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Mixed feelings: Subsidies and grants

Frederick Noronha

Goa Government’s Directorate of Arts and Culture (DoAC), located at one end of the better known Central Library in Panaji, has just announced a range of its annual grants. These were delayed awhile because of the election-related ‘code of conduct’. While the DoAC has publicised it through the media, you can never be sure how many of those who could actually benefit take note.

One has rather mixed feelings about grants and subsidies. Sometimes, these can help. At other times, the grant-subsidy approach turns into just another name for waste.

I guess a lot depends on how the scheme is worked out and implemented.  Goa’s Directorate of Art and Culture offers awards for culture and art, libraries and librarians, financial assistance to artists, a research fellowship named after the polymath D D Kossambi, scholarships to students seeking education in art and culture outside Goa and India.

It also offers financial assistance to publishers of Goan authors, maintenance grants for registered institutions and library grants. Details for these are available at the Patto offices and the last date for applying is July 5, 2019 in the majority of cases.

Most of our generation has grown up with subsidised food grains, sugar and oil. In the 1960s and 1970s, when India was facing shortages of all kinds – and Goa was just getting used to this – the fair price shop was ubiquitous. When facing a financial crunch, a subsidy or grant can help you get through your education. It did to me too. Likewise, scholarships can help one access opportunities which would be well beyond one’s ability otherwise. Skills gained here can also be put to some good use, depending on the individual concerned.

But while everyone today seems critical of subsidies for the poor and the less affluent, the subsidies for the airports, airlines, and other infrastructure needed for the affluent seldom gets questioned. When it comes to subsidies for those in the middle classes, it’s difficult to take a call.

Earlier, the DoAC has given grants to bhajan and choir groups too. Do such grants reach the intended target? Are these an effective way of spreading resources and encouraging those sectors which need the leg-up?

I guess the answers would be mixed. After the collapse of Goa’s string of rural libraries set up in the early 1980s, the subsidy approach for libraries doesn’t seem to have worked too effectively. At least I’ve not seen any efficiently run, subsidy-driven, NGO managed libraries actually taking books out to readers. Some carry out the requirements; but are they effective?

Of course, there could be a few in certain villages. This depends on who is implementing the scheme, with what levels of motivation and kinds of intentions.  Even if a few work, Goa has surely not been able to replicate and scale up this scheme.

In the world of publishing, I can say first hand that some grants have helped people in the field. In the case of a book which might be risky to bet on, a small grant can make the difference and make it viable.

But things have changed over the years. Earlier, grants were given to authors, even before they published the book. It was based on their manuscript. The amount given was smaller (upto `25,000). Now, the grants have been increased (upto `50,000), but are given to publishers only after they publish the book. So while the stakes are higher, the risks are more. Instead of offering a ‘safety net’, one now gets a kind of a ‘lottery’.

Grants can build up skills, but need to be framed carefully and given out with discretion. Firm rules are good, but not all deserving cases can fit into the rules.

The DoAC, for instance, doesn’t give grants to books which have been translated, which are compilations, or those authored by expat authors. Are translations not important? And why are compilations less legit? For an expat-driven society like Goa, where much of the most-insightful writing is contributed by people living outside the state, why overlook this aspect? Take a quick look at the books being published and sold in Goa, and it would become immediately clear that much of this debate is contributed to by diasporic communities living beyond Goa.

Needless to say, Goa will need to look at an approach that goes beyond largely subsidies and grants to promote its art and culture.

It has been promoting some form of music education in schools, but not enough.  In earlier times, the church-temple networks did a great deal on its own limited resources, which has made Goans legends in the world of music in the rest of India and beyond.  Almost everyone who became a big name in the world of music started in such networks, whether it’s a Braz Gonsalves (being celebrated in Goa this week) or a Lata Mangueshkar and a Kishori Amonkar.

Goa has also done its bit in building its performing halls, whether at its Kala Academy, Rabindra Bhavans, DoAC auditoria, and the like. But there are vast areas still being left out, and this is reflected in the fact that one often cannot get a booking for a cultural or musical function, unless one books months in advance.

As someone linked to the world of book publishing, one can say that a big boost was given to Goa’s foray into the field in recent times, by the National Book Trust training courses held in this state. This encouraged quite a few, who are doing active work today, to enter the field and get a toe-hold there. Training and access to the sector for beginners is as important.

Of course, that is not enough.

Goa still lacks access to markets. We don’t have a decent or effective book fair being held in this supposedly literate and high per-capita-income state. The NBT has not been holding book fairs for years here, and neither do we have any working local options.

Just holding an event for the sake of doing so, with little participation, hardly helps. Likewise, if it wants to move to the next stage, the DoAC could itself participate in book fairs across India and take locally crafted works to wider audiences, as many smaller players are unable to do so themselves.

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