Cultural relations council may change hands soon - The New Indian Express

Cultural relations council may change hands soon

Published: 08th September 2013 10:24 AM

Last Updated: 08th September 2013 10:24 AM

India’s premier agency for cultural diplomacy, the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR), now run by the Ministry of External Affairs may soon change hands.

The 63-year-old autonomous body’s mandate is to promote Indian culture abroad and is part of the government’s strategic use of soft power to woo foreign countries. MEA feels that hard selling India’s soft power in foreign countries through exchange of artistes, exhibitions, festivals, and even yoga is a better fit with the culture ministry.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Culture Minister Chandresh Kumari Katoch met this week to discuss the modalities of the transfer. To start with, the culture ministry would take over some of the ICCR’s cultural activities. Sources confirmed to ‘Express’ that Katoch was open to the idea mooted by Khurshid.

Culture ministry sources said the discussions are in their early stages. “The MEA wants us to look after the cultural aspect of the ICCR. We will study how this can be done,” a source said.  More meetings are planned to discuss how the foreign ministry could outsource the cultural activities aspect to the culture ministry in case it wants to retain administrative control. MEA sources said the culture ministry has made such recommendations for the transfer of responsibility in the past as well. Important Indian cultural bodies such as the Lalit Kala Akademi, the Sahitya Akademi, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and a host of zonal cultural centres whose primary functions are to locate and nurture artistes through various grants and performances comes under the culture ministry’s ambit.

ICCR offers several scholarships to identify new artistic talents, and has signed cultural agreements with over 121 countries. However, in spite of these organisations being on ICCR’s general assembly and governing body, not many meetings have taken place in the recent past. With culture not being the expertise of MEA officers, the ICCR has often come under flak from audit agencies and parliamentary committees.

The recent Comptroller and Audit General report, tabled in Parliament last week, lambasted the agency for improper use of funds. The CAG said between 2009-10 and 2011-12, the ICCR had spent `8.15 crore on sending 34 unauthorised delegations to 70 countries. The report added it had received financial approval to open 14 Indian Cultural Centres (ICC), but opened an additional three without government sanction.

“Malafide intentions cannot be ruled out in such cases, especially when seen with the fact that the council did not even have defined procedures for selection of artists who wanted to exhibit their works abroad,” the report observed. The CAG also found that the existing guidelines only mention the selection criteria for artists to be sent abroad at government expense, and not for exhibitions, which provides ample scope for misinterpretation and misuse.

The ICCR has 20 regional centres in India and 37 Indian Cultural Centres overseas. Audit revealed that no guidelines exist on the selection of ICC heads. Currently three former journalists and an academic head them.

Apart from holding concerts abroad, the ICCR has been funding cultural programmes in various cities across the country, which many in the MEA feel is not its function. The ICCR also finances 108 chairs in foreign universities, and grants scholarships to foreign students to study in India.

The finance ministry has not been munificent with the ICCR. Ranjan Mathai, when he was foreign secretary, told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs in April: “Against the demand of `252.30 crore, ICCR could be allocated only Rs 150 crore  for 2012-13 and Rs 157.30 crore in revised estimates. For 2013-14, against a demand of Rs 282.50 crore, only `160 crore has been allocated.  As a result,  activities of many cultural centres abroad are suffering.”

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