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A cultured do-it-now nudge
- PM stresses prompt action in bid to preserve and promote the arts

A fortnight after Christmas, the Prime Minister played Santa Claus with a culture cap on his head, but also a do-it-now cane in hand.

Manmohan Singh on Saturday rapped the Asiatic Society, Indian Museum, Victoria Memorial and the National Library for failing to utilise grants for modernisation while announcing projects to preserve and promote Bengal’s culture.

“The ministry of culture has made a special allocation of almost Rs 90 crore in the current financial year to modernise four of its premier cultural institutions located in Calcutta, the Asiatic Society, Indian Museum, Victoria Memorial and the National Library…. Unfortunately, these institutions have not been able to fully utilise this grant in the first year,” said Singh.

“I do hope that these four institutions will work harder to use the allocated funds to introduce state-of-the-art systems of preservation, display and storage of their priceless antiquities, paintings and manuscripts,” added the culture minister after describing the modernisation of the National Library as a “priority task”.

The Prime Minister was speaking at the inauguration of a campus of the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies and the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the second phase of Science City. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was by his side.

Jawhar Sircar, the Union culture secretary, said the allocation to the city institutions this year was “four to five times” the amount given last year. “They have already utilised double the amount that they spent in the previous year,” Sircar, who was present at Science City, later told Metro, adding that the comment was a good reminder to the institutions to pull up their socks.

Singh, while overturning the bag of cultural goodies, had said the Union government was “examining” a proposal to set up the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art in partnership with a private body. “The ministry of culture will also assist in the revival of other historic cultural institutions of Calcutta like the Academy of Fine Arts and the Government Art College.”

The government was “finalising” a scheme of financial assistance for setting up “small intimate performing spaces known as studio theatres for smaller audiences”, as demanded by theatre personalities in Calcutta.

“This is wonderful news. For the first time we have a culture minister who is actively thinking of our needs and not just paying lip service,” said theatre veteran Rudraprasad Sengupta.

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