Puttaparthi: For the first time ever, the wealthy Sathya Sai Central Trust has publicly released an annual report of its activities. After the death of spiritual leader Sathya Sai Baba earlier this year - and the discovery of huge amounts of cash, gold, silver and other valuables - this is being presented as an attempt at greater transparency.
NDTV's Maya Sharma spoke to SS Naganand, legal adviser to the Trust at the Puttaparthi headquarters.
Maya Sharma: What was the strongest motivation for making it (the annual report) public?
SS Naganand: The strongest motivation came from the media. There were a number of questions that were posed and constantly the word 'transparency' was hurled at us. Therefore, we thought though there was no legal obligation, we should come out with an annual report. This concept was not there in the past but this time we thought let us come put with a report on activities. That's the reason why the report has been released.
Maya Sharma: As you said, there was a huge number of questions, accusations and allegations. Has the pressure lessened?
SS Naganand: I think we are feeling much lighter in our hearts and in our heads. The adverse things that came out in the media have all died down because they realised that they were all false.
Maya Sharma: Now the report deals with the expenditure of the trust. There is no mention of the income of the trust. Why is that?
SS Naganand: We are in the stage of transition. We are being watched by many organisations, the government and many other institutions in India and abroad. That's why we thought we will take measured steps. The law doesn't require us to do that. Many years ago, there was a proposal to make it mandatory that all public trusts must disclose their incomes and their balance sheet must be published. But for some reason after deliberations, Parliament did not pass that. So today, we have no legal obligations. But we thought we are a
progressive trust. So we said let's make a beginning. We want to show the world that these are the activities that are going on and this is how we have structured them. These are the broadheads of the expenditure. We are still a little reticent on disclosing the complete balance sheet because it has a number of implications from a number of avenues. So this year, we have consciously taken a decision not to specifically discolose the income streams. There are a number of donations that come in kind. There are equipments that are donated. There are thousands of doctors that provide free service. How are you going to quantify them? That is an income. They come and serve in the mobile hospitals in the entire state. So we have to find a way of factoring all of them into it. And it's a very complex exercise.
Maya Sharma: Is there a possibility of income declaration in the public in the future?
SS Naganand: I cannot say that with certainty today. We have come thus far today and future que sera sera.
Maya Sharma: Are the donations still coming in? Has the Trust had to cut back on its activities?
SS Naganand: Yes, the donations are coming in.
Maya Sharma: At the same level?
SS Naganand: I would say in different ways the donation stream is coming up. In the past, we had occasional of couple of very big donors who came and gave very large and substantial sums of money. And we have things like that happening now also. Sometimes a donor comes
and gives you a large some of money. So that still happens. But our main stay is really the income of investment. That is keeping us afloat. We don't think we need to cut back on any activities.
Maya Sharma: What about Puttaparthi? Has its fortunes declined since the death of Sathya Sai Baba? And what can the Trust do about it?
SS Naganand: When Puttaparthi was making super profits, they did not give 50 per cent to the Trust. They were charging Rs 4000 to Rs 5000 per room for one night, which I think is very high for Puttaparthi. Today, it might have come down to Rs 800 to Rs 1000. So it's really a business proposition for them. And it all depends on how the Trust functions. See the Trust is functioning well now. The events are taking place beautifully. The hall is nearly full. The number of overseas visitors might have come down but we are getting big groups from all parts of the world, who came on Parti Yatra and they stay here. And they have got an accommodation inside. So many of them may not be going out. But I have no doubt in my mind that in the months and years to come, Puttaparthi is going to grow.
Maya Sharma: But no active support from the Trust?
SS Naganand: We will facilitate anything that we need to do. But I don't see any active role that the Trust can play to improve the economy of the city as such. One suggestion in today's press meet was - why don't we look at refurbishing the areas that were sacred to Swamy. That is something that we can certainly see.