Dubai Expo 2020 | Why Are J&K Artists Crying Foul

Artists call it ‘administrative fraud’, demand probe as officials admit delay in bills
Dubai Expo 2020 | Why Are J&K Artists Crying Foul
Representational Pic

Scores of artists, who performed during a much-hyped Dubai Expo 2020 event, are up in arms against the Jammu and Kashmir government for delaying their payments and pushing artists to “humiliation” for asking what they call their ‘genuine fees.’

Famous Kashmiri singer and convenor of the Jammu and Kashmir Music Artists Association, Mehmeet Syed, has levelled charges against officials of the Department of Industries and Commerce, who were the key organisers and instrumental in taking troupes from Jammu and Kashmir to Dubai. She alleged that artists were called for event preparations and asked to represent Jammu and Kashmir at the much-hyped international event. However, she alleged that due to the lackadaisical approach of some of the officials of government, the artists have to face immense hardships and humiliations. “With great disappointment and outrage, we the artist, who performed during over two weeks-long stays at the Dubai Expo, were finally denied our genuine payment and we have been time and again pushed to a lot of humiliation,” alleged Syed.

Syed, along with scores of other representatives associated with the Kashmir Music Artists Association, told Greater Kashmir that they have been performing during many government-sponsored events. However, this treatment was never met.

“We were promised the payment of our services by the Department of Commerce and Industries and Cultural Academy. The officials including the then director, kept dodging us for reasons known to them,” she alleged. She kept lashing out at government officials for involvement in fraudulent practices and demanded the administration to investigate the matter. “This matter should be thoroughly probed. We performed at an international event which was attended by none other than LG Sahab himself. Still, the artists remain unpaid. We have to suffer. Knock their doors every day,” she said. “If there are some administrative hiccups. These should have been addressed on priority and within the stipulated time, our payment should have been released. But nothing like this happened. We were just fed with lies and deceit and kept on hold for many months and now years have gone by,” she explained.

What went wrong?

Scores of artists, while sharing their experiences said that at the ideation phase of the event, the officials concerned gave them assurances that their genuine concerns would be addressed and the event would be carried out in a highly professional way. No administrative bottleneck was supposed to mar the event. “They just needed artists to entertain the audiences there. So that was immediately done. We were given the green signal and we were told our fees, individually. However later the story changed completely,” Irfan Ahmad, a well-known guitarist and singer, said. He urged Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha, to intervene and give justice to the artists—who had been earlier hired for the event and their payments withheld due to reasons known to few officials. 

“We have been very closely working with many government departments. This has never happened before,” he opined, adding “We are just questioning ourselves as to what was our fault. Where did we go wrong?” he asked. He said that amidst such an atmosphere, no artists would prefer to work without any signed contract with the government departments. “Now the government is hoping to hire artists for the G-20 meeting in Srinagar. If such is the treatment of artists by the current regime, why will anyone go and exhibit his or her talent anywhere in any government function,” he said.

Officials Speak

Admitting the delay in the submission of bills, the officials of Industries and Commerce, claimed that delay in bills by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI) caused further delays in paying vendors. Earlier, the artists association held a press conference in Srinagar in which they accused a top J&K administration official of “fraud” by withholding their payment for their performance in the event.

After artists cried foul over their payments, officials issued a statement saying that the delay in making payments to the vendors was due to delay in the submission of bills by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI), which managed the Dubai Expo 2020 event. They explained that the Dubai Expo 2020 was held in January 2022, in which the Department of Commerce (DoC), the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Government of India, and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI) signed a memorandum of understanding in which FICCI was given the responsibility of managing the Dubai Expo 2020 event, said officials. “In accordance with the MoU, FICCI was given the responsibility of hiring suppliers and service providers in order to carry out the numerous activities planned for the event. In addition, FICCI was tasked with maintaining a ledger of accounts for the costs associated with the event,” officials said.

Accordingly, the event was conducted, however, a delay in the submission of the bills by FICCI and a change of guard at JKTPO and their shifting to treasury operations caused the delay. “The amount on account of liabilities is expected to be paid to FICCI, who in turn shall make the payments to the concerned vendors.”

Director, Handloom and Handicraft, who was the then director, Department of Industries and Commerce, Mehmood Shah, commenting on the issue, said that with respect to remuneration, the Performance Fee is being paid in accordance with the rates notified by the Cultural Academy, J&K. Officials informed that an amount of Rs. 17 Lacs approximately was spent on the Boarding and Lodging of these 11 artists, who were part of the cultural troupe. However, the artists contest the claims, arguing that Rs 17 lacs couldn’t be justified against a whooping budget of Rs 5 crore. “I, along with fellow artists and artists association held a press conference in Srinagar in which it was made clear how a top J&K administration official is involved in a fraudulent practice by withholding our payment,” Mehmeet Syed alleged.

“All the officials who have committed fraud and deceived artists who performed during the international event should be questioned and an inquiry should be initiated against them,” she said, adding “We are hopeful that LG sahab will take notice of our concerns and address our grievances on priority.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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