The row over the functioning of the International Roerich Memorial Trust has intensified, with the Himachal Pradesh government seeking the removal of the Russian ambassador from the trust membership.
Himachal chief secretary Rajwant Sandhu has asked the union ministry of external affairs to “advise” Russia’s ambassador to India Alexander M Kadakin to withdraw his membership from the Kullu trust, which has both Indian and Russian members.
Although the functioning of the trust has been mired in internal squabbles, the latest move of the state government has apparently come in wake of the decision of the Karnataka high court, related to the membership of foreign nationals in a trust set up by Roerich in Bangalore to manage its properties, that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
The Karnataka high court, in its order in 2002, held that the membership of foreigners in the trust, which was managing the Tataguni Estate and the properties of Roerich in Bangalore, was invalid.
After the high court decision was challenged in the Supreme Court, the apex court on August 9, 2011 upheld the verdict.
Sandhu, in a letter to foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai, has referred to the provision of the Indian Trust Act, 1982, that forbids foreign nationals from being members in Indian trusts. “It was pointed out that as per Section 60 of the Indian Trust Act, 1982, a person domiciled abroad cannot be member of a trust constituted under the act,” read the letter (HT has a copy of the letter).
Referring to the decision of the apex court, the Himachal Pradesh government termed the membership of the Russian ambassador and the director of International Roerich Centre, Moscow, in the trust as invalid.
“Action needs to be taken to advise Alexander M Kadakin, Russian ambassador to India, who is a member of the trust, accordingly. Since the matter is of sensitive nature and could have diplomatic connotations, it is appropriate that such advise is conveyed through your good office,” said the Himachal Pradesh government.
Senior state government sources told Hindustan Times that the chief secretary, in the first week of this month, met Mathai to convey the state’s stance. Before the meeting, the government took advice from the state’s law department on the issue.
What is the Roerich trust
* Renowned actress Devika Rani Roerich, widow of Russian painter Svetoslav Roerich, set up the trust in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, in 1993 to preserve artistic works and extend and administer activities being carried out by members of the Roerich family.
* The trust included 12 members with the chief minister as its president. The Russian ambassador and director of International Roerich Centre, Moscow were among the members.
* After the death of Devika Rani in 1994, the trust continued to function under the chairmanship of Himachal Pradesh chief minister. The trust was reconstituted in 2005 and more Russian members were added to the trust.
Lack of trust
* The trust courted controversy after Shakti Singh Chandel, a lifetime trustee, raised serious objections on its functioning and upkeep of the belongings of Roerich.
* Allegations and counter-allegations forced the state government to convene a high-level meeting in Shimla and the government ordered an inquiry into the affairs of the trust.