Culture is at the beginning and the end of development
(Léopold Sédar Senghor)
Published on 9 May 2012
News originally published 1 April 2012
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this year’s Bengal budget is not any poverty-alleviating ministry but the information and cultural affairs department, which deals with chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s culture clan.
The department, which is under Mamata’s direct supervision, has been allocated Rs 110 crore in one of the steepest increases in budget funds for any section. The figure represents a 125 per cent leap from the revised estimate of Rs 48.60 crore for 2011-12 and a nearly 15-fold jump from the Rs 7.48 crore actually spent in 2010-11. (See chart)
The spectacular surge in funds for culture stands in sharp contrast to the slash for the panchayat and rural development department by over Rs 255 crore.
The government has not explained in detail the pressing need for the largesse for cultural affairs at a time the state is grappling with almost every financial malaise conceivable.
But the heads under which the money will be spent, listed in pages 126-131 in Budget Publication No. 3, speak for themselves.
The money will be spent on awards for drama and music, acquiring as well as modernising studios, organising fairs and film festivals and salvaging a cultural centre. In short, the government has armed itself with enough opportunities to shower incentives on personalities, events and institutions associated with the culture clan.
The estimates show, for instance, that the government proposes to spend up to Rs 1 crore in awarding artistes for their contribution to drama and music, a more than 12-fold increase over the revised estimate for 2011-12.
“The chief minister wanted a higher allocation for her (I&CA) department this year, so the finance minister increased the funds even though he was forced to curtail the allocations for a department such as panchayat and rural development,” a senior finance department official said.
The 10-month-old government has already instituted two new culture awards that carry cash prizes: Banga Bibhushan and Banga Samman.
The list of Banga Bibhushan awardees, who received Rs 2 lakh each, includes singer Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, dancer Amala Shankar, writer Mahasweta Devi and actress Supriya Devi. Except for Mahasweta Devi, the rest are still close to the chief minister.
During her visit to Siliguri last February, Mamata gave away Rs 1 lakh each to the Banga Samman awardees, who included Trinamul MLA Chiranjeet, singer Nachiketa, actress Sandhya Roy, theatre personality Bibhas Chakraborty and poet Joy Goswami. In the run-up to the Assembly polls, Goswami, Chakraborty and Nachiketa had campaigned for paribartan (change) in Bengal.
Sandhya Roy, one of the awardees, said there was nothing wrong in what Mamata was doing. “An award is a form of recognition for an artiste,” she said.
Awards and cash prizes, though, are not the only benefits heading the culture clan’s way. Singers, actors and writers have been made part of the dozens of committees the department has set up to take the decisions on expenditure under various heads.
“The members don’t get any financial emoluments other than Rs 300 for attending each meeting but they hold the key to the spending decisions. The chief minister wants to accord them importance by inducting them into the committees,” an official said.
No one in the department could say exactly how many committees the new government had set up with pro-Trinamul culture clan members as their heads.
Veteran actress Supriya Devi said she was on “several” committees but could not remember all the names. “I am very happy with what Mamata is doing for people involved in art and culture,” she said.
Arpita Ghosh, another culture clan member, said: “Yes, I am a member of several committees including the newly formed task force for culture. However, I am not aware of the increase in budgetary allocations…. But even if there is a leap in the allocations, one should not grudge that. We believe that a well-defined and refined culture is the identity of a community.”
The generosity is also dragging the administration into responsibilities from which modern governments would recoil. The budget documents reveal that the government will spend Rs 18.55 crore to acquire studios and a further Rs 9 crore on modernising them. Most of this, sources said, is likely to be spent on the rundown state-owned studio which the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government wanted to hand over to a private player.
“There is no point in the government involving itself in the running of a studio. A private player should be given the responsibility to ensure efficiency and profit generation,” said Priya Entertainment managing director Arijit Dutta.
Mamata, however, has inducted the who’s who of Tollywood — director Haranath Chakraborty and actors Ranjit Mallick, Dipankar De, Prosenjit and Sabyasachi Chakrabarty — into the project.
“The names are indeed impressive but the question is: what will they do?” a senior government official said. “During the audit conducted by the accountants general, the government has to justify the formation of the committees and explain what they have delivered. Let’s see what the government can show.”
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