From Being Artists Of Eminence To Unauthorised Occupants; Birju Maharaj, Guru Jayarama Rao, And 25 Other Artists Receive Eviction Notice From Government Allotted Homes

Several artists are in shock as they have received an eviction notice asking them to vacate their homes by 31st December. These include the much eminent Pandit Birju Maharaj, painter Jatin Das, and the Bharatnatyam dancer and singer Rani Shinghal. Some of these are even Padma Shree Awardees and this eviction notice seems inhumane and they have been living and calling these government quarters their homes for many years but the sudden notice has left them homeless.

The Director of Estates prepared a list of 27 artists who were allocated these government homes for being artists of eminence, calling them unauthorized occupants. They have been told that they have overstayed and need to vacate by 31st December or they would be forced out. This has given them less than two months’ notice, leaving many without any other place to call home.

The DoE apparently carried out an assessment in 2015 to check the state of the government accommodations and found that they’ve overstayed in the houses for many years, in some cases even over 30 years. They are no longer planning to entertain this and sent a notice seeking eviction. While the artists say that they’ve been paying the license fee to the DoE, the DoE calls it a nominal fee that is levied against the limit of stay for six years. The government had increased the license fee which the artists claim to be uninformed about. The statement said that the artists were allotted the houses for a period of three years and have been receiving extensions over the years. To qualify for the same, they should be between 40 and 60 years of age and have a monthly income of less than 20,000. However, it also states that no artist can stay for more than two consecutive terms, i.e., 6 years. However, by paying a license fee, they stayed there. The last extension ended in 2014 and even the fees were increased. But apparently, the artists were not informed about it.

Although the government is well within its rights to ask someone to vacate its accommodation, seeing the pride they’ve brought to the country, the meager income that they have, and the tough times of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government could’ve been lenient in its decision.

As per a government statement as given in TOI, “The government is stating they have waived off close to Rs 30 crore in damages, but the artists were never informed of any such damage. They are asking each artist, with the eviction to pay arrears in rent, but no intimation of any rent increase was informed to the artist.”

All the charges have been waived off from 2014 to September 2020 but the other charges still remain. The artists were informed in the notice itself that they have lakhs of arrears to pay if they seek to stay in the homes allocated to them. The Cabinet has also decided to waive off all of this arrear in the fee for staying over the years if they vacate the homes within the deadline, i.e., 31st December.

The statement of the Culture Minister read, “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”. 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.”

One of the 27 artists on the list, Wasifuddin Dagar said,  “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?”

Even the Kathak star Pandit Birju Maharaj came forward to talk about the same and 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.”

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