Finally, Sukhna Lake got live-sketch artists, one of its cultural markers, back on Tuesday. Five of the 10-odd artists — shortlisted on the basis of need — were issued licences at Rs 3,000 a month. After sporadic removal earlier too, they had been completely barred from working at the lake since March 6.
HT had reported on April 15 about how these artists were being clubbed with irregular food vendors and being treated as encroachers in essence. They had first lost their place when the lake was closed for a month on December 18 last year after the bird flu scare. They were later completely barred in March.
The logic behind removing the vendors was that they ate into the business of shopkeepers who pay rent to the Chandigarh Industrial and Tourism Development Corporation (CITCO). Though the artists, too, operated without any legal sanction, the vendor logic did not work for them, as was even said to HT by UT home secretary Anurag Agarwal last month. Agarwal had talked of a licensing policy in the works for them.
It took nearly a month and several representations after which they were finally issued licences by CITCO. A memorandum was also submitted by Shambhu Bannerjee, president of the Rashtriya Lok Kalyan party, to the UT adviser among others. “We finally feel we’re living our lives again, with our pencils and sketches in hand, drawing portraits for the visitors,”said Surya Bhan, one of the five.
CITCO managing director Kavita Singh said, “There was also demand by tourists for the artists to be there.”Such artists are a fixture at tourist attractions across the world, especially around water bodies.
Though there were 10-odd artists working at the lake in the past, now only five have got the licence based on need. These are Surya Bhan, 32, who has a large family comprising four daughters; Surinder Kumar, 60, who suffers from heart trouble and whose wife is battling cancer; Jasbir Singh Saini, 58, who is impaired in one eye; Suresh Kumar, 28, whose sole source of income is his art, to support his ailing parents; and Harinder Singh, 32, who is also unemployed otherwise. Surinder and Saini the two veterans - have been at the lake for more than two decades.
Surinder, who holds a master’s degree in fine arts from Panjab University, and even served as an art teacher in a posh school and later a college at SAS Nagar, said, “At least we have the legal nod in the form of permission letters now, and hopefully the police and others won’t trouble us.”He is fondly called “professor”and is the leader of the pack. The artists charge between Rs 50 and Rs 200 for a sketch; and each used to make at least 50 a month, earning around Rs 10,000, said Surinder. The business might increase as there are fewer artists now.