THE MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR QUESTION (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8)
By: Robert PriddyFrom the website: Sathya Sai Baba - Extensive Information and Viewpoints
Part 7 Flat 'donors' & Recruitment under False Pretenses!
Flat donors at the Prashanthi Nilayam and Brindavan ashrams once used to become 'owners', usually after some years, by paying an additional moderate sum (by Western standards) to be given the use of a small unfurnished concrete-block flat consisting of one room, a bathroom and a kitchen - which last room they were allowed to use a permanent lock-up for their possessions while they were not in India. The right to be such an 'owner' was far from automatic... one had to wait for Sai Baba's personal blessing for this before being allowed to 'buy in'... and many waited for years, and some without getting permission even when others 'behind them' did. The right to use the flat could - and still can - be terminated by the ashram authorities without recourse to any hearing, so 'owner' is a highly misleading term. A more accurate way to say it would be 'lease-holder without any ownership rights'. The idea was that Sai Baba granted the grace of tenancy of his property until such time as he saw fit to terminate this, whether due to misdemeanour or for any other reason. The term donor - in the sense of flat donor - does not mean one gets to have one specific room or 'flat', but usually gets whatever is free, but there are no guarantees in this case either.
There are two entirely different perceptions of the situation. Devotees used to see the hard-won tenants privilege as major grace from the Lord of the Universe... yes, perhaps as the monopoly contractor and overall owner of the universe! But one can also lose ones' flat if ashram officials see their way to accuse you of some breach of the rules - for which they are the main executives. Some devotees have simply had their flats taken away from them for some misdemeanour in the eyes of the accommodation office. In one case of which I know the details from the owner, a man with serious heart problems, the head of accommodation took over his ground floor flat which he had furbished at considerable expense - without any compensation whatever - and it was given to an official of the ashram. He was given temporary flat use on the third floor, to which he could not climb because of his heart condition. No amount of pleading, talking with Col. Joga Rao, the Sathya Sai Org. leaders, or letters to SB etc. had any effect whatsoever.
If one saw fit to donate money to Sai Baba for his various educational or social projects or for the building of a flat at the ashram which one may occupy occasionally oneself one was supposed to pray hard for the opportunity, as well as eagerly take any action one could to bring this to SB's attention at darshan and - with tremendous luck and his grace, finally get the donation accepted! (To neutral observers, it is clearly an amazing set-up for complete suckers!) Yet it was seen as a great blessing to oneself to be allowed to donate! Perhaps partial investment even, in a place in heaven or, failing that perhaps, in recognition at the ashram (and for some, even a veranda seat!). One example among many, the leader of the SSO in Denmark was reputed to have donated the proceeds from the sale of his second home, and he was allocated a better-class top floor flat with a view of the temple, plus a veranda seat shortly afterwards.
A middle-aged Scandinavian lady we know very well was living for long periods in India hoping for help from SB - having to live mostly outside the SB ashrams, due to the time restrictions for visitors to stay in ashram rooms. She donated what was a considerable sum for her - ca. $10,000.- in the early '90s in the hope that she would be allowed a flat. However, she as not told that - when paying the cheque in - one has to specify that it is for a flat. Otherwise it is sent to the general coffers of the Central Trust. Like others I have met there, she donated while praying to SB that he would arrange it all (him being supposedly benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent etc.). When, after many months, she decided to ask if she would be allocated a flat, she was told by Joga Rao himself that she would NEVER be allowed a flat. They had been watching her, he told her, and she lived outside the ashram etc., but they gave not details as to why she was treated in this way! We know this lady to be a genuine spiritual seeker and of high principles of honesty and decency. However, she mostly stayed away from people (according to the instructions of SB) and so was too socially isolated there to get any support or be able to pursue the matter further. Besides, being a believer, she tended to accept the decision as her karma, though she was obviously hurt by the completely uncalled-for and exceptionally nasty treatment she received. After all, she freely gave so much money too!
A mature American lady who left SB about 30 years ago after very long and close association contacted me after gaining confidence in me from some of my many postings on the Internet to help those who have been the victims of SB's duplicities and treatment of women devotees etc. She said that she once had properties in the US, all of which she sold to be near to SB, donating for rooms in Prashanthi Nilayam and Brindavan. She sees that now as 'a devastating loss'. SB cut her off suddenly for a reason he gave, but it had nothing to do with her. She soon realised he had simply confused her with another lady. This is just one of a number of similar accounts of SB's betrayal or ignoring someone (note: when he had got the money) that I have been told at first hand through the years since I met SB.
The price of these flats (i.e. of insecure tenancies) spiraled, and by 1990 they cost far more than their building cost. By this time, donors were welcomed with open arms and were recruited actively by the Sai organisation. No more waiting for the Lord to select you personally! However, the office bureaucracy has to be negotiated to obtain a key to a flat. If one abuses the rules in any way - such as by trying to misinform to keep the flat for a few days more than 2 months per annum, all rights can be lost permanently by the mere rubber stamp by an accommodation official! Also, one does not get the chance to become 'owners' of a permanent flat anymore if one is not among the specially privileged.
