91-yr-old Padma awardee evicted from govt house, artists question move

A 91-year-old Padma Shri winning Odissi dancer was evicted from a government bungalow on Tuesday, April 26, after the accommodation allotment expired due to a policy change in 2008. The eviction took place at the government-owned home, currently occupied by Guru Mayadhar Raut, a 91-year-old Odissi dancer, in Asiad Village, South Delhi.

About 12 other artists, including Mohiniyattam dancer Bharati Shivaji, Kuchipudi dancer Guru V Jayarama Rao, Dhrupad singer Ustad F Wasifuddin Dagar, Rani Shinghal, Kathak expert Geetanjali Lal, lithographer KR Subanna, sarangi player Kamal Sabri, Devraj Dakoji, Kamalini, artist Jatin Das, Pt Bhajan Sopori and singer Rita Ganguly, will also face similar proceedings in the coming days.

For decades, artists such as classical dancers, painters, singers, and photographers have resided in government bungalows provided by the central government under a discretionary quota. Some allotments date back to the 1980s, while others were distributed in the early 2000s.

The government has now asked them to vacate their homes, claiming that the allotment expired due to a policy change in 2008. The government has also said that the artists have not paid licence fee arrears for several years.

NOT GIVEN ENOUGH TIME TO VACATE HOMES

Eviction officials landed at the home of Odissi dancer and Padma awardee Guru Mayadhar Raut on Tuesday afternoon. Within hours, his belongings were out on the street.

The artists say that they have not been given adequate time to vacate the premises and wonder why they are being evicted at this late stage of their lives.

Raut himself is over 91-years-old. Many of the other artists facing this eviction are also over the age of 70.

An overwhelmed Madhumita Raut, daughter of Guru Mayadhar Raut, spoke to India Today and questioned why no notice of the proceedings was provided to them.

“They walked in and told us we had to lock the door by 5 pm. The very least they could have done was give us a 24-hour notice, or a week or so to vacate the house. We are artists. We don’t have any other homes where we can relocate at a moment’s notice,” said Madhumita.

“Many of us have received prestigious honours. Many are Padma Shri awardees. Is this the respect and dignity we are shown?questioned Madhumita.

The 91-year-old Guru also expressed shock at the eviction. They came in and began throwing things away. We would have vacated if they had given us some notice.”

The government and the High Court, on the other hand, have said that the artists are not permitted to remain in government housing after the allotment period has expired.

The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) official on the spot, who declined to give his name, said that eviction orders were issued in January of this year and that it was the residents’ responsibility to have vacated the premises.

“There are eviction orders in place. There was a grace period. We are also subject to orders,” he said.

Mudit, a Guru Raut disciple, criticised the eviction proceedings and questioned the estates office’s haste.

So many politicians have overstayed in government bungalows. Jhuggi clusters and illegal encroachments are allowed to stay, but no such help is extended to such senior artists. How is this fair?” Mudit asked.

THE TIMELINE

Looking at the timeline of the legal proceedings, it appears that the artists have clung to hope even after receiving no favourable orders from the government or courts.

–In October 2020, MoUD issued letters to artists informing them that their allotment has expired and that the premises must be vacated by December 31, 2020 due to unpaid licence fees for accommodation.

–Artists approached the court, stating they should not be evicted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

–On August 5, 2021, a show cause notice was issued and challenged in the Delhi High Court.

–Orders of eviction were issued against artists on January 21, 2022, and were challenged in the High Court.

–On February 2, 2022, the eviction proceedings were upheld by a single judge of the Delhi High Court in an order. Artists were given a two-month grace period to vacate their residences by April 25. The court also pointed out that the artists had failed to pay the licence fee arrears.

The order was challenged before the division bench.

A two-judge panel led by the acting Chief Justice on April 2, 2022, issued no relief. The court ordered that the houses be vacated in accordance with the February order. The plea was also withdrawn.

On February 26, 2022, the eviction department begins proceedings at Guru Mayadhar Raut’s house. Others are set to be evicted in the coming days.

NO REGARD FOR SENIOR ARTISTS?

A fresh petition was moved before the Delhi High Court on Tuesday, seeking more time to vacate, a relook at housing policies and some relief owing to the old age of the affected artists.

Seema Subbanna, wife of former Lalit Kala Academy chairman KR Subbanna, who is also facing eviction, says the artists expected some leniency from the government.

“Everyone deserves to live a dignified life. We’re not saying we won’t leave. We requested some time to move. My husband is the allottee, and he is too unwell to be moved. Is there no regard for such senior artists? We are the ones who have been preserving various art forms, and we are called to be a part of various committees and cultural showcases, but no one listens when we need help,” said Subbanna.

Wasifuddin Dagar, a Dhrupad singer, also expressed surprise at the eviction. “We are still trying to fight the case in court. We should have been given more time. Why did they disrespect a 91-year-old awardee’s dignity by throwing his belongings out of the house?” Dagar inquired.

Some of the artists attempted to contact Ministry of Urban Development officials as the police and eviction officers arrived. However, they were met with disappointment.

Lawyers for the artists have knocked on the doors of the Delhi High Court yet again. The artists have requested that they be given a few more days to vacate the houses.

Senior advocate Priya Hingorani told India Today that the plea has been listed for urgent hearing before the bench of Delhi High Court acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and will be heard on Wednesday.

In the meantime, the belongings of a 91-year-old dance legend have been loaded onto trucks and into the cars of well-wishers, awaiting a decision.

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