2,200 poverty-struck artists await financial assistance from govt


–Shehbaz-led Punjab govt’s ‘Artist Khidmat Card’ lies in limbo

–ICD official says ‘do not know when will new govt execute project’

LAHORE: Despite its claims of bringing change in “Naya Pakistan”, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) government in Punjab has failed to launch the rehabilitation project for artists along with the provision of Artist Khidmat Card as 2,200 artists in the province await financial assistance, Pakistan Today has learnt.

According to the details, the Artist Khidmat Card scheme was announced by former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Shareef and was initiated by the Information and Culture Department (ICD) of Punjab and Punjab Social Protection Authority (PSPA) under the Artist Social Support System (ASSS).

Under the scheme, artists, including those belonging to the realms of TV, film, radio, theatre, painting, dance, music and calligraphy, who are above 50 years of age and are earning less than Rs15,000 per month with an experience of 25 years, were to be issued the cards besides a monthly stipend of Rs5,000.

However, according to sources, the several artists in the province are in a miserable condition as the project lies in limbo.

“They don’t have much employment options now and cannot even afford medical facilities.”

The new government has shown no interest in the schemes aimed at the welfare of the artists, sources said and added that the authorities concerned should establish institutions where the aged artists can be employed to pass on their skills to the future generations.

“Mastana, Babu Baral, Reshma, Matloobur Rehman, popularly known as Zakoota Jin, to name a few, are among the poverty-struck talented artists who passed away amid worst living conditions. If the situation prevails, the performing arts industry of Pakistan might meet an unfortunate end.”

Some other actors like Romana, Nimmi, Jaggi Malik, Zakir Ali Khan, Mazhar Shah, Pervaiz Mehdi, Sudheer, Mehdi Hassan, Adeeb and Amir Zaki also suffered in their later years, they said.

A Sarangi player, vocalist and Tabla player; Israr Nabi Buksh, while speaking to Pakistan Today, said that he was living in a miserable condition as he had no earning opportunities.

“I am one of the few remaining Sarangi players in the country but am not earning enough to support my family. There are a number of other masters as well who are suffering in such a deplorable condition,” Israr said.

Punjab Social Protection Authority General Manager Kashif Saeed while commenting on the Artist Khidmat Card said, “We have shortlisted the artists and budget has also been forwarded to the government, but funds have not yet been released.”

“It was our project but previously the cards were not issued as they had the picture of former Punjab chief minister on them. The applicants had to submit the forms at Punjab Arts Council. The committee which was constituted had the powers to shortlist the artists and the Urban Unit verified the list as a third party. Almost 1,200 artists were shortlisted,” said Punjab ICD former section officer Waqar Azeem Jappa.

The incumbent section officer, Muhammad Sultan, said the process was on hold for now as a new government had taken charge.

“All the formalities of the process were completed in the past but we do not know when the project will be executed,” he added.