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Explained: Here’s why India’s top artistes have been served eviction notices

Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel says the artistes will have to pay their outstanding dues (going up to Rs 32 crore, as per bills raised by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development) if they fail to comply with the government's decision.

Written by Divya A , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 18, 2020 3:13:32 pm
From left to right: Kathak dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj, santoor player Bhajan Sopori and painter Jatin Das.

Several eminent artistes were last month sent notices to vacate government accommodation in Delhi by December 31, barring which, they will be charged heavy fees for overstaying. The 27 who have been served with notices include painter Jatin Das, Kathak dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj and santoor player Bhajan Sopori.

Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel says the artistes will have to pay their outstanding dues (going up to Rs 32 crore, as per bills raised by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development) if they fail to comply with the government’s decision. “If they vacate within the deadline, all their dues will be waived off,” Patel added.

As the December 31 deadline for eviction approaches, we look at the government’s policy for artistes’ accommodation, and why they have been asked to vacate the houses where they have been living for more than two decades:

Culture quota for government houses

In the 1970s, 40 houses in the national capital were set aside for artistes, under the culture quota. The list of beneficiaries was prepared by the Ministry of Culture keeping in mind an artiste’s repute, and certain criteria such as their age and income. The guidelines say to be eligible for a government house in Delhi, artistes must be 40-60 years of age and their monthly earning should not exceed Rs 20,000. The houses were given for a three-year-period, which was extended each time it lapsed. The allottees included painters, writers and musicians of repute, with many of them being Padma awardees or honoured with other national-level awards. The government quota is for a maximum of 40 residential units, out of which 23 have been vacated till date owing to an artiste’s demise or other reasons.

Change in policy

It was in 2014 that the Narendra Modi government decided to phase out all kind of quotas in accommodation, be it for sportspersons, journalists or artistes. Under the new policy, only central government employees will be provided government accommodation. Although there are around 60,000 government houses available in Delhi, as per the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, it says there is a shortfall of 15,000 houses for central government employees. An official from the Ministry of Culture says, “Since 2014, 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,” adding that in some cases, the dues are now running to crores.

The official says 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.

Are the artistes ready to vacate?

Pandit Birju Maharaj, dhrupad artist Ut Wasifuddin Dagar, Mohiniyattam dancer Bharati Shivaji, Kathak artist Geetanjali Lal, Kuchipudi dancer Guru Jayarama Rao and painter Jatin Das are among those who have been served with eviction notices. The 27 houses in question are located in areas like Shahjahan Road, Asian Games Village and Lodhi Colony. While Maharaj has been living in his Shahjahan Road house for 36 years, Das has been living in his Asian Games village flat for 26 years. Dagar has claimed that artists do not retire, unlike ministers. He claimed, “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.”

Maharaj says, “During this pandemic, I received a notice to vacate the home… I am 83 quite shocked that a notice like this has come at this time. It’s my appeal to PM Modi to think about this.” He has also threatened to return his award if forced to vacate the residence.

What next?

Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel is quoted as saying that the eligibility criteria will be revisited. “(Any new) policy on who should be accommodated will be framed later after they have vacated (the houses),” he says. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

On the other hand, SAHMAT, the Delhi-based artists’ collective, has vociferously protested the Centre’s decision. “Most of the artistes who have been issued these notices are now aged and do not have any other place to reside. Many people do not realise the precarious financial condition most artistes have to cope with, including those who are…legendary names,” said the SAHMAT statement, adding that they cannot afford the kinds of market rents in Delhi now.

Sanskar Bharati, a cultural organisation affiliated to the RSS, has also requested Prahlad Patel to reconsider the move and formulate a housing policy. But as per the Ministry of Culture, this decision has to be taken at the topmost level and any further extension in the deadline will be decided only by the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation.

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