ITANAGAR: With just days to go for Arunachal Pradesh’s 31st Statehood Day, a maelstrom of anger could jeopardise celebrations even before it kicks off.

Organised by the state government, the Festival of Arunachal, held annually for three to four days from February 20, seeks to showcase indigenous tribal culture with a variety of artists and talents from outside. And while every year the event falls prey to some form of criticism, this year voices of anger are being heard even before the event has kicked off.

It all began when the advertisement for the tender to organise the festival was published in December 28 last year. What took many by surprise was the estimated cost of the event which was priced between Rs four to five crore. Even more shockingly was the eligibility criteria for even making a bid.

The detailed tender form stated that bidders must have a cumulative turnover of Rs eight crore during the last three financial years. This, many event organisers from the state, feel was deliberately done to keep local firms out since they would not be able to meet such a high criteria in a state with a population of around 15 lakh where almost all events are financed by the government.

Another clause that some feel was unfair was the one that said that the bidders “should have won at least three domestic/international awards/certificates from associations as recognition of its work in the last three years put together”.

However, where there is a will there is a way.

A few Itanagar-based firms tried to work around these clauses by roping in bigger event management teams from outside the state who could pass scrutiny. Soon after, a total of 12 bids were received from various firms (not a single one of which were from the state or the Northeast even).

Out of these 12, four were found to be ineligible in the first round on various grounds. The remaining eight firms were then awarded points in two technical rounds where New Delhi-based The Innuendo Communications came out on top with the best scores.

Although the Delhi firm did not submit the best financial quotation (Rs Rs 4,65,75,000), the selection committee awarded the tender to The Innuendo Communications based on the cumulative points over three rounds of assessment.

The selection committee consisted of IAS officials including Itanagar deputy commissioner Sandeep Kumar Singh, Tirap deputy commissioner Ravi Jha, planning secretary Joram Beda, IT secretary Sonam Chombay and was chaired by finance commissioner Ashish Kundra.

With the first set of promotional photos for the event already out, people are now questioning if it was necessary to spend so much on a ‘festival’.

The prevailing view among many people here now is that the budget of Rs four to five crore could have been put to better use such as releasing the salaries of government teachers or constructing better roads. Even a high-ranking government official who did not wish to be named voiced a similar view.

The opinion of some event management firms from the state is that so far there is nothing out of the ordinary that justified the high bidding criteria.

One representative from an event firm here said, “We could have brought Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan as well”, referring to the two Bollywood playback singers who are being promoted as star attractions for the four-day event.

While these arguments can very well be a case of sour grapes, in a state that has some of the highest unemployment rates and lowest gross domestic product, there is a sense that local aspirations are being overlooked.

One theatre artist whose troupe was listed in the promotional photos of the event has even publicly stated that he is pulling out because the sum that was offered to him for two plays would not even cover the cost of expenses incurred during rehearsals.

Like one government official said, let’s wait and watch until the event begins.