Lakhs spent on VC residence, Bhumi Pujan, while infrastructure crumbles on campus: JNUSU

Students at JNU have submitted a memorandum to the university administration with a list of demands to address infrastructure and other issues on campus
JNU VC Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit | Pic: Ashwin, TNIE
JNU VC Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit | Pic: Ashwin, TNIE

Students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) are sitting on an indefinite protest against their administration's apathy towards addressing infrastructural issues on campus. 

"We asked for dialogue. We have submitted a memorandum with our concerns to the Vice-Chancellor, but we have received no response. JNU is facing some pressing, urgent infrastructure issues. There is a water crisis at several hostels. Potable water is contaminated at a few hostels. We have brought to light the issues of ceilings and walls collapsing at a few others. The VC should issue a circular highlighting the steps that are being taken to address these issues," says Aishe Ghosh, President of the JNU Students' Union (JNUSU). 

What irks the students of the campus the most at this point is the release of the response to an RTI application filed with the Engineering Department of JNU, enquiring about the works conducted and expenditure incurred towards the residence of Vice-Chancellor Santishree Pandit from 2020-2022. The reply shows that an expenditure of Rs 10,04,045 was incurred on works such as the replacement of AC units, purchase of geysers, inverters and other miscellaneous items.

"When we asked for dialogue today, we were told the VC was busy with some important event. This turned out to be a Bhumi Pujan organised together with the Chakra Vision Foundation and the Government of Puducherry. Then there's also the revelation by the RTI. This just shows where the priorities of the administration lie," Ghosh adds. 

Several incidents came to the fore
This year as well, a spate of incidents of parts of ceilings and walls caving in at the campus have come to light. The students, in the memorandum submitted to the varsity, also highlighted insufficient seating space in the library, proper lighting of roads on campus, the need to make the campus more inclusive for students with disabilities and providing e-rickshaw and free bus services for transport within the campus. 

The JNU VC in an interview with EdexLive in March this year had said, "The university has a massive infrastructure issue. We have inherited a Rupee 103 crore financial deficit. We will have to deal with the slowness of our administration." She had added that she would look to get the private sector and philanthropists to invest in revamping the university's infrastructure. "We need huge amounts of money. I am trying to change our attitude towards private-public funding. The government cannot give everything. If we don't get [donations] from them [the private sector], these infrastructure changes will take longer," she said. 

In April this year, after a portion of the ceiling of the Sabarmati Hostel collapsed on a student, injuring him, the VC had announced on Twitter that the varsity had received a fund of Rs 56 crore from the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) for hostel repairs and maintenance. 

What are their priorities?
JNUSU has said that they will approach the UGC and the MoE as well, since these issues are long pending. "But our question is also to our administration. The education and well-being of the students are at risk. And the administration spends lakhs of rupees on the VC's residence and on conducting lavish events such as the Bhumi Pujan. What are their priorities?" asks Ghosh.

The memorandum also highlights the punitive action being taken against certain students for allegedly participating in various protests. According to a report by PTI, the students claim that the administration has imposed fines amounting up to Rs 10,000 to 15,000 and has also barred some students from registering for semester examinations. JNUSU has demanded that all such action be rolled back as it is "against the very idea of democracy and critical thinking in the university."

The strike at the campus has been going on for four days now, and the students say that they will start a signature campaign as well to gather more voices from the campus. "The least that the VC can do is meet the students and give us an update on the status of any infrastructural works the university is taking up. But that doesn't seem to be a priority for her right now, clearly," Ghosh remarked.

EdexLive has reached out to the VC for a comment and this article will be updated accordingly.

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