More than 20 artistes from the country — eminent names such as Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj, dhrupad vocalist Ut Wasifuddin Dagar, iconic Mohiniyattam dancer Bharati Shivaji, Kathak guru Geetanjali Lal, Kuchipudi dancer Guru Jayarama Rao and painter and sculptor Jatin Das, among others — have been asked to vacate their government accommodations in various parts of Delhi.
Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel confirmed the move to The Indian Express and said, “They (artistes) have been given time till December 31, 2020, to vacate the houses, failing which, they will have toa pay their outstanding dues. But if they vacate within the deadline, all their dues will be waived off.”
Since the 70s, the artistes between the age of 40-70, many of whom are now Padma and Sangeet Natak Akademi awardees, were allotted accommodations at nominal rents for three-year terms which were extended regularly. The extensions had expired in 2014 and there has been a constant back and forth of letters between the artistes and the Culture Ministry since then. The quota for the Culture Ministry allowed for 40 residential units. While 23 have been vacated till date, the rest are still occupied.
According to dhrupad vocalist Wasifuddin Dagar, who has been asked to vacate, in these matters, due consideration needs to be given to the artiste’s stature, their contribution to the field of the rts — something that has brought eminence to the country nationally and internationally — and the fact that the pandemic is on.
“We don’t want to go against the government or have a tussle with any minister. We just want them to help us out. They had said that the ministers are given accommodations for five years, to which we want to say that we are not representative of some party. Artistes don’t retire. They keep working and that happens out of their homes. I teach dhrupad out of this home. These are only 20 houses, extremely simple, small homes and that is also bothering them? We hope that somebody will come forward to help us.”
Dagar also added that on so many occasions, many performances for the government are done for free by them. “In the pandemic, when the PM is requesting the entire country not to disturb the tenants in this difficult time, this is what they do to their own artistes?” said Dagar, who lives in Asiad village.
Kathak exponent Pt Birju Maharaj, in an audio statement, appealed to PM Narendera Modi and made a reference to his age and his service to the art form after the notice landed with him. “During this pandemic, at the time of Covid, I received a notice to vacate the home. I have been staying in the house for some time now and it’s a huge help from the government. I have been serving classical dance and have been spreading the art form nationally and internationally. I am 83 years and I am quite sad and shocked that a notice like this has come at this time. It’s my appeal to PM Modi to think about this and the artistes and find a solution to this.”
A senior official from the Ministry of Culture told The Indian Express that it was in 2014 itself that the government decided to phase out all kinds of quotas in accommodation, be it for sportspersons, journalists or artistes. “Since then, regular notices for eviction are being sent to those who still refuse to vacate the government houses, failing which they are liable to pay damages,” the official said, adding that in some cases, the dues are running into crores. He added that once the houses are vacated, they will only be allotted to central government employees as per the new policy.
According to the Ministry, some artists have passed away and their heirs, who are not even the original allottees, continue to live in the quarters, while many are using the government houses illegally for commercial purposes such as running music schools.
Banaras gharana vocalist Rajan Mishra, whose name is in the list of artistes constituted in a committee by Ministry of Culture in 2018 to examine issues regarding the revision of guidelines for allotment of government residential accommodation to eminent artistes, told The Indian Express that he had never attended a single meeting of the committee and does not want to participate in anything that involves the government.
Other artistes in the list include folk singer Malini Awasthi, Kuchipudi exponent Radha Reddy (who vacated her home in July), Bharatanatyam dancer Saroja Vaidyanathan, Kathak dancer Uma Sharma, among others.
“When a government does not care about culture in a country, they do things like these. All those who’ve got notices are cultural ambassadors whose contribution in the field of arts is huge. All those MPs and netas who get those bungalows, no one tells them to leave. This is extreme short-sightedness on the part of the government. You need to value these artistes, not evict them like this,” said Mishra.
The official added, “Any further extension of the deadline can only be decided at the level of the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation”, and the Ministry of Culture doesn’t have a role.
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