Sathya Sai Central Trust:
grab as grab can

The Sai Baba's assets are estimated at Rs 5,000
crore, but his coterie is now worried that burgeoning
child abuse charges might dry up the flow of foreign funds, says M Seetha Shailaja

Hyderabad, November 29 - 2000

According to an (unofficial) estimate of a senior the Income Tax (I-T) officer, all donations to the Sathya Sai Central Trust have been given tax exemptions. The total value of the Sai Baba's assets, movable and immovable, both within the country and abroad, is Rs 5,000 crore, give or take a bit.

Every year, the Sathya Sai Central Trust is bloated with donations worth approximately Rs 65 crore. It also has about Rs 130 crore in fixed deposits (FD) and other term deposits all over the world. The trust has so far raised about Rs 385 crore in the form of loans for some of the Sai Baba's projects.

The principal architects of the trust are now reportedly worried about the plummeting devotee numbers and even more desultory recruitment rate (see Is the Sai Baba's empire beginning to disintegrate?). They have suggested to the Sai Baba that he should travel abroad and hold sessions with devotees to kill rumours and counter increasingly murky publicity. (The Sai Baba has been abroad only once, to Uganda).

The principal architects of the trust are now reportedly worried about the plummeting devotee numbers and even more desultory recruitment rate

What concerns them most are the raging and escalating charges of child sex abuse against the Sai Baba (particularly in scores of Websites on the Internet) and the impact such an issue will undoubtedly have on the inflow of foreign devotees in the years ahead.

Most trust members, said one of them, are of the view that drastic repairs need to be taken. "If this goes on, many charity programmes might come to a halt within a few years," he said. "It is better to have a direct access with devotees, either through a Website or weekly video conferencing."

According to another ashramite, the educational institutions, hospitals and the Vedanta meditation centres are in the process of being carved into three nominally autonomous entities to prevent them from being controlled by any single trust member (see
Ashram Mandiram: fortress of solitude). So far, the machinations have been nipped in the bud: the Sai Baba's brother Janakiramayya's efforts to claim a stake in the affairs of the ashram, for instance, have been rebuffed by bureaucrats, but not very categorically.

An interesting case was that of a former devotee from Vijayawada, who donated a building to the trust. She had written in her will that the building was to go to the Sai Baba after her death. She was 55 years when she wrote the will. The trust authorities waited for five years, and then wrote to her family asking it to hand over either the building or its revenue.

The problem was that the devotee was still alive. "When I tried to take the donation back from the trust, no court or magistrate was ready to hear the case or give me justice," said the donor. She is on her deathbed and she despises the Sai Baba and all he stands for.