Why ‘sponsor’ Delhi trip of striking students? I&B to FTII

RTI reply shows FTII admn also under fire for settling medical bills of students on hunger strike.

Pune | Published: September 17, 2015 4:53:10 am
FTII, FTII row, FTII protest, FTII hunger strike, Gajendra Chauhan, Gajendra Chauhan protest, mumbai news, FTII news, indian express FILE | At the FTII in Pune. (Express Photo by Pavan Khengre)

Money spent by the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) on protesting students, including settling medical bills for fasting students and buying flight tickets for those who travelled to New Delhi to meet Information and Broadcasting ministry officials, has put the administration in a spot.

The FTII administration, already under fire since the strike by students began over three months ago, is now busy explaining to the ministry how and why these expenditures were made.

The administration has paid Rs 38,000 on hospital bills for two students who were admitted to a private hospital last week after their health deteriorated due to their hunger strike. The administration has now told the students they would not pay for medical bills of those sitting on hunger strike and has also demanded back Rs 25,000 spent on treatment of Alok Arora, an acting student who was hospitalised on third day of his fast. The administration has said “audit objections” may be raised on these expenditures.

Another expenditure from the FTII exchequer on protesting students that has drawn fire for the administration, and the then FTII Director D J Narain in particular, relates to the money spent on the air fare and hotel accommodation of students and ex-students who were part of the delegation which met I&B Minister Arun Jaitley, MoS Rajyavardhan Rathore and other senior officials on July 3.

FTII spent Rs 2.15 lakh on the visit, including Rs 1.86 lakh on air fare, Rs 20,000 on lodging and Rs 8,910 on local transport for the delegation, which comprised three students and seven alumni members, including Resul Pookutty, Girish Kasaravalli and Bina Paul.

According to information accessed by The Indian Express under Right to Information Act, the I&B Ministry was not aware that the trip was “sponsored” by the institute and when it got to know about it, it demanded an explanation from the FTII Director as to under which provision the expenditures were borne and who approved them.

In an email to incumbent FTII Director Prashant Pathrabe on July 21, Deepak Kumar (Director-Films), demanded an immediately reply on this. “The Ministry would like to know if the delegation of FTII students and alumni members that had come to Delhi on July 3 for the meeting was sponsored by the Institute. If yes, then please provide the details of the expenditure and the provisions under which the expenditure was borne and the approving authority.”

In a response sent by Pathrabe the next day, the Ministry was informed that the expenditure (Rs 2.15 lakh) was incurred by the FTII with approval of the then Director under “Non-Plan (General) Hospitality”. He also said that Narain took the decision with “the best intention” with the aim of defusing the crisis of strike at the earliest.

“…It was informed to FTII that members were delegated from all parts of India, like Kerala, Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune. It was imperative that all members of the delegation reach Delhi around the same time. This would ensure much better communication with Ministry officials in time and possible talks with the Minister. The delegation members reaching at different timings would make the task difficult. Therefore, FTII had to intervene administratively as it was in the interest of FTII and public interest that the protest ended immediately,” wrote Pathrabe.

He added that most of the members of the delegation were multi-time national award winners and as per FTII Society provisions, guest faculty who are invited on behalf of FTII are reimbursed with economy class air fare and other hospitality expenditure. He said that in the past, such expenditure incurred were audited and approved by Standing Finance Committee and Governing Council.

“It may be noted with kind consideration that this was an extraordinary and unprecedented situation and the decision was taken by the then director with the best intention and with a view to defuse the crisis and existing practices were followed for undertaking travel for those being invited by FTII,” wrote Pathrabe.

The Ministry, however, seemed unimpressed by the explanation. In a letter written on August 4, S P Pandey, Under Secretary (Films), asked further clarification on the spend.

He also wanted to know if any such expenditure were incurred by the institute in the past which can’t be covered under “academic activity”.

“The meeting was sought by the striking students and it is they who were desirous that alumni accompany them for a discussion with the Ministry. It does not appear to be a case where the Institute invited everyone for the meeting for furtherance of any ‘academic activity’ at the campus wherein reimbursement of air fare and local hospitality would be provided as per the rules,” he said.

While Pathrabe and FTII Registrar Bodake refused to comment, sources said the issue was far from over and the exchange of letters between the Ministry and FTII officials over this issue still continues. “I have nothing add to add,” Pathrabe said.

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