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- Usha RK

December 25, 2022

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer.)

Why is the Sangeet Natak Akademi in the news? The organization bombarded the cultural space with over 100 awards for three years 2019, 2020 and 2021. The most recently appointed Chairperson held two back to back meetings almost flouting the mandatory notice period before any meeting, and the second four day meeting was to finalize the awards for the three years. The former Chairman completed his term in early 2020 and in turn the GC and EB were dissolved. Some members were nominated by the MOC as recent as mid 2022.

The announcement of the three years pending awards created a chaos and lots of reactions some publicly and the gossip mills ran amok. Awardees never heard of or seen before at the national stage, non- existent categories included, un-nominated persons were awarded, adherence to qualification for the appropriate category and so on.

The December editorial on this portal by SNA awardee Anita Ratnam went viral. Members maintained a pregnant silence. Some members were busy garnering gratitude posts while some awardees were profusely thanking their mentors and recommenders! There must be some dignity, she said!

Which brings us to the question, what was the purpose of setting up these Akademis?

National Arts organisations were established in the early 1950's with a mission of 3 P's - Preservation, Promotion and Propagation of the Arts. A vision that created spaces to showcase the varied art forms and mediums not only at a national level but also as India's window to the world. Luminaries from across India were invited to be a part of these national art bodies to make this vision a reality.

Every Akademi is registered under the provisions of the Trust and Societies registration and have a General Council - GC, Executive Board - EB, A Chairman and Vice Chairman along with sufficient representation from other Ministry of Culture bodies of the Government of India. All three academies and their constituent units have individual constitutions that are the guiding force of the institutions. Rules and regulations, compositions of committees, processes, functioning, responsibilities of office bearers, administration structure and the rules of recruitment (RR) are all enlisted and must be followed. How many of these laid down rules are flouted blatantly....can fill many columns!

The Ministry of Culture / Government of India funds these organisations in totality through PLAN and NON-PLAN funds/budgets sought by the Akademis annually. No private or publicly raised funds are incorporated in these organisations.
The laid down constitution of each Akademi must be treated as sacrosanct and followed to the last letter.
While the Akademis are autonomous bodies, they still need to follow laid down constitution.

Numerous celebrities and stars of the fields of performing arts, visual arts and literature have through the years adorned these academies and contributed in raising the bar not only in terms of promotion but also in preservation by including research and publication to preserve the arts and their attributes. The institutions also included awards and accolades to legends and foremost performers. This exercise too needs every rule to be followed. The two key leading lights who carry the planning and envisioning of the mission of these organisations are the Chairman and Vice Chairman. Who is the most appropriate personality for the post of the Chairman? A quick dipstick amongst artists and stake holders brings up words like - STATURE, Personality, Legend, Visionary, a Doer, Administratively astute, People friendly, Knowledgeable, and so on. Of course age and experience is a given.
Do these parameters still make sense and are they relevant? Or are Climbers and Pushers getting into these hallowed spaces?
Do our institutions need refurbishing? A rethinking of sorts? And most often than not we find that the government is happy to just continue the scenario than make any changes, the truth being that Culture is the last priority in the total political scene.

Almost every representative who is posted in this ministry has no initiation into the arts. The attitude towards arts and artists has left much TO BE desired in all these decades. Innumerable feedback from artists and stake holders that they are governed by persons who are political and need a clear initiation into the arts and the issues and requirements of the artists thereof, is often ignored. Worse still is the artists who get in to these revered spaces of administrating the country's apex cultural bodies are prone to be self-preserving driving their own agendas ignoring the reason for being there.

So what is plaguing our academies that has rendered them ineffective, lack WORLD CLASS spaces, are corruption laden, with below mediocre administration and zero global presence compared to international state organisations? Is there a lack of funds or moolah? Certainly not, huge funds are available and probably not being used in the most optimal manner or SADUPYOG as they say. The malpractices or the prevailing issue of corruption continues or thrives as punitive action takes for ever. IF AT ALL. As a citizen or aam admi one would fear to take out even a small amount without following the rules but officials or administrative staff can pay themselves huge mobile bills even though they are not entitled!! The Enquiries are brought to a natural death by harassing the Enquiry officer and not giving him the necessary documents or files. To quote a particular case, the SC Commission had ordered punitive action to be taken against a lady official of an Akademi for harassment of an SC colleague, the concerned executive head in contempt of the commissions orders, did NOTHING!! Was he/she scared of the official to take action against her? And what about the responsibility of the executive head and was responsibility fixed and any punitive action taken? Nil Nil Nil!!!

Where are the so called checks and balances? And even if there are whistle blowers who highlight don't we all know the fate of the whistle blowers!! The processes for Enquiry to be constituted are many a time disregarded and manipulated. Those who can speak up or are fearless are very aggressively relieved from the system and replaced with cooperative and ready to join the gang persons who happily turn a blind eye to such activities. Would it be possible that a national Akademi would pay an excess of nearly 70.00 lakhs from 2016-2022 to the NDMC? What was the Secretary of the said Akademi doing while these payments were made? What was the chairman doing while this happened right under his nose? Was the Ministry in complete ignorance of this? Fine, the Audit Observation highlights the issue, now what? Will the officers in the entire chain of the process be sacked? Will the Chairman resign? Don't we demand the PM, Mantris etc to resign every time a huge corruption is unearthed?!

While all these issues are a reality, another aspect that we never bring out is the treatment and harassment of staff from these organizations be in retirement dues, promotions, staff welfare. Rosters, all these seem to be never addressed.

What is the solution? A total overhaul of the institutions, a close tab by the PM and appointment of those who believe in delivery and has a proven record using all methods of Sama Dama Danda Bhed to achieve results and make a humongous change. Advisors should be fearless and have no personal gains or expectations and most importantly have no conflict of interest in any which way. The heads of institutions must also possess similar attributes including the submission of NO PERSONAL benefits including personal publicity on social media and press during the tenure. The executive head must be a very experienced person with a proven record of high calibre administrative and reformative experience. He / She must be in the age group of 55 to 65 years of age so as to have mature and vision based thinking and leadership qualities that are no less than excellent. Government in previous times has sought policy reports from committees and these solutions can be found in them also, but are they executed or followed?

This is a direct message, DM as they say, to the Prime Minister, not enough to speak of the soft power of samskruti, and use this line of thought at international platforms. TIME FOR SOME ACTION, dear Modi-ji!

Dr. Usha RK
Dr. Usha RK is an arts consultant. Her training in two styles of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi have enabled her to conceptualize unique dance and music presentations. She has recently returned after a successful posting as Director of the Cultural Centre at Moscow.

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