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For a song? Not Nachiketa - 'Austere' railways loosen purse strings to draw singers

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By SANJAY MANDAL
  • Published 22.11.09
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Calcutta, Nov. 21: If Kabir Suman is jealous of one-time rival Nachiketa’s stock rising in the Trinamul Congress, he needn’t be.

Nachiketa’s relations with the party are apparently just “professional”. He has been charging what he says are his regular fees for performing at railway programmes, where he seems to have replaced Suman as the most-favoured singer. The railways, said to be in the middle of an austerity drive, have been paying up, too.

“Every time I am invited by the railways to perform at their programmes, they write a letter to me. I take professional fees for my band’s performance,” Nachiketa told The Telegraph. “I have received cheques and everything is in white. I am a professional and have to take money.”

Railway officials said Nachiketa and Pallab Kirtaniya, another singer supposed to be close to Trinamul, were being invited regularly to inaugurations or foundation stone-laying events, and being paid.

The officials expressed surprise at the new practice of “hiring” professional singers at railway events in Bengal, especially when the ministry has cut down on staff travel expenses as part of the austerity drive.

Politicians, though, do find it worthwhile to be seen as friends or patrons of popular artistes or sports stars.

Nachiketa was paid around Rs 70,000 for his performance at the inauguration of the Tollygunge-Garia Bazar Metro stretch on August 22. He was paid an average of Rs 50,000 for each of the next four programmes where he sang, all of them attended by Mamata Banerjee.

“This is the first time we are seeing professional artistes being hired regularly for railway programmes. The convention is to have the artistes of the cultural associations of the various railway divisions perform at these events,” a senior railway official said from Delhi.

Kirtaniya has performed at a South Eastern Railway programme and two Eastern Railway events, and charged around Rs 25,000 for each, the sources said. Veteran Subir Sen, too, sang at the railways’ annual national awards and was paid Rs 15,000.

Nachiketa has performed at the launch of the Sealdah-New Delhi Duronto Express, the laying of the foundation stone for the Canning-Bhangankhali line in the Sunderbans and the doubling of the Nalikul-Tarakeswar line.

The railways are hiring professional presenters too, paying them Rs 10,000-12,000 for each show. “By convention, railway staff make the announcements at a minister’s programme,” a railway official said.

The officials said the railway ministry had reduced foreign trips by its officials drastically, while those who earlier flew business class for official work have been asked to travel economy class. No official is being put up at five-star hotels. “We have been asked to cut down on travelling on duty as much as possible,” an official said.

The ministry has ordered that the sizes of safety inspection teams must be pruned to the minimum number necessary.

“Many departmental necessities, such as buying new computers, are on hold because of the austerity measures,” an official said.