What can be wrong about people giving money of their own free will to projects that Baba runs, such as educational, medical and many other social facilities? They have to be financed and why should not Baba give interviews to those who are able and willing to contribute? The only problem with this is that SB has time and again said that he has nothing whatever to do with money.
I received the following letter from a mature and evidently very sensible lady in the Netherlands:
"There is something I wanted to let you know for a long time. It is not that important as the sexual behaviour of the s.b. But it fits into the criminal organisation - as always: if there is something wrong, there are a lot of things wrong. The financial situation: SB always said: come to me with empty hands etc..... In 1994/95 our chairman- Mrs. Anne Marcelle van Weereldt- told us very excitedly, as if she were giving us a huge present, We have an opportunity to set up a Holland House in the ashram in PN. -Location: the stinking sheds on the North side of the ashram. We need as many participants as possible. And we can stay there for 6 months every year! It looked very good for elderly people. Minimum donation HFL.13.500 which was about US$ 6.000.-
Lots of us -including me- participated in the "Holland House". The only thing we got was a short note - and the bank statement of course - which said that we had paid the sum necessary for a room in a North building under a certain number. Later on we got a plastic card with our photo, with the amount of the donation on it. After a few months we were told: It is not a Holland House, it is a Holland/Switzerland House. This sounded very good, people from Switzerland are also clean and quiet. When the first buildings were finished, we got the message: You can only stay for 6 WEEKS every year. Well, this is a very clever concept; there are 4 levels in every building. Each level has about 25 rooms. Which makes the whole building good for 100 rooms. Each room is good for about 6.500.- US dollars x 100 = US dollars 6.500.00.- BUT: if we can stay only 6 weeks a year, it means that every room has several 'owners' because 52 weeks shared by 6 is at least 8 possibilities to give out to someone somewhere in the world a certificate that says that he/she has given a donation under a certain number... This gives only the right to have a private room - not to be shared with others, during only 6 weeks a year, and that is always possible. But the concept is so very very clever, because there is no limit in getting donations this way. And by now the TENTH -10th- North building has been finished!!" (Stijntje Riemersma)
The above is quite correct! Many other foreigners who paid the full sum - already US$6,000 by 1996 - were shortly afterwards informed that they were not to have the prospective grace and privilege of a flat of their own, but instead the right to stay for up to two months per year in one of the new kitchenless one-room/one shower room flats, all having an absolute minimum of (metal or plastic) furniture and virtually no fittings. A number of devotees from the USA and other countries complained about this sudden change in rules of which they were informed AFTER they had paid their donations, but they were powerless to change anything. One has to accept divine commands, even though it was actually Col. Joga Rao and Indulal Shah who instituted this regime. The amount of money that the ashram could thus obtain per flat was multiplied by at least six! In addition, the donor also has to pay a constantly increasing sum of 'rent' while occupying them.
Flat donors can actually outnumber the several thousand flats at PN by anything up to ten to one, for many do not use their full quota (which can be calculated on average). Donors have not always been guaranteed flats at all times (esp. not during festivals or conferences). For 10 blocks of 100 rooms each (= 1000 rooms), giving at least 6,000 donors and US$6000.-, the capital gained amounted to income in all up to US$ 36 million! The total cost of construction was but a small fraction of this sum. So at last, one can say that donors really are making large donations, no longer just buying fairly cheap rights to two rooms!
I have been informed that in 1991 there were 8,000 would-be apartment donors on the waiting list. Even if we use the price per donor family from 1996 (US$6,000.-), the total potential donation resource this represents is US$ 48 million. But the number of rooms actually required at the maximum would be 1/6th of 8,000 = 1330. Hence the ashram stands to make very large profits indeed. It will be argued that the excess goes to good works, the water project etc. But the fact remains that these figures are never presented to the donors or made public. One cannot but wonder why the secrecy. Those who know the state of India and corruption there today have some idea of what can be siphoned off.
As if to ensure maximum benefit for ashram/Trust finances, the authorities run a constant campaign to hinder foreigners buying property of any kind outside the ashrams, such as within Sathya Sai Taluk near Puttaparthi or in Whitefield. Since the mid-1980s, at least, ashram officials tell newcomers at information lectures about the many pitfalls of buying property in India. The information is certainly not all incorrect, for few without deep local knowledge and the language can negotiate a secure purchase! The lecturers emphasise that only by donating for an ashram accommodation is one secure, a direct deception, as seen from the above! Further, many 'owners and donors' have left their flats permanently for one and another reason, not least due to the continuing exposť. However, there are no refunds! All know this, and I too, because my wife and I also further willingly donated in full for this vastly over-priced accommodation offer before we became convinced of the truth of the many allegations.
Prashanthi Nilayam has one golden rule that is never broken by its officials: there can never be a cash refund! This is taken to such lengths that, if one pays in too much for books or other goods by error (whether your error or theirs!), no cash will be returned - however large the sum - but it will in time (and if fully documented) be added to one's credit on a personal account. Money cannot ever be taken out of an account to close it, it must be used! This is how SB's proclamation of neither needing nor ever taking anything from his devotees is followed up in practice! Or doesn't the omniscient God notice or know that this is happening under his nose?
Next posting will be:
Part 8 Concluding remarks!