A USD 50 million gift from Tata Trusts to the prestigious Harvard Business School in 2010 has come under scrutiny in the US with questions being raised about public money from India being “apparently misdirected” to the most privileged and wealthy in the world. Alan Beard, managing director of Interlink Capital Strategies, a Washington-based financial advisory firm, and a former adjunct professor at Georgetown University, writing in the website The Daily Caller questioned “how does one of America’s most prestigious institutions catering to the elite manage to have its silver spoon taken from the most destitute? And how can such a revered institution of business management be so blind to the ironies of accepting questionable funds that go against every tenet of good governance?”
In 2010, Harvard Business School received a gift of USD 50 million from Tata Companies, the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the Tata Education and Development Trust, philanthropic entities of the Tata Group. The gift, the largest from an international donor in the school’s 102-year history, funded a new academic and residential building on the HBS campus in Boston for participants in the school’s broad portfolio of Executive Education programmes. The building was named Tata Hall. “Because of the ethical questions raised in the way the funds were donated to HBS and the subsequent impropriety of a perceived quid pro quo between Dean Nohria and Ratan Tata, it would appear that Harvard has some explaining to do.
“The nature of Tata’s gift may prove to be a public relations disaster if the Indian government’s investigation determines the funds should have never been taken from poor Indians and sent to rich Westerners,” Beard said. Beard cited media reports from India to say that the USD 50 million gift is now under investigation by the Indian government. He said India’s Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) sub-committee on Direct and Indirect Taxes has two principal concerns – first, the USD 50 million donation in question came directly from Tata Trusts, an Indian philanthropic organisation, rather than Tata Group Chairman Emeritus Ratan Tata’s personal funds, second, this donation inappropriately took advantage of the tax-free status of donations from charitable trusts.
“Recent revelations regarding the naming of Tata Hall at the Harvard Business School (HBS), if true, are deeply disturbing and morally reprehensible,” Beard wrote. The Indian government sub-committee investigating this matter has stated that “construction of (Harvard’s) Tata Hall did not amount either to charity or international welfare in which India was interested,” but instead was for the “promotion of personal interest of one/some of the trustees of various Tata Trusts”. Beard said in the report that the purpose of a public charitable trust in India is to benefit the country’s poor and downtrodden.
“But instead, by using these funds to construct Tata Hall at Harvard, public money has apparently been misdirected to the most privileged and wealthy in the world,” he said. Beard also questioned the “conspicuous role” played by HBS Dean Nitin Nohria in the “now-questionable transaction”, saying that three months before the completion of Tata Hall in September, 2013, Nohria was appointed a non-executive director to the board of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group.