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Twenty-one eminent artistes, including Padma Vibhushan Birju Maharaj and Guru Jayarama Rao, who were handed eviction notices on 9 October, have called the decision taken by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs ‘saddening’ and ‘humiliating’.
These artistes, most of whom are senior citizens, have stayed at their government-allotted accommodations in New Delhi for over four decades. They will now have to vacate the houses by 31 December, 2020. Allotments are made on the recommendation of the Ministry of Culture by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, through the Directorate of Estates, for a period of three years. With no permanent housing, artistes are uncertain about their next steps in a prevailing pandemic.
"“I am surprised and saddened that at this time of COVID-19, we are sent a notice to vacate government allotted houses.”" - Padma Vibhushan Birju Maharaj
According to the terms of the last written policy of allotment from 2008, there is a reevaluation of accommodations every 3 years. Artistes must be between 40 and 60 years of age and their income must not exceed over Rs 20,000 a month to be considered.
‘Damage Charges’ Waived
Sources in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs told The Quint that since the last extension had ended in 2014, artistes’ stay had been regularised from 2014 till September 2020 by the government.
Sources also said that damages to the tune of Rs 30 crore, accrued on account of ‘overstaying’, have been waived. However, a special licence fee will be collected from the occupants.
These damages have been accumulated by 27 artistes, but 6 of these or their families have already vacated allotted homes in the last few years. Several artistes told The Quint that they were not intimated about these damages but have been paying the licence fee as per rules.
Kuchipudi maestros Vanashree Rao and Guru Jayarama Rao, who have previously been given eviction notices in 2004, 2014, and 2018, say that no written policy has been formulated after 2008.
"“Suddenly on 9 October, we received an eviction notice to vacate our houses, which is really very shocking and humiliating, because we are continuing our profession in a full-fledged manner. We don’t have a pension, a provident fund, or any other source of income. Where do we go?”" - Vanashree Rao, Sangeet Natak Akademi Awardee
Artistes feel that eviction has always been a ‘sword hanging over their head’.
"‘‘Living legends of Kuchipudi have been told to leave. There should be a permanent solution to this.’’" - Guru Jayarama Rao
Not just shelter, these accommodations have also acted as a workspace to pursue their art form, as in the case for Odissi exponent Mayadhar Raut, who has trained several gurus and dancers at his allotted home.
"“I had this great opportunity to work on the resurrection of the Mohiniyattam dance form. It was all possible because of the little place that I was given by the government of India. It is very unfair, very inhumane that the sudden decision was taken.”" - Padma Shri Bharti Shivaji Several Letters Written
These senior Padma and National awardees have written to the government and PMO on several occasions regarding their allotment under the general pool of residential accommodation for artists. In all these representations, artistes have demanded a dialogue with the concerned bodies and the prime minister as well.
The same plea was put forth in a meeting with the Secretary in the Ministry of Culture on 17 November.
"“By no means do we not want them to give a home to other deserving artistes. We are not against artistes, we are not against the government, we are against our eviction from our own home... how can we just be evicted as if we are not needed anymore by our country?”" - Vanashree Rao
Artistes hope that the move to evict is rethought on compassionate grounds, given their national contribution to the arts and the international repute brought to the country. Without this, they will be rendered homeless.
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