The cut in the Union Budget allocation for culture: what it means for the sector
The annual budget for the Union Ministry of Culture for FY 2021-2022 is ₹2687.99 crore, nearly 15% less than the budget estimate for 2020-21. We asked experts what implications this might have for the sector.
The Culture Wire team
As an organisation voicing the concerns of the industry, tell us how the budget cut will affect the running of cultural businesses in India?
The budget is rarely reflective of the real needs of the culture sector. Budgets are at best an indicative document of how the government allocates its resources and looks to its priorities. Culture, in the widest sense, falls under eight different ministries, none of whom are concerned with the sector, its impact, its potential in creating jobs and helping sustain local economies. The cuts at best are an internal adjustment to the income and expenditure of different departments. Subsidiary allocations are invariably made and the states’ culture budget needs to be taken into account to provide a robust picture of the situation on the ground.
With the new budget out, what are the kind of policies that could emerge out of it, impacting the varied cultural business, organisations, and their stakeholders?
In recent years there has been a lot of lip service paid to culture and its importance. An aspect of culture including its religious significance as a basis for most art is being strengthened, as are larger projects to restore and persevere Hindu traditions, architecture, intangible heritage and history. This has led to a wide range of new projects being kick-started, including the Prime Ministers Museum and the Kedarnath Redevelopment Project. Equally vital, and yet not high on the agenda, has been the continued preservation and restoration of Islamic and colonial monuments and built heritage by organisations including INTACH, AGA Khan Foundation, and English Heritage.
The National Cultural Fund, if energised along with the Smart Cities budget for culture, could form important policy initiatives for the arts.
Sadly, much more needs to be done to bring about an awareness of the contribution of this sector to society, nation-building, inclusiveness, creating empathy and bringing about an understanding of the diverse traditions, cultures, histories, dialects, food traditions, costumes, celebrations, of this vast and varied land. The need of the moment is a coordination committee of secretaries between ministries which look to the creative economy and the cultural sector. A much more robust coordinated plan with tourism, infrastructure and local state schemes could help in addressing issues related to environmental impact, preservation, tourist centres, visitors centres at heritage monuments, focused marketing, civic awareness and duties of local inhabitants to preserve their neighbourhood heritage. For all of this you need concentrated coordinated effort between central, state and local governments and citizen action groups.
The budget as a number remains meaningless to the vast majority of the cultural sector and its needs outside of government institutions and their administrative requirements.
As an organisation closely working with various government bodies for funding, including the Ministry of Culture, Archaeological Survey of India, and Ministry of Tourism, how do you see the impact of the culture budget on your organisation and similar organisations you support?
INTACH, as a self-supported non-profit organisation, will not be impacted as there is no direct funding from the government.
The 2020 budget included development of five archaeology sites, an Indian Institute (deemed University) of Heritage and Conservation under the Ministry of Culture, and four more museums from across the country. We assume these are currently under implementation. Even if the culture budget this year was reduced marginally, the same would not impact the culture sector. What are the pros and cons of the budget 2021-22 and how do you see it impact the larger conversations in the field of heritage conversation?
As mentioned above, the budget is only reduced slightly; it does not have any impact. Moreover, since large projects and schemes were announced in the previous year, their implementation is more important before any other big scheme being announced. The Archaeological Survey of India, which is responsible for the upkeep of about 3,693 monuments protected by the centre, had its budget cut this year but, as per reports, its expenditure budget was revised for 2020-2021.
In the larger context, our built heritage encompasses much more than the ones under purview of the [central] government. They are with private trusts, individuals, and other government bodies such as the public works departments, Railways, the armed forces, hospitals, and educational institutions, which are not impacted by the Union budget.
It is important for the government to come up with policies and guidelines to care for unprotected heritage and incentivise through various schemes. Long-term vision and innovative approach is required rather than a big budget.
Do you see a sustained interest from the government in supporting the conservation of heritage?
Yes, definitely, there seems to be sustained interest from the government in supporting the conservation of heritage. It is realised that our heritage, culture, traditions are our identity in the global world, and we are valued for the same, and it is important to preserve the same.
This does not mean to stop development; heritage conservation and development can go hand in hand, which is very much possible with creative approaches. Conservation will result in achieving a sustainable development. The government should focus towards the unprotected heritage rather than the landmark monuments through its various schemes, be it the ‘adopt a monument’ or smart city development projects.
As a former cultural administrator, what do you think is notable in this year's budget allocation for culture? Could you tell us a bit about the positives and problem areas of the budget?
This year's budget is clearly a setback: it reduces the allocation for culture from the previous year's 1% of the total budget of the Government of India to 0.0771% of the total budget for 2021-22. In absolute terms, it is a reduction by ₹468 crore.
For the fund-starved sector, this is a massive cut. I see nothing positive.
In this reduced budget, as much as more than ₹75 crore is to be spent on the Prime Ministers' Museum, which has hardly any cultural aspect to it.
Could you identify for us what the government’s plans are from the budget and where the government is steering the sector towards, and the pros and cons of such a change?
I strongly feel that the government lacks a vision, and most of the allocations would be eaten up by the establishments of its cultural organisations in pay and allowances, with little left for any meaningful activities.
How is it the cut going to affect day-to-day operations of various government cultural institutions and their stakeholders?
They would be well paid, carry on their routine [work] and do very little to innovate or take new initiatives.