Vivekananda Samiti dissolved?

Vivekananda Samiti(VS) is one of the oldest clubs under the Students’ Gymkhana functioning for over 40 years, thus spreading the message of Swami Vivekananda among the campus residents. In 2010, VS, which used to be a part of Cultural Council, was shifted to Presidential Council.

In the 2nd special meeting of the Students’ Senate held on 27th August, one of the agenda items was to consider the proposal by Gautam Pratap Singh, President, Students’ Gymkhana to dissolve VS as a club, because “most of the activities carried out by them do not fall directly under the purview of the Students’ Gymkhana and can be organized by various other forums.” (Quoted from the agenda item)

In the meeting, the President informed the Senate that he had received complaint from some[1] students that the activities of VS tend to be associated with a particular religious belief; for not all students may share the same belief, Gymkhana should not endorse such activities. The President himself expressed concerned about a particular incident where an individual from All India Gayatri Pariwar[2] was invited by VS. For this issue is very subjective and may vary across individuals, Shubham Atreja, Chairperson, Students’ Senate, ruled out any more discussion on religious aspects.

Moving on, the President pointed out various instances of financial mismanagement by VS. There were four major claims in this regard.

  1. The club had overshot its allocated budget in last 3 years.
  2. There has been no mention of any income collected by VS from various resources, including alumni. The funds collected were spent, but neither the President, nor the Finance Convener was informed about the same.
  3. There was a discrepancy in distribution of mugs and sweatshirts during Vivekananda Youth Leadership Convention (VYLC) 2015, where in, the President claimed, no approval was taken, even though the money was directly collected from students.
  4. VS utilized funds from the Gymkhana corpus (meant only for extreme situations and not for ordinary activities) for VYLC 2015; that too, without informing the Students’ Senate.

In lieu of above mentioned points, the Senate felt  that the functioning of VS does not align with the vision of Gymkhana. Also, the Chairperson pointed out, because VS has been found in violation of the constitution in handling finances, it could not continue to be a part of Gymkhana. Hence, the Senate unanimously accepted the dissolution of the status of VS as a club under Gymkhana.

Vox Populi investigated on the aforementioned charges of financial misconduct and found certain inconsistencies in the decision of dissolution.

For point (1) and (2), the current and past coordinators of VS accepted their mistake. The ex-coordinator, Koustuv Ray, said that he was not aware that funds from external sources were meant to be notified to the Finance Convener.

Regarding (3), the VS team presented a document to Vox Populi, duly signed by the Dean of Student Affairs (DoSA) and Abhimanyu Arora, President, Students’ Gymkhana 2014-15, that gave them permission for sale of sweatshirts(but not for mugs). When this was discussed with Gautam, he said: “I believe that the permission was still for the VS club and not for third party. Third party is only involved as a seller to clubs and not directly. However, I accept, there should have been more research into this issue and a committee could have been established to look into the finer details.” 

As for (4), regarding utilization of funds from Gymkhana Corpus, the VS team says that they went to the Director, requesting release of funds from the account of Dean of Resource and Alumni (DoRA), summing up to Rs. 2.4 lacs, that came in as a donation for VS from the 1989 Alumni Batch. According to Koustuv, the administration sanctioned release of an equivalent sum from the Gymkhana corpus, and perhaps, the funds were to be transferred from DORA account to the corpus. Koustuv said: “We didn’t wish to fall in the trap of figuring out which account to take money from. We were not aware of the technicalities. All we wanted was to make use of the funds donated for the Samiti.” As Vox Populi sought clarification from Gautam, he said: “The Gymkhana Corpus has had no income in the last 2 years.” After talking to both parties, we conclude that this issue needs further investigation to find out who was responsible for this fiasco. 

“Vivekananda Samiti, had received funds from various sources. They may or may not have gotten the approval from their Executive. The may not have followed the procedures. But, at the very least, the money should have come as income to the Students’ Gymkhana account. The Finance Committee should have been informed and then money should have been spent as the normal budget is spent, with the permission of the Finance Convener, getting the bills duly signed and verified by the Finance Convener. However, this was not followed, which is a major lapse.” ~Shubham Atreja[3]

Speaking to Vox Populi, Karthik Balasundaram (who has been a member of Finance Committee for one year; acted as Chairperson, Students’ Senate for a short stint; and has been the Finance Convener for two consecutive years) said: “In any case of financial mismanagement, the precedent is to give an official show cause notice to the accused, set up a Fact Finding Committee (FFC), and if the individual(s) is found guilty, the case is sent to Student Senate Affairs Committee (SSAC). I have done so in case of festivals. Never has the concerned organization been dissolved in such cases.”

The Chairperson conveyed that a request was made by a general body member to set up a FFC. When the President was questioned regarding Karthik’s comment, he said: “As an executive, I have been given the right to look after the administration of the Council. This includes the right to form a club/hobby group, as well as a right to dissolve one. The Chairperson and Parliamentarian of this year, according to their interpretation of constitution found no space for a FFC. The Senate found the Samiti functioning was already in violation of many norms.

Vox Populi noted that the reasons (primarily financial mismanagement) that finally led to the dissolution of VS, were not mentioned in the agenda item circulated (as stated in the beginning). To that, Gautam responded: “The Senate, if it feels, can change the course of discussion on any agenda item, as long as there are no objections.” Sakshi Choukse, the present coordinator of VS, in this regard, said: “We were not informed about the specific charges of financial misconduct beforehand. Therefore, we were not prepared to defend them in the Senate.”

What next?

As per the draft minutes of the Senate meeting, the Senate unanimously accepted the dissolution of the status of VS as a club under Gymkhana. The President requested that it shall continue working as a club until mid-term review of Presidential Council. After the review, VS may be re-incorporated as a hobby group to cater to those activities that are directly related to community welfare. Also, note that even if it is not incorporated again, that does not mean Samiti cannot exist in the institute – the decision is about it not being under Gymkhana.

The Chief Counsellor, Students’ Gymkhana (DoSA) had requested the President and the Chairperson, Students’ Senate to have an informal meeting with the Faculty Advisors of VS. It was stated by the President in the meeting that if the Chief Counsellor requests, there can be a review of the original decision before the minutes are ratified. The Chairperson has sent a mail to the Chief Counsellor highlighting the same. The reply is awaited.

Written by Samarth Bansal

Clarifications and Errors in the Article

[1] Complaints were received from not just one student, but more.

[2] Ramakrishna Math was earlier mentioned which was not correct in the stated context.

[3] Quote added to clear confusion, if any.