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The worst thing any government can do for the arts is spending tax money to create special events intended to support the arts. These include art fairs, festivals for the arts, and art zoning. It has long been debated whether such events are actually of any relevance when the State exchequer is hit hard.
Ill timed festivals in Meghalaya have come under the scanner of late and the authorities have a lot to answer in this regard. Revelations through RTI (which is a blessing of sorts) have shown the uglier side of democracy. The sumptuous attitude of the state government in spending crores and narrowing down its benefit to a select audience leave alone the ones intended for.
Who gives a hoot for priorities in Meghalaya? This question gained more ground just recently when it was revealed through an RTI filed by TNT-The Northeast Today that Meghalaya government's attention towards key sectors go for a toss as they go for unplanned funding.
While a Civil Hospital in Ri Bhoi district runs without a blood bank and Garo Hills reels under flood, the Meghalaya government was busy spending money on less-important events, overlooking the ground problems and making the rich even richer.
To start with, during the year 2014-15, it was revealed through an RTI finding that the Meghalaya Arts and Culture Department spent over Rs 4.18 crore only on events and interestingly, the agencies selected to organise such events on the behest of the department were limited only to a few firms, who directly or indirectly, have some connections with the higher ups as alleged by reliable sources.
Some of these events include–the 18 Degrees Festival 2014 which has become the signature fest of Meghalaya saw an expenditure of Rs 1.40 crore. Ironically, this festival was organised at the same time when the state of Meghalaya was in the midst of floods in Garo Hills and the Chief Minister was asking for help from donors. Celebration in the form of '18 Degrees Festival' was already on in Shillong to 'entertain' the masses while at the same time, a certain section was fighting it out for relief materials and tracing missing relatives.
Something called the Shillong Midnight Festival which most readers would have heard of for the first time was organised at a cost of Rs 25.20 lakh while the Shillong Book Fair which again did not attract the kind of crowd that one would expect saw an expenditure of Rs 51.67 lakh. This programme was organised by Sahaki Society and Set Designer.
The expenditure for the 3-day CALM Fest is Rs 1 crore and this festival too was choreographed by the Sahaki Society with support from M/s Electro World, Purple House, etc. RTI revealed that Meghalaya Arts and Culture Dept spent Rs 4.18 crore in 2014-15!
Further, in a shocking revelation, the Meghalaya Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) run Hotel Pinewood which is the premier hotel of the State of Meghalaya has total receivables of Rs 1.97 crore as on date. This also was revealed in an RTI application filed by TNT- The Northeast Today recently.
While some staff runs without salaries for months, regular events were held at Pinewood Hotel almost every month but to the MTDC's dismay unpaid bills are piling up and bills now have been pending since 2013-14, with the Political Department having the highest outstanding at Rs 46.09 lakh, followed by the Directorate of Information and Public Relations at Rs 25.95 lakh.
A critical analysis of the Bill incurred by the Political Department shows a dinner party hosted on February 5, 2014, amounting to Rs 13.13 lakh. One may begin to wonder who the dinner was for and whether the State Government can actually afford such lavish spending when the common refrain like roads are not repaired and teachers are not paid on time is "funds constraints". It seems that the tightening of the financial belt is only for lesser mortals, not for those in the Government and certainly not for ministers.