Akshaya Patra’s audit committee had raised serious issues

BENGALURU: All’s not well in God’s own kitchen. The resignation of four high-profile independent trustees of the Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) this year, about which TOI reported on Sunday, is said to be the result of serious differences between those who resigned on the one hand, and the chairman and vice-chairman of APF on the other. The differences were around the close relationship between APF and certain temple trusts, and the failure of efforts to ensure an arms-length relationship between the two to ensure good and transparent governance.
The four who resigned include former Infosys CFOs Mohandas Pai and V Balakrishnan, Raj Kondur, who co-founded Chrys Capital, and Abhay Jain, advisor to Manipal Education & Medical Group. The four were closely involved in APF’s founding 20 years ago, and had been instrumental, as independent trustees, in building APF into the massive organisation it is today – one that feeds 1.8 million children in 19,039 government and government-aided schools across 12 states and two union territories. The budget it handles now is humongous. In 2019-20, it received Rs 248 crore as grants and cash subsidy, and Rs 352 crore as public donations.
Sources told TOI that several rounds of deliberations to address issues hit a stalemate. When TOI asked APF vice-chairman Chanchalapathi Dasa on the governance issues that led to the resignations, he said, “Resignations are not related to governance issues or related-party transaction.”

However, TOI has accessed a seven-page communication written by one of APF’s audit committee members to the board that highlights several lapses, including lack of basic internal financial control and financial discipline, absence of arm’s length relationship between APF and temple trusts, conflicts of interest, lack of records/audit trail, and a chain of command outside the foundation.
The fundamental charge is that key functionaries of temple trusts such as Hare Krishna Foundation, Iskcon, Bangalore, and Touchstone Foundation – which played important roles in APF’s founding – are also key functionaries in APF at the board level and at unit levels, leading to serious accountability issues. The audit note points out, for instance, that APF meal costs are far higher than for similar meals offered by other similar organisations. “Any amount of questioning/review didn’t yield any result because the individual kitchens are run by missionary unit presidents who never demonstrated their accountability to the AP (Akshaya Patra) organisation,” the note said.

Suresh Senapaty (left) and Raj Kondur
Kondur, who was a member of the audit committee till he stepped down, confirmed some of the issues found during TOI’s investigation. “We got multiple whistle-blower complaints highlighting serious issues at several Akshaya Patra locations. Some complaints were investigated and found to be accurate, and others were under investigation. Rather than address these with the urgency they deserved, we instead got resistance, and urgency around a witch-hunt from the Iskcon-affiliated trustees which ignored the findings of the audit committee. The previous members of the audit committee have forwarded their findings and recommendations to the appropriate forums. We hope a thorough and credible investigation is conducted on these matters,” he said.
APF’s Chanchalapathi Dasa acknowledged to TOI the receipt of whistleblower complaints. He said, “The matter was investigated under the supervision of the audit committee, recoveries made and action taken on persons involved.” He said the newly appointed chairman of the audit committee will review related-party transactions for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020, and advise the organisation for any required remedial actions.
Asked about Chanchalapathi Dasa’s responses to TOI’s questions, Suresh Senapaty, former Wipro CFO and former member of APF’s audit committee, said, “Responses contained in these questions are selective and do not completely reflect the truth. While it is the prerogative of the Foundation and its responsible office bearers to be transparent or choose not to comment, silence on my part to this mail can be misconstrued as my endorsement of these responses which may not be appropriate. I am unable to comment anything more, nor am I seeking to encourage any media trial on these matters which are very serious and require immediate attention on the part of the office bearers.”
The audit note to the board said that that the “conflicting position of trusteeship of temple trusts held by the chairman (Madhu Pandit Dasa) and vice-chairman of the Foundation including their reluctance to recuse themselves from such (related-party) investigation proceedings is a serious bottleneck in ensuring a fair investigation including any credible follow-up/corrective action resulting from such investigation.”

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