The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Varsity tie-up costs Academy its arts course

The three-year diploma course conducted by the Academy of Fine Arts has stopped. On August 4, the teachers of the visual arts section of the Academy received a letter from A.K. Das, director of the Academy, to the effect that the board of trustees and executive committee of the institution have decided to close down the section from September 3.

The teachers were given a month’s notice. They were advised to collect their dues and not to attend office from August 5. He wrote that since the visual arts section was incurring an annual loss of Rs 5 lakh and the income from the “reduced” number of students was meagre, it was not economically viable to keep the section open any longer.

Teachers have appealed against the closure at a time when, they claim, the process of getting accreditation for the visual arts section was on, and an appeal had been made to the Technical Education Department of West Bengal for financial assistance, says Pradosh Paul, one of the 11 teachers of the institute. The teachers were paid a meagre salary, whose upper limit was Rs 3,800.

Artists and intellectuals have raised their voice against the closure. Among them are Paritosh Sen, Ganesh Haloi, Soumitra Chatterjee, Mahasveta Debi and Hiren Mookerjee. Says Ganesh Pyne: “It is being shut down when it was about to become an affiliated college. It is a great loss to artists. It provided an alternative to those who wanted to study art. Besides many artists will lose their jobs. We don’t want this to happen.”

Pradosh Pal, however, says admission had been stopped three years ago. Hence the drop in the number of students. The Academy of Fine Arts was established on August 15, 1933. Its memorandum of understanding bears no mention of running art classes, says Das. In 1989, when Ranu Mookerjee was still chairperson of the institution, the Academy started a three-year diploma course in visual arts. However, it was never affiliated to any institution. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that such institutions not affiliated to any university were forbidden from giving diplomas. So in effect the diploma was downgraded, says Das.

Das says four years ago, students went “on a rampage” to press for their demand for upgradation. In 2000, when the All India Council of Technical Education was approached for affiliation, the institute was told it was required to make a fixed deposit of Rs 15 lakh. The Academy was passing through a financial crisis and so the idea had to be dropped.

On July 1, 2001, when Das wrote to the department of technical education for an annual grant of Rs 10 lakh and affiliation, the minister concerned gave a verbal assurance that the institute would receive it. But the institute was also told later it would have to stand on its own feet. The Academy was also told that it did not meet the land criterion of the University Grants Commission and also lacked the infrastructure. Hence it was not eligible for affiliation.

Das says subsequently, they wrote to Rabindra Bharati University for opening a study centre at the academy. But the university verbally said it could do so only next year. There was no question of giving diplomas for the study centre would have been more like a “sketch club.” The teachers were fully aware of what was going on, he stresses.

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