Out In The Open: The Saarang Misappropriation Scandal


by Aroon Narayanan and Akshay Rangasai

Saarang, IITM’s cultural fest that started out in the early 1970s as Mardi Gras, has, over the years, become one of India’s biggest college fests. This rise in size and reach was inevitably accompanied by a proportionate increase in commercial interest in its market potential and resulted in surging monetary investment. It is common knowledge amongst the Institute’s students that this investment is not always directed towards the benefit of the fest at large and the Cores, who have decision-making powers over most of the fest’s affairs, engage in varying levels of self-indulgence.

This year, however, the administration managed to catch on to the misappropriations. Due to a slip up, it came to light that counterfeit tickets had been printed and sold. Following on from this revelation, the administration inspected all Saarang accounts and uncovered major instances of mismanagement of funds in a few other departments as well. Ostensibly, Saarang was running a loss this year and these diversions were used to make up for a lack of funds for the infamous ‘Core Treats’.

The last time that such misconduct was caught was in the year 1980-81, when a large sum of money was swindled by one Secretary. The magnitude of “extra” earnings and misappropriation this time around, running into lakhs, is comparable to that instance when adjusted for inflation.

Once the scam was brought fully to light, the Cores and the Cultural Secretaries were offered an opportunity to confess in front of the Students’ Affair Council (SAC). Then, they were interrogated by the SAC. Prof LS Ganesh, the outgoing Dean of Students, pointed out that this was the first time that the SAC, or any other student body for that matter, had been involved throughout an official enquiry. The SAC was then asked to come up with punitive measures for the guilty and preventive measures to be enforced from next time onwards.

The SAC initially proposed uniform measures for all involved. Then, they decided to split the Core group (and the Cultural Secretaries) into two categories — direct and indirect beneficiaries. The former would be composed of those who had prior knowledge of the misappropriations. Finally, the entire swindled amount was recovered as fine from the Cores. Those who were directly involved were also charged with punitive measures like non issual of core certificate along with their names being sent to the alumni office and to their HODs and project guides.

The SAC has also proposed the following preventive measures –

  • Formation of a Financial Accountability Commission, an independent student commission which will have powers to investigate misappropriations and suggest measures to the SAC and the Dean (Students). The structure of the committee was discussed and will be finalised in some time.
  • Written oath to be signed by all the secretaries and various team leaders under them which clearly states the expectations from them and the punitive measures they are liable to in case they are caught.  The official verbal oath ceremony was done for the first time and Oath was taken by all the EW members, Speaker (SAC) and SAC Coucillors. Here is the draft of the oaths (written and verbal).
  • As stated in the written oath, if any one is caught in any act of misappropriation, their potential employer or university will be informed about the incident.
  • Shaastra and Saarang Cores will have to collect No Dues certificates from the Dean’s Office. In case a particular student is caught in any act of misappropriation, the certificate and hence the degree can be withheld till the stipulated monetary fine is paid by the student.

Prof Ganesh believes that this tendency to partake in embezzlement stems from a feeling of entitlement that is prevalent among the student organizers. He further goes on to say that since there is no remuneration for their services to the fest, it is assumed that it is only just that compensation is acquired by other means. He opines that stringent measures to check such tendencies are imperative and have been delayed for too long. He also floated the idea of having officially sanctioned ‘Annual Dinner Review Meeting’ treat budgets during the Old-New SAC Meeting, so that there is transparency over how much money is being spent extraneous to the needs of the fest.

Pallavi Chakravorty, SAC Speaker, adds – “Such practices are finding their ways to every position possible from that of a coordinator to a hostel secretary to a Core. Students do not realize the extent of a crime they are committing when they indulge in these acts of misappropriations. Caught in the world outside, they might even face extensive legal charges and termination of career. The key take away from an office should be the experience and the joy of doing the work.The need of the hour is for the entire student community to take up a strong personal stand against getting involved, promoting or merely observing such activities. ”

Note: T5E carries this article to respect the Institute student body’s right to pertinent information, but due to the sensitivity of the issue, is not at liberty to divulge further information on the same.

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