Artistes are complaining that there are lacunae in the grant allocation process because of which some of these groups are getting less funds than they were getting a few years ago, or are not getting any funds at all.
Independent theatre and cultural groups across India claim that the Ministry of Culture under Government of India is slashing small and medium sized funds that are provided to them to stage cultural performances, four years after the NDA streamlined the process of provision of grants to these cultural groups to prevent the misuse of funds. Some of the schemes under which the ministry provides grants for promotion of art and culture are Scheme of Financial Assistance for Promotion of Art and Culture and Cultural Functions Grant Scheme.
An official who worked in the grants committee in the Ministry of Culture from 2015-2018 told The Sunday Guardian that during the UPA rule, a lot of artistes indulged in “fraudulent practice” to extract grants from the Ministry for their personal and family use. The NDA, in 2014, revamped the entire process. It also brought all the data pertaining to the amount of grants being granted to these cultural groups in the public domain for more transparency.
“During the UPA rule, a cultural group employing two people would ask for grants for over 20 people. There was no system in place to ascertain if the group actually needed the grant it would ask for. The present dispensation corrected this, and now the artistes are required to file all the details—the number of members in their groups, the expenditure they incurred in the last five years, and the purpose of seeking salary grant and enhancement. They have to produce the records of all their work and performances, and how much of the government grants they have utilised. The money is now directly transferred to the concerned group’s/artiste’s bank account. So there is a lot of paperwork, and many of them are not willing to do it, and are hence complaining,” the official told this newspaper.
However, artistes and Ministry sources told these correspondents that there are lacunae in the process because of which some of these groups are getting less funds than they were getting a few years ago, or are not getting any funds at all.
MORE TRANSPARENCY NEEDED
The founder of a New Delhi-based cultural institution was provided Rs 5 lakh as grant under the Cultural Functions Grant Scheme (which is also the maximum amount provided under this scheme) for October 2015 to September 2016. This grant, however, was reduced to Rs 80,000 for October 2016 to March 2017. According to the founder of the institution, who requested anonymity, no reason was cited for the sudden reduction in funds.
“The present government has streamlined the process, but the people sitting in the committees that provide grants are not competent enough to recognise the work of the artistes and allocate grants accordingly. I asked for a review into the matter on three different occasions last year, but I have not received any response from the Ministry,” the artiste above said.
Another official who has worked in the Ministry told this newspaper that more often than not, it is because people have not filed their paperwork needed for grant approval and renewal properly, that they are denied funds or are given less funds. “For some reason or the other, the grants given to these cultural groups/artistes are overspent or overlapped to the next year without intimation to the Ministry. The Ministry takes cognisance of such cases and allocates funds accordingly. There are certain norms which govern how the grants should be allocated, and there is a due process that artistes need to follow to avail them. A lot of times, they are not complied with,” said the official.
However, Ishwar Shunya, director at Little Theatre Group and owner at his own theatre group, claimed that despite having followed the due process for grant access under Scheme of Financial Assistance for Promotion of Art and Culture, his application was not even looked into by the National School of Drama (NSD), which is the nodal agency and heads committees that look into salary and building grants in the Ministry of Culture. “The status of all the applications—including the additions and corrections that need to be made in them—is received by the NSD and then uploaded on the ministry website. The applications of the groups eligible for the funds are then passed on to the Ministry and the committees which handle grants. But I was surprised to find that the name of my organisation was not even on the list. I sought an answer from the NSD, only to discover my application file lying abandoned in a corner of their room. They had not even gone through my paperwork,” Ishwar said. Ishwar added that the next time he applied for grants, he was denied the same by NSD officials because “despite having done good work”, he “did not have a degree in theatre”. “The people on the committee who allocate grants do not look at the work done by a cultural organisation. How would they know which set of artistes is more deserving than the other? I know certain artistes and groups who are close to the NSD officials and automatically have an upper hand in receiving funds. There needs to be a reference body which can assess the work done by a group or an artiste and recommend it to the Ministry,” Ishwar said.
The source who has worked in the Ministry admitted that a lot of times, the process of allocating grants is carried out “hastily”, hence leaving scope for inadequate allocation. “The committee which looks into the Cultural Functions Grant Scheme receives 3,000 to 4,000 applications every year. How much time do you think the committee gives to each applicant? Ideally, at least one hour should be given to each application, but most of the times they are disposed of under five minutes. So it is true that a lot of times, there are major howlers,” the source said.
The source added that the despite having a transparent system, the process of application of grants is cumbersome and needs to be streamlined. “The applicant is required to do a lot of paperwork to initiate the process of grant procurement. The process is not easy. The schemes under which people apply for grants are beyond the scope of a lot of artistes who do not understand English or are semi-literate. The artist could be really talented, but if he cannot follow up on the process, the chances of him getting the grants are dim,” the source added.
However, the official who had worked in the grants committee from 2015-2018 said all the documents pertaining to the status of the artistes’ application to the amount of funds allocated or denied to them are in the public domain with proper reasons. “Our work is totally transparent. The NSD has always looked into each and every application and passed on the deserving ones to the Ministry. It is only recently that I heard of one or two cases where the artist’s application was not processed. Rest assured, the government is spending an amount to the tune of 100 crore on culture every year,” the official added.
“The grant commission under the UPA government had 144 members and all of them were political leaders. When the NDA government came they set up a new committee with 77 members, all of them artistes. So there is better transparency and recognition of talent in the new system,” the same official said.