remained abuzz with talk of politicians trying to get a greater hold over the institution by joining or procuring affiliate membership of IIC.
Director’s response sought
The Wire tried to reach the IIC director, Air Marshal (Retd.) Naresh Verma, over the phone to learn what action was taken based on the auditor’s findings. His office said he was busy preparing for a board meeting. A questionnaire has been sent to him, and this article will be updated with his response.
He has also been asked about steps the IIC may have taken to make the membership process more transparent, and how it aims to fend off political influence in allocating new memberships.