In a new development, the Union government has sent eviction notices to over 20 artists, who have been overstaying in government allotted buildings in various parts of Delhi for decades.
While speaking about the government decision, Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel informed that the artists have been provided with a time window until December 31 to vacate their government accommodation. He added that they will have to pay their outstanding dues (about ₹32.09 crores) if they fail to comply with the government’s decision. “But if they vacate within the deadline, all their dues will be waived off,” Patel emphasised.
“The policy already exists and it’s clear that no one can stay on above the age of 60, or for more than two terms of three years each. Their income should not be more than Rs 20,000 a month. But people have been living (in these government houses) for 12 to 35 years,” the Culture Minister stated. He added, “(Any new) policy on who should be accommodated will be framed later after they have vacated (the houses). Where are new artists who really need homes to go? If an MLA or MP sticks to one place, then what happens to others? The rules are the same for all.”
As per reports, government accommodations (3BHK, 4BHK) are provided by the Culture Ministry in Lutyens’ and South Delhi at a nominal rent to eminent award-winning Indian artists, aged between 40-60, for a 3-year period. The allotments had started in the 70s and were being continually extended every 3 years. It can be extended to a maximum of two terms, totalling 6 years. The government quota is for a maximum of 40 residential units, out of which 23 have been vacated.
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 the artists who have been served with eviction notices.
Change in government policy in 2014
An official from the Culture Ministry stated that the Union government had decided to remove quotas in government accommodation in 2014 itself. The official further stated that the outstanding dues, caused due to damage to property, have been running into crores for some artists. He added that under the new policy, only central government employees will be provided accommodation once the squatters vacate the property.
The culture ministry has stated that since 2014, the artists have been served with repeated notices.
“Any further extension of the deadline can only be decided at the level of the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation,” he emphasised. The Culture Ministry has reiterated that the families of several artists have continued to overstay, even after their death. It also pointed out how some have been using the residential units illegally for generating business such as running music schools.
Squatters cry foul over government’s ‘inhumane’ attitude
Dhrupad vocalist Wasifuddin Dagar, who have been illegally using his residence to teach dhrupad, has claimed that artists do not retire, unlike ministers. He claimed, “They keep working and that happens out of their homes. 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.”
In his defence, Dagar claimed, “In the pandemic, when the PM is requesting the entire country not to disturb the tenants in this difficult time, this is what they do to their own artistes?” It is pertinent to remember that unlike regular tenants, the Dhrupad vocalist is paying a nominal fee as rent and has occupied the residence, despite the expiry of the extension period.
Kathak expert Pt Birju Maharaj said, “During this pandemic, at the time of Covid, I received a notice to vacate the home. I have been staying in the house for some time now and it’s a huge help from the government. I have been serving classical dance and have been spreading the art form nationally and internationally. I am 83 years and I am quite sad and shocked that a notice like this has come at this time. It’s my appeal to PM Modi to think about this and the artists and find a solution to this.” He has also threatened to return his award if forced to vacate the residence. It is important to remember that the age cutoff for staying at the government allotted accommodation in 60 and Pt Birju Maharaj is 83 years now.
Banaras Gharana vocalist Rajan Mishra, claimed, “When a government does not care about culture in a country, they do things like these. All those who’ve got notices are cultural ambassadors whose contribution in the field of arts is huge. All those MPs and netas who get those bungalows, no one tells them to leave. This is extreme short-sightedness on the part of the government. You need to value these artists, not evict them like this.” However, the fact remains that the Courts, as well as the government, had directed former MPs, MLAs and retired employees to vacate government accommodations after their tenure.
Centre had initiated proceedings against illegal occupants in 2015
It must be remembered that the Centre had initiated proceedings against squatters in 2015 itself. As per reports, the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation (CCA) had directed the Union urban development (UD) ministry to evict the illegal occupants. The report noted, “Pandit Birju Maharaj has been living in his Shahjahan Road house for 36 years, Jatin Das has been living in his Asian Games village flat for 26 years and Kuchipudi dancer Raja Reddy has been living in his Kaka Nagar flat for 21 years.”
While talking about the government’s decision in 2015, a government source had stated, “We are issuing eviction notices in three cases. The house was allotted to the artiste and not his family member. The family members will be told to vacate immediately…However, all the 27 artistes who were allotted flats in areas like Shahjahan Road, Asian Games Village and Lodhi Colony have overstayed in violation of norms long after their allotment tenure was over.”
Former ministers, MPs and political leaders have been evicted too
Squatting in government bungalows and treating them like personal property is nothing new for ‘elites’ in India. the Union urban development (UD) ministry has been fighting a long battle to get former MPs, political leaders and ’eminent intellectuals’ to leave the government-owned buildings and pay the outstanding dues.
Earlier this year, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was also asked to vacate the Lodhi Estate bungalow where she has been staying with her family for decades.