It’s a shame to have just 40 ‘government houses’ in Delhi for artists

Culture Ministry has asked 27 artistes/artists to vacate govt houses in Delhi that they have occupied for over four decades. Reports suggest that 40 houses from govt’s pool were allotted to artistes

It’s a shame to have just 40 ‘government houses’ in Delhi for artists

Uttam Sengupta

Eminent artists have been asked to vacate government accommodation in Delhi by December 31, informed a news report this week. The 27 artistes/artists who have been served with notices include painter Jatin Das, Kathak dancer Pandit Birju Maharaj and Santoor player Bhajan Sopori.

Their allotment, the report said, had lapsed in 2014. Since then six houses were vacated by relatives of artists after the artists passed away.

Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel is quoted as saying that the eligibility criteria will be revisited. This is a welcome move because the present guidelines say that for government houses in Delhi, artists or artistes must be between 40 and 60 years of age and their monthly earning should not exceed, hold your breath, Rs 20,000.

Remarkably, or not so remarkably, the Union Government not only failed to renew or cancel the allotments during the last six years, it failed to come up even with a fresh guideline.

What is also striking is that in such a vast country like ours, only 40 houses in the national capital are set aside for artists. Although government accommodation available in the national capital is over 60,000 as per the website of the Housing Ministry, the same website says that there is still a shortfall of 12 to 15 thousand houses in Delhi for employees.

Whether central government employees, who are better paid than most of the Indian population and who enjoy not just security but also various other benefits including, LTA, DA, Holiday Homes, Central Government Health Scheme etc., should be entitled to government housing is a separate issue.

But that not even one per cent of the available houses are earmarked for artists or artistes should be of considerable concern. Also, housing is not just required by eminent artists, many of whom can afford private accommodation or own houses, but also by younger and struggling artists. The national capital is visited every moth by artists/artistes from various states to attend or hold exhibitions, perform, search for grants and for various other reasons. A hostel for artists to be made available on nominal rates is what is needed even more, besides allotment of one per cent of the available houses for people involved in cultural pursuits.

This correspondent remembers seeing a high-rise around Rockefeller Plaza in New York, which was earmarked for visiting artists/artistes. Musicians, actors, singers and dancers from across the United States visited New York to try their luck, to audition and to perform. They needed affordable accommodation, often temporary accommodation and the civic authorities were sensitive to their needs.

Several state governments in India also set aside a part of the pool of houses for artists, journalists and art critics. In Lucknow, for example, they continue to enjoy government accommodation at nominal rates. The only serious snag is that the allotments are not always transparent.

But this served the community well. Even elderly art critics could afford to stay on in the state capital by paying a couple of hundred Rupees every month as rent.

Metropolitan cities like Delhi or Mumbai need such housing-for artists/artistes, researchers, scientists, writers and poets etc. a lot more urgently than those who have already acquired some eminence. The helping hand will nurture talent and promote culture.

But this government seems to understand the needs of builders and contractors a lot better than other sections of the population. If only it were more sensitive to the needs of people who do not have any voice in politics, not just the national capital but the country will be a better place.

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