A special audit of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) has revealed a number of financial irregularities, including the unauthorised diversion of Rs. 5 crore to the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (JNMF), a body headed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

The audit also found that over the last two years, NMML did negligible work on its primary research objectives, wasted money meant for modernisation on a string of consultants, misused development funds, and splurged on lunches and dinners, including one party essentially for JNU staff.

The mid-term evaluation of NMML's performance was carried out by a two-man internal audit party, consisting of two accounts officers, between January 18 and February 1, 2010. A copy of their report is available with The Hindu.

The auditors found that the Culture Ministry sanctioned a non-recurring grant of Rs. 5 crore to NMML for undertaking a special publication project on Jawaharlal Nehru and C. Rajagopalachari, to pay salaries for junior and senior fellowships, for museum development, and for CCTV installation. It specifically stipulated that no part of the grant should be diverted to any other institution and that the ultilisation certificate should be submitted by March 31, 2010. Instead, NMML transferred all the money to the JNMF, in direct violation of the Ministry's instructions. JNMF invested about half the money in fixed deposits ranging from 91 days to two years, clearly making it impossible to use the funds before the deadline anyway.

JNMF is a private fund, which disburses prestigious fellowships and organises memorial functions and lectures, all in the memory of Jawaharlal Nehru. It is chaired by Ms. Gandhi. The vice chairman is Karan Singh, who is incidentally also chairman of NMML's executive council.

The NMML is an autonomous body, under the Ministry of Culture, set up to acquire and maintain historical material relating to Jawaharlal Nehru, other nationalist leaders and institutions of modern India and promote research into modern Indian history and society.

Pedestrian performance

The audit reports that NMML's performance to fulfil its basic research objectives was almost non-existent. No fellowships were awarded for research work in the three years from 2006 to 2009, despite the fact that the 11th Plan allotted Rs. 700 lakh for 32 fellowship positions.

About Rs. 650 lakh allotted for publications, library development and preservation services have been largely unspent.

For Museum development – including CCTV, touch-screen kiosks, 3D projections and security – was given Rs. 500 lakh. None of those things got done, but Rs.13 lakh did get used for organising a four-day Nehru Bal Mela instead. The audit reports that Rs. 11.3 lakh was paid to private individuals and firms, many of them being hired for duplicate tasks.

Specifically, one Jaimala Iyer, who was hired for a variety of tasks, and later retained as a consultant for two projects, received over Rs. 5 lakh from NMML from November 2007.

Contract staff

In fact, consultants were hired even before projects were sanctioned, without following established hiring norms. “The NMML appears to be working with a mind set to provide financial benefit to the individual rather than the institution,” notes the report.

“Contractual staffing appears to be the norm. Of 204 sanctioned posts, 39 are still vacant; but 64 people have been hired as contract staff at an ‘astronomical' annual cost of Rs. 81 lakh.”

In fact, reports suggest that while the NMML director is currently travelling abroad, a contract employee has been carrying out her tasks.

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