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Money laundering in a non-profit trust
Corruption is not something a freedom fighter can be asked to 'get used to'. It is not something they thought of while pressing for independence neither was it something they can take in their stride. For the Adivarekars, freedom was a birthright and any form of corruption has to be quelled or more so, crushed by non-violent means.
Shankar and Sushila Adivarekar have fought for freedom and their latest battle is one against corruption. Sushila became the founder trustee of the Chetana (educational) Trust while her husband, Shankar was made the vice chairman. Soon, Maharashtra's Former Education Minister Madhukar Rao Chowdhary joined the trust and took over as Chairman. He soon got his son and other close relatives on board and started using the trust's money for personal use. But it did not stop there; the man is also alleged to have cashed in on innocent students who were unable to make the desired cut and has taken huge sums of money from them without issuing any receipts. Moreover, Chowdhary also accepted money to pass students who had failed initially.
When Shankar Adivarekar came to know of the money laundering that was going on within the trust, he cautioned the Chairman and other members. "I wrote a letter to Chowdhary in the end of the year 2004 warning him about his illegal activities. Then, I wrote to the Charity Commission mentioning the same, on December 17, 2004. I acquired all the information using the RTI," said Shankar.
The commission called the trustees for a series of four meeting to decide the fate of the trust and an illegal account they had started operating under the name of 'Antar Bharati'. The Chairman, Madhukar Rao Chowdhary refused to attend any of the meetings but made an appearance for one of the four meetings. On January 31, 2007, the commission slapped Chowdhary with a fine of Rs. 25,000 for deliberately keeping away from the meetings.
The commission soon discovered that the Chowdharys had appointed thirteen of their family members into the trusteeship. "Meeta Patil, Chowdhary's daughter, was appointed without any qualifications or application. That was the case of most of the members on board," said Shankar.
Students approached the Adivarekars complaining about the trust. "There was nothing much we could do. We had been removed from the trust as the Chowdharys voted us out," said Shankar. The student complained that he sold his mother's land in order to get admission into the college for a PGDM course. The Chowdharys had refused to give him a receipt and the boy's admission was still not guaranteed. "We asked him to register a case with the police but the boy was scared since he had sold the land without his mother's knowledge and there was no proof of the transaction," added Adivarekar.
The RTI did not reveal any split in the management quota seats. There was no break up of the money spent and the money earned. All the money deposited is mentioned as given by generous donors. "It is a matter to think about. How can donors part with lakhs of rupees on a daily basis?" asked the concerned Adivarekar. "The auditor was issued a notice in 2005," he added.
Moreover, the letterheads and notices for Antar Bharti mentioned that it was recognised by the Government of Maharashtra. The institution was sent a notice for not filing in their accounts and returns. Soon, the institute changed its name from Antar Bharti to Vishwa Bharti in early 2007. The accounts also showed that Shirish Chowdhary, the son of Madhukar Rao Chowdhary, made use of the trust's money for an eye operation. "We also found out that huge transactions from the trust money were made into the accounts of their relatives," said Adivarekar.
The Chowdhary's appointed agents to carry out admissions. They did not ask for applications from their officers.
But this is not the end of Madhukar Rao Chowdhar's travails. He is an accused in a cheating case filed against him in Jalgaon. His application for anticipatory bail was rejected and he awaits a verdict in the court. Chowdhary was not available for comments on this issue or the one regarding the trust.