Bengaluru: NGO Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) has seen four high-profile trustees resign since February — three within the last month — amid speculation of misgivings within the organisation over governance issues.
The four trustees are former Infosys chief financial officers Mohandas Pai and V. Balakrishnan, ChrysCapital co-founder Raj Kondur, and Abhay Jain, adviser to Manipal Education & Medical Group, who was the first to resign. All four served two decades as trustees and are credited with catalysing the APF’s growth to its current scale.
Their resignations, sources in the APF told ThePrint, followed alleged audit findings that cast a shadow on its governance, including lack of transparency regarding the role played by certain temple trusts key to the foundation of the NGO. These include ISKCON or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The audit came after the APF received complaints from whistleblowers.
The APF is one of the main vehicles for the implementation of the midday meal scheme, a government initiative that oversees the distribution of free meals to students of government schools.
ThePrint tried to reach Mohandas Pai and V. Balakrishnan through SMS and calls for comment but had received no response till the time of publishing this report.
The APF has denied allegations that the resignations had anything to do with concerns about the NGO’s governance, even as it admitted receiving complaints.
APF vice-chairman Chanchalapathi Dasa said “the matter was investigated under the supervision of the audit committee, recoveries made and action taken on persons involved”.
“We had received 26 letters from whistleblowers, we have closed 25 of them. One of them is still pending investigation,” said Naveen Neerada, head of strategic communications & projects at ISKCON.
The new chairman and audit committee — appointed Saturday — have now been tasked with reviewing the transactions for the fiscal year ending 31 March 2020 and suggesting remedial actions to the organisation, Neerada added.
APF chairman Madhu Pandit Dasa said they were “immensely grateful to the dedication and invaluable guidance by the outgoing trustees”.
Referring to the change in guard, the APF said in a statement Monday that a need “was felt… for a fresh look at the foundation’s activities and the need for newest and brighter ideas”.
“We remain firmly committed to management and governance best practices. We want to assure all our stakeholders, the Government of India, state governments, corporate partners and every individual donor, that the contributions they make are well utilised in the service of humanity,” the foundation statement added.
Also Read: Akshaya Patra’s midday meal runs into yet another controversy over missing onion & garlic
The APF’s midday meal scheme feeds an estimated 18 lakh children in 19,039 government and government-aided schools across 12 states and two union territories, the foundation said in a statement issued to mark the programme’s 20th anniversary earlier this year.
According to ISKCON sources, among other things, letters from whistleblowers alleged that missionaries of ISKCON Temple Trust served as unit presidents of the APF and were found to be in full control without corresponding accountability on efficiency, compliance, systems and controls to the formal organisation of Akshaya Patra. “They have very loose to almost no formal reporting to the professional CEO/CFO of the Foundation,” a source claimed.
One of the letters, sent to a former trustee, sought to highlight “several instances of mismanagement by a few units and unit presidents of the foundation”.
“They alleged that no action had been taken to streamline it. After due internal investigation, in almost all cases mentioned by whistleblowers, it was established that there had been several wrongdoings on the part of certain unit presidents and there was a need to take action against them,” said Chanchalapathi Dasa.
Key to APF growth
The four independent trustees of the APF are credited with helping build up the Akshaya Patra, with their name helping the NGO receive multiple sponsors. According to the APF, for 2019-20, it received Rs 248 crore as grants and cash subsidy, and another Rs 352 crore in public donations.
“The monetary contributions by corporates were towards the midday meal scheme and not the temple. Since the state governments have an understanding with the APF to cater to government schools, including with taxpayers money, the foundation should be accountable for every paisa spent,” said a senior official who has earlier served as a liaison between the APF and the Karnataka government for the midday meal scheme.
The reconstituted board of trustees now includes chairman Madhu Pandit Dasa, Chanchalapathi Dasa, and former civil servants K.V. Chowdary and Anil Swarup, among others.
Also Read: How states are delivering mid-day meals to students during Covid-19 school closure
It is ISKCON Bangalore, not the real ISKCON. Real, original ISKCON has nothing to do with APF. So get your facts correct and don’t defame a well structured and law abiding society which is constantly serving humanity.
Good to know: I made a small contribution seeing the picture of a school child a couple of weeks ago.
Regardless of the explanations, four trustees’ sudden exit isn’t a great sign at all.
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