leela's kala as Kalakshetra Director questioned

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leela's kala as Kalakshetra Director questioned

Sunday, 14 July 2013 | Kumar Chellappan | CHENNAI

Central Board of Film Certification and Sangeet Natak Akademi chairperson leela Samson is in the midst of controversies for making “irregular” appointments and placing “arbitrary” contracts flouting rules and procedures during her seven year tenure (2005-12) as the Director of the renowned arts centre Kalakshetra Foundation in Chennai. Doubts are also being cast over the danseuse’ qualifications by none other than her erstwhile colleagues from Kalakshetra.

While the Principal Accountant-General (PAG), Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, discovered the irregular appointments made during her term, former Chairman of Kalakshetra Foundation’s Governing Council wrote to the Centre about her alleged act of placing arbitrary contracts.

The PAG’s conclusion is that 16 appointments made during leela Samson’s tenure were not as per the rules/norms prescribed for the same and hence irregular. And that those appointed as professors, assistant professors, tutors, estate managers and costume assistants do not have the prescribed qualifications.

The findings are part of the audit report of the PAG, who audited and scrutinised the functioning of the institute for the period 2005 to 2012. Kalakshetra was set up by eminent Bharatanatyam exponent Rukmini Devi Arundale in 1936 and is considered a temple of arts.

Samson is also accused of placing “arbitrary contracts with utter disregard to rules and procedures”. The then Chairman of Kalakshetra Foundation’s Governing Council, Justice S Mohan, a former Supreme Court judge, wrote to the then Culture Secretary Abhijit Sengupta stating: “To cite one such instance is the case of a contract being placed for development of computer software package at a cost of Rs 5.5 lakh. The advance amount of Rs 5.5 lakh paid has not been accounted properly nor the products delivered after almost two years despite repeated reminders.”

In fact, Samson’s dance qualifications too have come under fire from those from her own fraternity. “She has mentioned in her bio-data that she holds a post graduation in dance which is not correct. leela (Samson) has a diploma in Bharatanatyam awarded by Kalakshetra.  But her patrons in New Delhi broke and bent rules to elevate her to the coveted office,” said CS Thomas, former colleague, who studied and worked in Kalakshetra for more than four decades. Samson did not respond to emails seeking her response on the issues.

The controversy involving Samson has come even as a new one has already started to brew over the appointment of her successor, Kalakshetra’s new Director, Priyadarsini Govind, whom the Foundation’s insiders term as a “rank outsider”. She has been appointed overlooking many eminent danseuses who could boast of Kalakshetra heritage, they claimed.

An investigation into the kind of persons who have been appointed as assistant professor of Bharatanatyam threw some interesting information. Though Kalakshetra had advertised for a candidate with diploma or degree in Bharatanatyam, the person who has been appointed for the post is a graduate in electronics and communication with a post graduation in philosophy.

A person with masters in ceramics has been appointed as tutor to impart training in fine arts and sculptures. Previously, many scholars from India and abroad used to make a beeline to Kalakshetra to get trained by artisans and master craftsmen handpicked by Rukmini Devi.

The PAG in the letter dated January 21, 2011 to the director of Kalakshetra (a copy of which is with The Pioneer) has mentioned that though the Ministry of culture permitted Kalakshetra Foundation to fill up 17 posts which include professor, assistant professor and tutor in Bharatanatyam, appointments for the posts were made violating all norms. Though the auditor asked the Director to furnish her remarks, till date the Director did not submit a convincing reply.   

Karun Menon, director-in-charge, Kalakshetra, declined to comment on the PAG report. “Kalakshetra had the best faculties who were handpicked and trained by Rukmini Devi. But Rukmini Devi was against all kind of commercialism and hence the faculties had to remain as teachers of the Gurukula tradition throughout their life,” said Menon.

“If they had had the required qualifications and professional experience, no one would have opposed the appointments,” said Natarajan, administrative officer, Kalakshetra.

Even the Government auditors who have only minimum knowledge about art and art forms were in for a shock when they saw the famous Koothambalam (conceived, designed and built as per the plans of Rukmini Devi) allegedly demolished on Samson’s order.

The Koothambalam, unique for its sound and light system, has seen hundreds of maestros performing to elevate the Chennaiites to new horizons of dance and music. Samson wanted to renovate the traditional auditorium and even got removed the statue of Rukmini Devi in front of the Koothambalam. “We are yet to get over the shock of that action of her,” said a faculty member.

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