JNU VC Santishree Pandit demands that dhaba owners abide by JNU rules

The varsity had eviction issued notices to 10 owners of dhabas, canteens and small shops on the campus late last month, demanding fines up to Rs 19 lakh
JNU VC Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit | Pic: Ashwin, TNIE
JNU VC Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit | Pic: Ashwin, TNIE

The Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof Santishree Pandit has doubled down on the varsity's stance against "illegal" dhabas and canteens on campus. According to PTI, the VC said in an interview that while the administration was not entirely opposed to such establishments, it was irked by the non-payment of dues by some of them. "We are only trying to legalise. We are trying to say you pay the rent and the electricity bill. They don't pay the water supply bill. I am getting an electricity bill of Rs 36 crore per year. Who is going to pay?" she enquired in an interview to PTI

Last month, the JNU administration had sent out eviction and fine notices to 10 dhabas, canteens and small shops across the campus. Some of the fines amounted to more than Rs 19 lakh. The shop and dhaba owners were directed to pay the fines by June 27 and evict the premises by June 30. The university said that these shops had not responded to the notices sent in 2019 about non-payment of dues. However, no action has as yet been taken against these shop owners by the JNU administration. 

When EdexLive reached out to some of the dhaba owners who were issued the notices in June, they seemed unnerved by the prospect of paying such a huge amount as a fine. One of the dhaba owners, who requested anonymity, said that he was given a temporary allotment in 2005 by the JNU administration. "They had taken a formal interview and a deposit of Rs 15,000. I still have all my documents. They renewed my allotment up until 2016. They do not provide me with water, but they charge a water bill of Rs 1,800 every month. I pay it dutifully, along with all other charges. I have no dues pending," he claims.

The allotment of the dhabas is another one of VC Santishree's concerns. "These are all illegal dhabas. Nobody went through the committee (JNU Campus Development Committee). Tell them to show me the data of ownership. Somebody fell in love with someone and gave the space to them. You don't do that, it is government property," Pandit told PTI. She added that the varsity was ready to give the shop owners time to clear their dues, while raising concerns about the hygiene maintained at the dhabas and speculation about possible employment of child labour. "The dhabas are so dirty. I don't know about any worker who works here — I don't know whether they keep child labour or bonded labour. We don't know anything," she told PTI.

On the other hand, dhaba owners have claimed that the university did not help them out during the pandemic. Instead of waiving off the rent and other charges due for the months the university was under lockdown from March 2020, the administration had reached a settlement of letting go of 70% of the dues only after requests from the dhaba owners. "Other establishments have reduced their rents by 50% to help small businesses like us now that things are crawling back to normal. On the other hand, the JNU administration is harassing us in this manner," a dhaba owner told EdexLive.

When PTI informed the VC about the dhaba owners' concerns about the huge fine amounts, Pandit replied, "We are ready to let them pay the amount in installments. If I wanted to really throw them out I would have done it by June 30th. I would have called the police and evicted them. My question is why don't you (dhaba/canteen owners) abide by the law of JNU. We are not against you being here. We want to make them organised. Let them start paying. They haven't paid a penny till now."

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