Published: 27th June 2022
JNU issues eviction notices and fines to small shop owners, dhabas on campus
Some of the notices fined the shop owners between Rs 70,000 to Rs 19 lakh. The administration says these establishments are illegal and have defaulted on their payments
The Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has issued another round of notices to owners of canteens, dhabas and photocopy shops around the campus, demanding fines and directing them to vacate their premises by June 30, 2022. The notices were issued on June 22.
JNU Vice-Chancellor Prof Santhisree Pandit defends the decision that demands some of the shop owners to pay fines to the tune of almost Rs 19 to 20 lakhs within a week's time. "Notices have been issued to all those who have been occupying the space at various places/Academic buildings in JNU and have been doing the business without any allotment and without following the laid down process. They have continued to do business without payment of any license fees or other dues like electricity/water/conservancy charges," she said.
However, the student body of JNU has decided to stand by the owners of these shops and have instead condemned the eviction notices. The All India Students Association (AISA) organised a protest against the JNU VC and Rector Ajay Dubey. "Is this new ploy by JNU Admin to bring in corporates food chain?" they question, terming the move as "bulldozer raj".
The president of the JNU Students Union (JNUSU), Aishe Ghosh also condemned the move. "During the pandemic, the canteens had been closed for almost two years. Despite the closure, the JNU Administration rather than relaxing the rent, water, or electricity charges, charged them huge amounts of money stating if they fail to do so their shops will be closed down," she posted on Facebook. Calling the fines "unnecessary," she spoke out in support of the dhaba owners. She said that they have been paying rents and water and electricity charges regularly, and are still facing intimidation by the JNU administration.
Speaking to the dhaba owners
When Edexlive reached out to a few of the 10 shop owners who have been served these notices, these claims were backed by them. 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.
Yet another dhaba owner says that the university did not make life easier for them 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," he added.
According to sources, the administration has called some of these shop owners for a meeting today, June 27, although the agenda for this meeting is not yet known. A dhaba owner who has also been served the notice from the JNU administration, tells Edexlive, "They have collected 8 to 10 lakh in rent over the years from me. I do not mind paying my bills to the university. They will use that money to benefit the students, right? I also have young kids at home, and I need to look after them. The administration can allot me a spot where they think is appropriate, but asking me to vacate will bring troubled times upon me and my family."
"I deliver food and supplies to blind students without charging a delivery fee. During exam times, when students stay up studying late, I deliver for them as well, similarly. They have never complained. If such shops are shut, students will be impacted as well," adds a dhaba owner.
Notices were served earlier
Earlier this year as well the university had served notice to some of the dhabas. One such dhaba had at the time, cleared the dues the university claimed it owed. That dhaba was skipped during this round of notices. "We stand by those who are being targetted by the university. Times have been tough in the last couple of months, and some shops may have defaulted on their payments. But the university should not demand that they vacate their shops," shares another dhaba owner.
In a chat with Edexlive on the sidelines of The New Indian Express' ThinkEdu Conclave in March, JNU's new Vice-Chancellor Prof Santishree Pandit had claimed that a majority of these dhabas were "illegal". "I want to have these run by women's Self Help Groups instead, in a bid to bolster women's empowerment," she had claimed.
In April, Edexlive had carried a report on the issue. At the time, students we reached out to had said that the owners of these shops are simple working-class people whose livelihoods would be affected by such measures. "What is the need to uproot the existing owners?" they ask.
The students also say that restriction on the timings of these dhabas is also a question of the democracy of public space. "If they wish to introduce changes, they should call an Academic Council meeting, consult with the relevant stakeholders and then make a decision. Instead, they are trying to change the democracy of the campus," claimed N Sai Balaji, National President of AISA.
So is there a middle ground that can be looked at? Anagha Pradeep, Councillor of JNUSU reflects on the procedure followed by JNU administrations in the past, and says, "JNU has a tradition of progressive shop allocation policy, which gives priority to the people from marginalised backgrounds. Many of these shop owners who are being intimidated by the JNU administration belong to marginalised groups. The JNU administration should ensure that formalisation of shop allotment is done in their name if it has not been done so far and should also take back all the hefty fines being levied upon these shops."
One of the dhaba owners we spoke to this time shares that he has four kids. He has been fined Rs 70,000 by the university and has been asked to vacate his shop premises as well. His children study at the Kendriya Vidhyala situated at the Old JNU Campus. His oldest child just finished her Class XII, and is now undergoing coaching to help prepare for the Common Universities Entrance Test (CUET). He tells Edexlive that although the competition in the exam is stiff, he has hopes that his children will study and make a career for themselves. On the other hand, his impending problems this week with the notice on his only source of livelihood have left him a worried man.