A Broke Government of Karnataka And Other Myths: Has Funding Always Been The Red Herring?

Rashmi Munikempanna and Sridhar Gowda

One of the questions that has come to define the discourse around the privatisation of Venkatappa Art Gallery has been the lack of funding, the inability of Government of Karnataka to run it without money and the promise of the flood of plush private funds. An examination of the annual reports of the Department of Museums and Archaeology and related documents paint a completely different picture. A picture that will change some of the questions that have been imposed on to those protesting this take over and tell us more about what is actually happening in the name of PPP.
During the year 2014-15, the Department of Museum and Archaeology was allocated a budget of 65 crores. Out of this they managed to spend only 43.80 crores leaving an unutilised surplus of 21.20 crores. Within the overall spending, the department, has managed to spend only 40.63 lakhs on development of Venkatappa Art Gallery in 2014-15 and 1.97 lakhs in 2013-14 with none specified in 2012-2013. This spending is part of the development of museums scheme wherein they state that “The maintenance and development of museums have been carried out in a systematic way.’’ [1]
With 22 crores in its kitty and a systematic scheme in place why did the Museum department find the Tasveer Foundation proposal attractive especially when there was no committed fund but only an intention to raise 10 crore? The reason that has been publicly touted by the Tourism Ministry for the MoU has been primarily that the Government lacks funds. Yet here was an under-utilised 22 crores which was more than what Tasveer Foundation aspired to raise with no commitment whatsoever. Has the lack of funding then always been the red herring?
corrected table
In the CAG report for the year ending March 2015 it has been reported that an unutilised amount of 15 crore was available in the Personal deposit account for implementations of suggestions made by KTVG. As it says “ The amount remained unutilised as of June 2015 as no specific activity or programme was identified. Thus, funds meant for improvement of tourist infrastructure at destinations were kept idle in deposit accounts due to inadequate planning.”[2] In Spite of the availability of the funds orders were passed in May 2015 for the ‘adoption’ of Venkatappa Art Gallery and the Government Museum.[3] In the 2014-2015 annual report while mentioning the circulars issued regarding the approval for adoption of Venkatappa Art Gallery and Government Museum they call the adoption “ an integral part of the State Tourism Policy.”[4] And state that “the adoption of Venkatappa Art Gallery at Bengaluru for a period of five years by M/s Tasveer Foundation, Bengaluru, for upkeep and maintenance”[5] Is the State tourism policy, framed by a completely different department, deciding for the Department of Museums and Archaeology? And when did the terms of the ‘adoption’ change from just 5 years to a 5 + min 5 duration? When did “upkeep and maintenance” change to “complete control”?

Other Available Funding:

The Museum Grant Scheme is a scheme run by the Central Government aimed towards promoting State galleries/museums. Under this scheme it states that financial assistance will be provided “for setting up of new Museums by State Governments and Societies, Autonomous bodies, Local Bodies and Trusts registered under the Societies Act” as well as “strengthening and modernization of existing museums at the regional, state and District level including capacity building of Museum professionals to further strengthen the museum movement in the country”[6]
Under the Development of Existing Museums category-1 up to 8 crores is available to State run/funded museums for any kind of development/modernisation work that needs to be carried out.
Under the Development of Museums in State Capitals up to 15 crores is available to modernise as well as more importantly to “meet the training and capacity building needs of the professionals in these museums”.
Under the Development of Museums in PPP Mode up to 40% of the infrastructural cost will be funded. In the KTVG recommendations 2014 as well as the Tourism Policy 2015-2020 it has always been maintained that 50% of the cost will be borne by GoK which both parties have shied away from speaking about in public instead lauding this as a magnanimous philanthropic gesture. 50% of what goes into this gesture that we need to be “grateful” for is our own money!
Supporting this above idea is the expenditure made by the Department of Museums and Archaeology towards funding private entities such as the Dharmastala Manjunatheswara Dharmothana Trust who received 80 Lakhs in 2014-15, 90 Lakhs in 2013-14 and 80 Lakhs in 2012-13. So are PPPs signed so that private parties can be given public money? Why does the Department of Museum and Archaeology grant more funds to private parties than itself in preserving museums/galleries?

Tourism Department’s Funding Priorities

While the tourism department was handing over Museum and Archaeology’s assets to private parties it also sponsored a 3 day Pacific Asia Travel Association(PATA)’s Travel Mart event at Bangalore International Exhibition Centre (BIEC) from September 6 – 8, 2015. The allocated budget for this 3 day event was 5 crores which they exceeded! It ended up spending more on mundane things such as free 5 star hotel accommodation for all guests with bills of 10.59 Lakhs by Lalith Ashok and 9.97 from Sheraton Brigade Gateway![7] An additional 11.63 lakhs was spent on advertising the event alone.[8]
In the circulars on the bills the Tourism department claims exemption from The Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurements Act, 1999 for its spending. This Act’s stated reason for coming into existence was “In the recent past irregularities in the processing of tenders occurred in various Government Department, Public Sector Undertakings, Statutory Boards, etc., due to inadequate publicity of tenders, restricted supply of tender documents and resulting lack of transparency in evaluation and acceptance of tenders.”[9]Compare this to the funding of just Rs 1 crore (2013-2014) for the Kannada Sahitya Sammelana which is open, transparent and accessible to the general public and more importantly produced on a much more massively large scale than this PATA event. Yet these Government funded private parties guzzle our public money without being accountable.
the Tourism department is not particularly well known for its transparency as we have seen recently in the RTI Rejections,. Mr Deshpande who heads the ministry and has had a 1,611 per cent jump in assets in 5 years entered into a dispute with the office of the Lokayukta stalling and trying to prevent information about his assets becoming public.
There has been some recent news that the Department of Museum and Archaeology is considering an increase in the ticket prices for Venkatappa Art Gallery/Bangalore Museum from Rs 4 to Rs 20. They state it is to “generate additional revenue, which would help better upkeep of the gallery and the museum, including lighting and new flooring.”[10] What would be much more interesting and even more open, especially in light of the above facts, would be to completely cancel the ticketing system and in fact pay those who visit like a return tax system. It would ensure great footfall as well as return idle money, ours, back into circulation.
Over the past few weeks we have seen subversive practices by a select few undermining democracy while spinning a completely different picture through propaganda. A small group of crony capitalists in collusion with the Government are set to take over most of our services, a process initiated in the last decade. From roads, to health care, to lakes and parks and now our culture and heritage. The people of Bengaluru have refused to have their imaginations of the city and its workings contained by interests of Big Capital. The only option left for citizens and for democratic practices is solidarities and resistances.

References

[1] Annual Report 2014-15. Department of Museums and Archaeology. Government of Karnataka.
[2]Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Economic Sector. Government of Karnataka. Report No 2 of 2016
[3]Kasamva/72/KMU/2015 and Kasamva/73/KMU/2015
[4]Annual Report 2014-15. Department of Museums and Archaeology. Government of Karnataka.
[5] Kasamva/72/KMU/2015
[7] PraE/241/PrVaE/2015
[8] PraE/244/PrVaE/2015
[9] The Karnataka Transparency in Public Procurements Act, 1999.
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