Political activist Anna Hazare was held guilty of misuse of trust money by a task force headed by former Maharashtra chief secretary D M Sukhthankar. The task force had submitted its action taken report on the recommendations of the Justice P B Sawant Commission, which probed 10 Hazare-led trusts and looked into corruption complaints. The Maharashtra government has not yet made the action taken report public or initiated action against Hazare.
The task force observed the expenditure of Rs 2.20 lakh on Hazare’s 60th birthday celebrations amounted to misapplication of funds of the Hind Swaraj Trust. It said the expenditure was not authorised by the trust deed and was, therefore, beyond the authority of the trust.
“We are not inclined to recommend any action, much less of prosecution, against Hazare for the reason that Hazare’s role is that of a whistle-blower and he has been working in the spirit of a missionary to curb corruption by public servants, including ministers. This incident appears to us to be inadvertent. We feel the observations made by the Sawant Commission against Hazare of illegal and corrupt practices are by themselves sufficient to chasten a person like him and to induce him to learn a lesson for the future to discipline and control his workers and followers from going astray and indulging in such celebrations or other profligacy, which is totally uncalled for,” it said.
The scathing observations both by the Sawant Commission and the Sukhthankar-led task force are crucial, especially as Hazare told reporters yesterday the Sawant Commission did not say he was corrupt. ''I've never celebrated my birthday. There were some people who wanted to celebrate it, but the trust money was returned. So where is the corruption?'' Hazare had said.
However, till both the reports were submitted to the Maharashtra government in 2005, the trust money was not returned. In fact, both reports narrated at length the manner in which the trust had received Rs 2.20 lakh as a gift from industrialist Abhay Firodia.
The Sawant Commission ruled it was deceptive and untenable that this amount was spent on the birthday celebrations as Firodia donated it after a considerable time lag (after the amount had already been spent). The said amount, it said, was in any case not a donation to the trust and it became trust property. The commission rejected Hazare's defence and said the trust was ill-advised in incurring the said expenses from its funds.
The task force said in the administration of the institutions (public trusts), whose functioning was the focus of the allegations against Hazare, there had been violations of the Bombay Public Trust Act. It said the violations pertained to Section 32 (submission of change report), Section 31 A (submission of budget), Sections 32 to 34 (maintenance of accounts and submission of audited annual accounts), Section 35 (investment of trust money), and Section 36 (alienation of immovable property of a public trust).
"While these breaches constitute offences under Sections 66 and 67 of the Bombay Public Trust Act, these are punishable with a fine up to Rs 1,000. With no intention whatsoever of belittling these provisions, it cannot be gainsaid these offences are relatively minor and are of a technical nature. Breaches of various provisions in the functioning of relatively small and locally established public trusts in rural areas are not uncommon," the task force said.
It said as the breaches were technical and there was no monetary gain to Hazare, no legal action against him was called for. "However, the violations be brought to the notice of Maharashtra Charity Commissioner for further action. The commissioner may also be asked to keep the institutions concerned under periodical surveillance so that similar lapses by the trustees do not recur," it added.