Twenty years ago, promotion of arts through cultural institutions, as the Haksar Committee painfully pointed out, fell in a shadow between idea and reality. Now it has slipped further and got miserably trapped between inaction and inefficiency. At the core of the problem, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture in its recent reports noted, is the Ministry of Culture's lack of seriousness, improper planning and unwillingness to change its ways. While reviewing the Ministry's demand for grants (2012-13), the committee found that year after year, even the meagre funds allotted remain underutilised. Of the Rs. 805 crore sanctioned last year, only about Rs. 570 crore was used. This has seriously undermined the demand for more government spending on cultural activities, which is as low as 0.16 per cent of the total Eleventh Plan allocation. Poor management is not just limited to finances. Despite the special needs of cultural institutions, the Ministry still insists on antiquated recruitment procedures and has kept many posts under UPSC purview. As a result, many posts remain vacant for years. For instance, the Institute of Archaeology has remained non-functional since 1985 because of lack of staff. In the case of the National School of Drama, professorial pay scales fall short of UGC norms and do not help attract the talented.
Lack of institutional autonomy has impaired nurturing of talents and practices. Since the state remains the biggest patron and taxpayers' money is involved, the government justifies its intervention. If the bureaucratic approach and interference continue, fears expressed by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay a few decades ago may come true: The Ministry's meddling would bring ‘an end of all cultural activities in this country.' The performance of the cultural institutions has not helped the cause either. The Parliamentary Committee has pulled up art academies for their lack of transparency and lethargic attitude. The National Museum has not acquired artefacts for a long time because it claims sufficient storage space is not available. The National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities could achieve only half of its target. The Sangeet Natak Akademi, even after 20 years, has not produced a large body of literature on performing arts which it had committed itself to. The way forward is to adopt an arm's length approach. The government should increase its funding, but should not compromise institutional autonomy. For their part, institutions must be transparent in their dealings, be open to public scrutiny, and abide by a framework of administration they evolve for themselves. The appointment of suitable and qualified persons to lead cultural institutions is critical to achieve this.