Culture needs more government support
Allocations for the ministry of culture (MoC) announced this year stand at ₹2,688 crore, ₹461 crore less than last year. This 15% reduction comes on top of 30% mid-year downward revision of culture budget for last year.
Culture occupies prime space in our political imagination and enriches our daily lives in myriad ways. But how much of this sentiment has got translated into government support for culture? The budget offers a window into State priorities. Allocations for the ministry of culture (MoC) announced in this year stand at ₹2,688 crore, ₹461 crore less than last year. This 15% reduction comes on top of a 30% mid-year downward revision of the culture budget for last year due to the lockdown. This apathy towards culture, reflected in low levels of public spending, is not surprising. Over the years, regardless of the ruling dispensation, the will to support the sector has been declining. Actual expenditure by MoC, as a percentage of GDP, has reduced from a mere 0.017% in 2010-11 to 0.012% in 2019-20. This alarming trend was flagged by the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Culture in 2020, when it noted that with inflation factored in, there is nil growth in allocations made to MoC in the last five years.
Tracing just one of the mandates of MoC — promotion of arts through fellowships and various akademies — demonstrates the dismal status of spending. The Kala Sanskriti Vikas Yojana, an umbrella scheme for scholarships and pensions, has been cut to half, from ₹310 crore in 2018–19 to ₹168 crore in 2021–22. Of the ₹310 crore allocated, only ₹202 crore was spent. Further, the number of beneficiaries is minuscule. In 2016–17, 283 scholars were selected for the Award of Young Artistes and only ₹4,000 per month pension was provided to 3,133 artistes. The 2018 PSC report found these numbers disappointing, given the country’s vast artistic community and recommended increasing coverage, but MoC remained non-committal.
Similarly, allocations to academies have been stagnant around ₹350 crore, and fell this year to ₹341 crore. They are also ridden with vacancies — out of 878 posts, 262 were vacant as on March 31, 2020. Besides poor resource provisions, the functioning of these akademies has invited the ire of various committees. The PSC in in 2013 and a high-powered committee in 2014 noted multiple points that needed resolution — lack of synergy between institutions; need for a grievance redressal body to tackle institutional complaints; and delays in disbursing scholarships. Most of these recommendations were either ignored or shot down by MoC, with insufficient explanations.
One of the reasons for policy gaps has been attributed to the absence of a comprehensive cultural directory — if we do not know who we are spending for, how will we know how much to spend. To this end, an ambitious cultural mapping mission was launched in 2015 with an outlay of ₹3,000 crore. Six years later, the exercise has failed to take off — out of ₹43 crore allocated, only ₹1 crore has been utilised. Efforts to identify artistes across the country were supposedly abandoned due to lack of IT and administrative support.
The government, beyond its own budgetary allocations, also has the reach to create fund-attracting conditions for the sector. MoC, in the ongoing budget session, reported that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) spend dropped from ₹306 crore in 2016–17 to ₹48 crore in 2019–20. Further, the National Culture Fund (NCF), set up to enable private participation in cultural preservation, has been dormant. This makes one wonder as to what prevents the government from encouraging spending on culture through CSR, NCF and other measures.
As in other sectors, the pandemic has adversely impacted art and culture, but only more severely. Many art forms and practices are on the verge of extinction or decay as they have been languishing over decades for want of resources. The immediate need is for the artistic community to unequivocally pursue its right to public spending on culture and cultivate the political and administrative will for the same. For, it is the government that has to be the primary enabler and patron of the arts — no culture has survived without it.
Padmapriya Janakiraman leads Sahapedia’s cultural mapping project. Maansi Verma is a researcher with Sahapedia
The views expressed are personal