Politics has cast a shadow over the Central University of Bihar (CUB), which is operating from a makeshift rented building in the state capital. That is because a tussle between the Bihar government and the Union HRD ministry has held up the development of a permanent campus. While the site inspection committee (SIC) of the HRD ministry recommended that CUB be set up in either Patna or Gaya, the Bihar government would like CUB to come up in far more remote Motihari.
The state government argues that since the HRD ministry sought its opinion about the location, they should honour the same now. Motihari, says chief minister Nitish Kumar, has a historic importance as Mahatma Gandhi had launched his movement against oppressive indigo farmers from Champaran. The setting up of the central university would also help develop the backward area and be a boon for students there.
Critics react scathingly by pointing out that historic places could be good for a short visit but are not necessarily conducive for setting up a university. Complaining of poor transport and connectivity, critics say that location of the university in a remote area would prevent it from attracting first-rate faculty, the absence of which would keep away the students. The state government would do well to develop the infrastructure in the area first before clamouring for CUB.
“There are vested interests creating obstacles,” thunders Sanjay Jha, former member of the legislative council and a close aide of the Bihar CM. “The vice-chancellor, Janak Pandey, doesn’t want the university to be set up at Motihari because it’s inconvenient for him, being a three-hour or so drive from Patna. He is the one who blocked it in the first place.” Pointing out that 1,000 acres of land could not be provided in the state capital, Jha told Outlook, “The CM had publicly brought out the issue in a meeting and farmers of the region came forward to give land. A letter of agreement, too, was sent to the state government from the Centre. At this stage, therefore, how can the CM back out?”
Dismissing objections raised by the SIC, Jha claimed that the only serious objection raised was Motihari’s distance from the nearest airport. Why not then have a policy that all central universities would be set up within a radius of 50 km, he wonders aloud. A well-known educationist, however, slammed the state government’s inaction by saying, “In Bihar, higher education has collapsed. The Bihar government is wasting a golden opportunity by indulging in petty squabbles.” For the faculty, Motihari would be a punishment posting, he conceded. “People do want connectivity and comfort when it comes to the crunch,” he added.
It is also alleged that businessmen, industrialists and politicians bought up land in Motihari at throwaway prices in the anticipation that the state government would acquire the land for the university at higher rates. If the university is not set up there, the government would have to answer these people. Jha, the CM’s aide, denies the allegations as well as the assertion that the SIC found the site earthquake prone. “These are rumours engineered by vested interests,” he says.
Whatever be the argument, in Bihar, the issue is seen as an ego tussle between Nitish Kumar and HRD minister Kapil Sibal, and has created a storm. At a public function, Sibal and Kumar even fought it out (metaphorically) on stage, in the open. Pro-Motihari and pro-Gaya protesters have taken to the streets. “Ultimately, we are the victims,” laments Malavika Roy, who has applied for a post-graduate course in CUB. Rajlaxmi Roy, a student of Patna University, is even more forthright. “Ultimately it doesn’t matter where it is set up. Just set it up.”