Kolkata: A large number of folk singers in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district staged a protest against cut money and irregularities in the payment of their monthly stipend of Rs 1000 that was announced by the state government.
Many of the artists have alleged that they haven’t received their monthly stipend for the last four to six months. Several others complained of middlemen taking Rs 200 from them with the assurance of securing them payments under the ‘Lokprasar Prakalpo’ scheme.
As per government statistics, nearly 8,596 folk artistes above 60 years of age are getting a pension of Rs 1000 per month under ‘Lokprasar Prakalpo’, while 76,000 folk artistes under the age of 60 years are receiving a retainer fee of Rs 1000.
However, ground reality suggests that the payments are irregular and the issue involving the middlemen issue may become a concern for the folk artists mainly in the Murshidabad district.
“We are not getting the monthly stipend of Rs 1000 regularly. I haven’t gotten mine for four to five months. The payment is very irregular. I am not complaining about the ‘Lokprasar Prakalpo’ scheme meant for us. All I am saying is the truth. I cannot rule out the possibility of cut money issue involved in it,” renowned contemporary Bangla Qawwali singer Chote Golam Fakir told News18.
The ‘Lokprasar Prakalpo’ was introduced by the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs on the suggestion of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in 2015. The main objectives of the project was to revive nearly-extinct folk-forms of art and culture and to uplift the socio-economic conditions of folk artists.
Another folk singer Hadiya Bibi of Nabagram alleged that a local middleman identified as Kartik Majhi had taken Rs 200 as ‘cut money’. “We are getting Rs 800 and the middleman is taking Rs 200. We are poor people and this has become a major headache for us.”
However, Kartik Majhi claimed that he asked for the money (Rs 200 from the folk singers) to build a ‘Kala Sangam Academy’.
Another well known ‘Baul’ singer, Abul Karim Sardar, said, “I am not getting my monthly pension since January 2019. I enquired but failed to get a substantial reply. We are Sadhus and are not aware of official procedures. We were very happy when the government had announced this scheme for us. But, presently it is unfortunate that we are not getting it regularly.”
Recently, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee told party leaders that she had received complaints of ‘cut money’ being demanded even for the ‘Samabyathi’ scheme in accordance with which a payment of Rs 2,000 is given to poor people to perform the last rites of his/her family member.
A visibly angry Mamata had said, “You asked for Rs 200 as ‘cut money’ for ‘Samabyathi’ scheme. Some leaders are demanding 25 per cent commission for providing housing grants. I warned all those who are indulged in such practice. Some elderly women are not getting old-age pensions.”
Following Mamata’s warning – party leaders faced the wrath of the public as people across many districts demanded that their ‘cut money’ be returned immediately.
Another ‘Baul’ singer Lau Fakir alleged that an organized racket is operational in Murshidabad district where a section of people are collecting Rs 200 from folk singers claiming to enrol their names under the central stipend schemes for artists.
“I am also one of the victims of this racket. They are collecting money in the name of central schemes. They are also giving an identity card. I think there should be a probe in this matter because I personally feel that this will malign the image of Bengal - the cultural city of India,” he added.
BJP, North Murshidabad president, Sujit Das said, “This cut money issue with the folk artists was going on for months. This came in the lime light because people are now openly agitating against this. It is very unfortunate that being the cultural capital of India, our artists and singers are facing such issues.”