The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a corruption and criminal conspiracy case against Padma Shree awardee Leela Samson, Bharatanatyam dancer and former director of Kalakshetra Foundation and four others for alleged irregularities in renovation of Koothambalam Auditorium in Chennai.
The case was registered on Thursday based on a complaint filed by Chief Vigilance Officer of Ministry of Culture to the CBI. 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.
The agency received a complaint on May 31, 2017, that about “unfruitful expenditure of Rs 7.02 crore” was made on the renovation of the Koothambalam Auditorium of Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai.
It was alleged that work order for renovation was awarded by the foundation’ officials at a higher rate through the architect consultant Centre for Architectural Research and Design (CARD) without following the General Financial Rules.
The Kalakshetra Foundation was declared as an institution of national importance and was brought under the Ministry of Culture as an autonomous organization. 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. The renovation of it 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 the 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 plans scheme on the advice of the civil works advisory committee.
It was found that the civil works committee appointed CARD in 2010 to receive, analyze and advise on the appointment of contractors for renovation works. CARD selected five contractors. Further, some more contractors were selected by the civil works committee for the renovation of the work.
The contractors were given work orders on a nomination basis without following the open tender process. In all 28 works related to renovation were carried out with a total expenditure of Rs 7.02 crore.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audited the expenditure of the foundation and brought out various lapses in executing the renovation works. It was also pointed out that the renovation works were undertaken without formal sanction of the governing board and finance 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 the CVC of the Ministry.
The Central Public Works Department team in Chennai inspected the work and assessed that the 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.
In 2017, the vigilance department of the ministry forwarded the complaint to the CBI after which a preliminary inquiry was carried out.