1990 – 1998
TNF Center Chennai, Phase 1
The board decided to build a center in Chennai to be staffed for the proper execution of the growing list of member-sponsored projects in Tamil Nadu. At that time, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr. M.G. Ramachandran was in the United States on an official visit. During that visit, Dr. G. Palani Periasamy met with the Chief Minister, who was told of TNF’s plans and accomplishments. The Chief Minister was impressed by the work that had already been done. Because of what is known as the Land Ceiling Act, which redistributed land, the Chief Minister allotted three grounds of land at Kilpauk, Chennai – a prime location in the city. Dr. Periasamy’s role was significant in getting the land allotted to TNF.
The decision to build the center was crystallized and put on a firm track when Mr. C.K. Mohanam was named TNF President In1989. During the discussions, three different building plans were debated at length regarding how to construct the building. Mr. Mohanam’s leadership helped bring a consensus.
But, there were many roadblocks to getting this center built. The condition of the allotment was that TNF would establish a technology center within two years from the allotment date. However, there were problems such as a shortage of funds and difficulty finalizing the plans for the center, which put TNF in danger of missing the deadline. Subsequently, the government had the right to take back the land. In the spring of 1990, under Dr. Pitchumani’s presidency, Mr. Ram Thukkaram was appointed TNF Center Coordinator with the responsibility to complete the center in two phases. Phase 1 consisted of the basement and first floor and Phase 2 added three floors, creating a 10,000 square feet building with ten wings of 2,000 square feet each.
When Dr. Pitchumani’s term expired in July 1990, Dr. A.M. Rajendran took over as TNF President. Because of the threat of losing the land, Dr. Rajendran acted quickly to install a new board that would be best able to deal with the land issue. The reconstituted board included Justice Venugopal as Chairman. Other board members included: Dr. M. Anandakrishnan, Dr. S. Daivamani, Dr. Arcot Gajaraj and Prof. G. Ayyasamy. Mr. P. Chandrasekaran who had been serving as a Special Consultant to monitor of TNF projects, became Secretary of the board. The foundation, at that time, did not have any title or documents to the land to prove the ownership. All TNF possessed was a government order number. TNF was quite fortunate to have Justice Venugopal as our counsel to deal with such a legal quandary.
TNF was also fortunate for the work of Dr. S. Daivamani, who was a senior executive in the government. He was able to find the government order number, along with the conditions of allotment of the land to TNF for the construction of the Technology Center. By the fall of 1990, the two-year deadline had passed and, at that point, a simple order from a revenue official could have deprived TNF of the allotted land.
TNF applied for an extension with a convincing presentation about how the potential of the Technology Center would help the people of Tamil Nadu with education, technology transfer, health and hygiene, and rural development. TNF received the extension after explaining that there had been a delay in raising the funds in the United States for the construction. Despite this victory, another legal problem erupted.
An opportunist created a document claiming ownership of the land, since TNF had not immediately occupied the land and begun construction of the technology center. The opportunist obtained a stay order from the high court of Tamil Nadu, thereby stopping TNF from proceeding with any construction activities. The stay was vacated thanks to Justice Venugopal with the help of senior advocate Mr. M.N. Padmanabhan. Construction of the compound wall to the TNF center began. But the opportunist appealed against the ruling and won another stay. Construction was stopped again. The legal battle continued for five years. TNF fought the battle in Madras High Court and won a favorable court order. It was a long step-by-step process.
The opportunist tried to go to the Supreme Court. Justice Venugopal filed a caveat with the Supreme Court arguing that the case should not be admitted because there was no public interest in reversing the order of the Madras High Court. The report submitted was so convincing that the Supreme Court rejected the appeal outright. The Supreme Court did not even hear the case. Finally, after five years, TNF was allowed to proceed with the construction of the technology center.
TNF Board at that time had in its control Dr. Muthu Veerappan Memorial Fund ($13,000) donated by his friends from Ohio and Maryland. The board had authorized this money for the TNF Center construction. However, the money was depleted due to the legal battles. There was really no money remaining for the construction of the center. In the meantime, the price of construction had increased significantly. TNF now needed $100,000.
At that point, Mr. Thukkaram, TNF Center Coordinator, prepared a 16-page pamphlet describing all the activities of TNF to date. The pamphlet also briefly outlined future possibilities. More than 2,000 pamphlets were printed and distributed to Americans of Tamil origin. The pamphlets were sent to members and also to non-members of TNF. Dr. C. Manogaran and Dr. T. Sounderpandian, both professors at the University of Wisconsin and directors of TNF, helped with the funding appeal.
Dr. Rajan K. Raj, a neurosurgeon and American of Sri Lankan Tamil origin from Oakbrook, Illinois, and a good friend of Mr. Thukkaram, donated $20,000 to sponsor a wing in the name of his deceased wife. The remaining cost of Phase I was paid for by Mr. Ram Thukkaram and his brother, Mr. San Santharam, who donated their father’s home in Chennai in Besant Nagar. Mr. Thukkaram provided the final funding to complete Phase1.
On December 21, 1998, The TNF Center was inaugurated by Honorable Mayor of Chennai Mr. M.K. Stalin. The final cost of Phase 1 was approximately $ 90,000.
TNF Center Chennai – Phase 2
The impetus for starting the second phase of the TNF Center came from Indira Gandhi Open University. The university was considering cutting off funds because the TNF center did not have enough space for the number of students studying there.
At that time, TNF Chennai was fortunate to have Dr. Anandakrishnan as Chairman. Mr. Thukkaram, TNF Center Coordinator, explained that TNF needed approximately $150,000 to complete Phase 2, which would give the center additional space needed for the Indira Gandhi Open University requirement. Mr. Thukkaram suggested contacting a few individuals to ask for a $20,000 donation. In return for this generosity, one wing of the center would be named after a loved one of their choosing.
Dr. Anandakrishnan donated $20,000 after listening to the proposal. That spontaneous gesture surprised Mr. Thukkaram and provided the motivation required to complete the second phase. Mr. Paul Pandian of Dallas, Texas, donated $20,000. Mr. M. Manickam, President of TNF- USA at the time, donated $20,000. Mr. Chandrasekaran, who managed the Indira Gandhi National Open University Program, was able to generate surplus funds saving 10 Lakhs Rupees that also became part of the construction fund. Mr. A.C. Muthiah of SPIC donated $2,500 (1 Lakh Rupees) and the balance was donated by Mr. Thukkaram. The second phase was opened June 10, 2005 by Mr. Ravi Candadai, U.S. Consul General in South India. The approximate cost of construction was $160,000.