THE DANCE OF CON­TRO­VERSY

Noted dancer quits Kalak­shetra af­ter PIL ques­tions con­tin­u­ance. Ex­pect more trou­ble.

India Today - - CONTROVERSY - By Lak­shmi Kumaraswami

On April 30, dancer Leela Sam­son served her last day as di­rec­tor of the Kalak­shetra Foun­da­tion. Started in 1936 by leg­endary artiste Ruk­mini Devi Arun­dale, the Chen­nai- based academy has served as a haven for stu­dents and pa­trons of Bharatanatyam and Natya Shas­tra. To­day, al­le­ga­tions about ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in fi­nances and ap­point­ments are drag­ging the pris­tine in­sti­tu­tion into con­tro­versy.

Trou­ble be­gan when for­mer Kalak­shetra teacher C. S. Thomas filed a writ pe­ti­tion against Sam­son in 2011 for con­tin­u­ing to serve in her post even though she had turned 60. This is the age limit for in­sti­tu­tions un­der the Gov­ern­ment. How­ever, Sam­son sought an ex­ten­sion and re­mained di­rec­tor. Her age came into ques­tion again at a re­cent board meet­ing chaired by Gopalkr­ishna Gandhi on April 10, af­ter which she re­signed on April 12. “Through a PIL, an ex- Kalak­shetra teacher had chal­lenged my con­tin­u­ance as di­rec­tor af­ter I turned 60. If I do not have the sup­port of the min­istry, chair­man and the board in this mat­ter, I see no rea­son to stay on,” said Sam­son af­ter news broke on April 27.

In 2005, Padma Shri awardee Sam­son, then 54, took over as di­rec­tor at the Kalak­shetra Foun­da­tion, where she her­self was once a stu­dent. Her salt and pep­per hair and nat­u­ral grace com­bined with the abil­ity to show­case pro­gres­sive dance styles and run a board­room with equal aplomb won the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment over. Soon she was ap­pointed chair- per­son of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Cen­sor Board and dubbed the cul­tural cza­rina of the UPA.

Now, Sam­son is be­ing ques­tioned on facts far more se­ri­ous than age. A CAG re­port from the of­fice of the Prin­ci­pal Ac­coun­tant Gen­eral ( Civil Au­dit) of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry has emerged, hurl­ing ac­cu­sa­tions rang­ing from fi­nan­cial ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties to wastage of equip­ment. Thomas’s lawyer R. T. Shyamala told IN­DIA TO­DAY that they ob­tained the re­port in Fe­bru­ary through RTI. Cit­ing ac­count state­ments of the Kalak­shetra Foun­da­tion for 2011, they raised ob­jec­tions to the award­ing and up­grade of civil works, procur­ing of un­used sound sys­tems worth Rs 62 lakh and con­sult­ing an ar­chi­tect ( and not a com­pe­tent third per­son) to an­a­lyse ten­ders for the Kootham­balam au­di­to­rium’s ren­o­va­tion.

“All the ren­o­va­tions and spend­ing meant Kalak­shetra took Rs 8 crore from the con­sol­i­dated fund. Where are the ten­ders?” asks Shyamala. Apart from ren­o­va­tion pro­cesses, the re­port showed ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in 16 ap­point­ments at the in­sti­tu­tion. An en­gi­neer was hired to teach the­ory and a cos­tume de­signer at the academy used to be Sam­son’s cook, Shyamala al­leges. While ad­mit­tedly the doc­u­ment from the CAG is just a re­port and has not re­ceived final com­ments, it has strength­ened the case against Sam­son.

While Sam­son has not com­mented on the al­le­ga­tions ( she did not respond to calls or emails from IN­DIA TO­DAY), the dance com­mu­nity around the world wants her back. Dancer Anita Rat­nam has even started an on­line pe­ti­tion for the Gov­ern­ment to re­in­state her. The pe­ti­tion has 735 sig­na­tures so far— Rat­nam plans on get­ting 1,000 be­fore send­ing it to the board mem­bers. Apart from Rat­nam, artistes like Alarmel Valli and T. M. Kr­ishna have also shown their sup­port. The dance is far from over.

SAM­SON RE­SIGNED

ON APRIL 12

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