The students of Jagannath University have been demanding a residential facility since 2005 when Jagannath College was elevated to the status of a university. The authorities had been facing difficulties in reclaiming the halls occupied by influential locals while the old campus in densely populated Old Dhaka lacks space.
So, the government announced plans to build a new campus for the university at Tegharia in Keraniganj in September 2016 in the wake of student protests.
It approved the acquisition of 200 acres of land in Tegharia to build an academic building, an administrative building, residential halls, a teacher-student centre, a cafeteria, a playground, a medical centre, a swimming pool and a lake.
The Tk 19.2 billion project carried a October 2020 deadline for completion. The authorities had shown Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina the plan in July 2019. The university received a fund of Tk 9 billion at that time.
Now, only the primary construction work for a demarcating wall is ongoing at the east side of the plot. A temporary playground is being constructed at the Keraniganj Station end of the plot, while old walls are being demolished.
Contractor Kingdom Builders got the work order to build the walls last September. Only 20 percent of the walls have been built as of now and it would take “at least two years” to complete the work, said construction worker Hadiuzzaman.
Asked when the new campus project will be complete, Project Director Shahadat Hossain said he could not specify a date right now. “We have to acquire land, make a landfill and construct a six-storey building; whatever a university needs will be made there.
“Demarcating walls are being built now. For the rest, we are now floating tenders. It's a lengthy process and will require time,” he said.
After three extensions, the project now has a deadline of June 2023, he said, adding the pandemic has caused a delay in the work.
Additional Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka Mahmudul Haque brushed aside the allegation of delaying the land acquisition process.
“There was no delay in land acquisition. We handed over the land in 2020, and now it’s 2022,” he pointed out.
Dhaka district administration handed over 188.6 acres of the 200 acres of land sanctioned for the new campus on Jan 23, 2020. They are yet to hand over 11.40 acres.
“This 11.40-acre land is under the process of acquisition. Many houses existed in some parts of it and that’s why the university authorities had dropped those places from the plan,” said the additional deputy commissioner.
Project Director Shahadat said they have submitted a new proposal and those parts of the land are being acquired now.
FRUSTRATION AMONG STUDENTS
The disgruntled students of Jagannath University have questioned the sincerity of the authorities and the university administration in implementing the plan for a new campus.
“Since enrolling at the university,” said Sourav Roy, a master’s student, “I’ve been hearing that a new campus will be built on the other side of the river. Now we’re about to end our student life but the new campus is nowhere to be seen.
“VCs come and go, but our problems are unimportant to them. This crisis of residential halls should be addressed soon.”
Those who study at public universities do not come from wealthy families, but the authorities have made a farce out of their trouble, fumed Tanvir Hasan, a zoology student.
“They only work a little when the students protest. They couldn’t even build a wall for the new campus in so many days; why are they holding the positions then? A university can’t run like this.”
Third-year student Joynal Abedin urged the government and the university authorities to ensure quick construction of the new campus, saying it would ease their plight.
In 2015, when the university celebrated a decade of its establishment, then then education minister Nurul Islam Nahid said a ‘Further Development Project’ to construct an academic building and a hall for the university was approved in the Seventh Five Years Plan.
That project “would bring massive changes to the campus”, former vice-chancellor Mizanur Rahman had said. A multi-storey academic building would be built and many small structures would be demolished, he had said.
The ‘Further Development Project’ included a 10-storey residential hall named after Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and a 20-storey academic building in Keraniganj. A Tk 109 billion budget was approved for the project that had a 2020 deadline.
But since the approval of the new campus project, the old one has never moved, said Registrar Wahiduzzaman.