Headless academy causes blackout in Kashmir’s culture scene

Headless academy causes blackout in Kashmir’s culture scene

Srinagar: Cultural and literary activities have come to a grinding halt at the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL) in absence of a full-time Secretary.
Director Archives, Muneer-ul-Islam, is at present holding additional charge as Secretary JKAACL. However, things have abruptly slowed down at the academy ever since the retirement of Dr Aziz Hajini as Secretary in March.
According to artists and writers, their files for funding and different activities are gathering dust at the JKAACL. They say the delay in appointment of a new secretary has badly affected implementation of many policy decisions, while academy employees say they are having a tough time drawing their salaries.
“No activity is happening in Kashmir’s cultural and literary circles since March this year. Even no activity calendar could be formulated in the absence of the secretary, which is a quite serious situation,” said Amin Bhat, a theater director.
“The process of selection was started but it didn’t complete, due to some reasons. The delay is taking a toll on cultural and literary activities,” he said.
Bhat appealed to the government to expedite the process of selection so that the artist community doesn’t suffer.
Well-known writer and critic Farooq Fayaz also blamed the government for delay in appointment of a full-time secretary. “People associated with art, culture and literature have no accessibility to the academy these days,” he said.
According to Fayaz, the indifference of the government is due to the absence of accountability. “There are hundreds of cultural NGOs and literary persons who are entirely dependent on the academy for running their activities. Their financial assistance and scholarships have been stopped also,” Fayaz said.
The selection process is held up due to a stay order by court over the absence of rules for appointment. However, some government officials are lobbying hard to get the coveted post.
Chairman of the selection committee, Ratan Lal Shant, had told Kashmir Reader that the secretary would be appointed for a five-year term. The person would be selected on the basis of his or her contribution in the field of art, culture and literature, he said.
Farooq Fayaz urged the government to vacate the stay in the court so that the selection is done immediately.
“Things must be done properly so that affairs run as per the rules. Otherwise, artists and writers suffer due to the indifference of the government,” he said.
An employee of the academy said that payment of salaries was being delayed since March. “We are without salaries since the last month. Every month we have to beg before officials for the release of our salaries,” he said, wishing anonymity.
Another employee said that grants and funds for different events have also been blocked. “Poor and elderly artists come to us on daily basis for help. But we are helpless in the absence of the secretary,” he said.
Secretary Culture, Zubair Ahmad, told Kashmir Reader that the process of selection will start only after the stay is vacated by the Division Bench of High Court.
“There is no delay from our side as the process was already started six months ago. Let’s hope issues get settled after tomorrow’s (Monday) hearing in court,” he said.
The race to the secretary’s post began in January this year after the governor’s administration constituted a committee for the appointment.
However, it got stayed after a Letters Patent Appeal (LPA) filed by Dr Arvinder Singh Amn, Additional Secretary JKAACL, against the judgment of the Single Judge when it came up for hearing before the Special Division Bench.
The LPA argued that there were no recruitment rules/criteria framed by the President of the Academy in consultation with the State Government for the post of Secretary JKAACL, as per the Constitution of the Academy. It further said that the advertisement mentioned no prescribed qualification/ method of recruitment and the search committee constituted by the State Government had no mandate to frame the criteria for selection. The LPA specifically referred to Section 8(a) of the Constitution of the Academy which says that the Secretary shall be appointed by the President in consultation with the Government of J&K.
The post has been vacant since March 31 last year, when Prof Aziz Hajni superannuated from government service.
The five-member committee constituted to recommend three or more candidates for the position has as chairman Prof Rattan Lal Shant, noted Kashmiri writer, while its members are Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, vice–president of the academy; the administrative secretary of general administration department; the administrative secretary of the department of culture; and Dr Jitendar Udhampuri, Dogri and Hindi writer.
Last month, a Special Division Bench of J&K High Court (Jammu Wing) comprising Justice Tashi Rabstan and Justice Sanjay Kumar Gupta directed the state government to stop the selection process for the post of Secretary till next date of hearing, which is July 8.
Earlier, a Single Bench of the J&K High Court vide its Judgment dated May 28, 2019, had dismissed the writ petition filed by appellant Dr Arvinder Singh Amn and had vacated the interim directions issued on April 5. It had further directed the State Government to finalise the selection process.