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Explained: Visva-Bharti University Row Against Noble Laureate Amartya Sen Over 'Unauthorised Land' In Shantiniketan

Vishva-Bharti University issued a statement saying it is putting 'facts on record' and requests Noble laureate Amartya Sen to do what is required to be done to protect his self-esteem and Visva-Bharati’s reputation. 

Amartya Sen
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Amid the exchange of words between Visva-Bharati and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen over the economist’s alleged unauthorised possession of land in Shantiniketan, the university on Sunday asked the economist either to discuss the matter with it or the issue will be settled in court. Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met Sen at his Bolpur residence on Monday to hand over to him the documents of the land. 

Two days before that, on Friday,  the University had once again asked him to immediately hand over parts of a plot he was allegedly occupying.

The central university issued a statement saying it is putting “facts on record” and requests Sen to do what is required to be done to protect his self-esteem and Visva-Bharati’s reputation. 

While Sen has earlier asserted that most of the land he is holding in the Santiniketan campus was purchased from the market by his father and some other plots were taken on lease, we look at the development of the events.

What has the University alleged?
 

The university authorities, on January 24, issued a letter to Sen, accusing him of possessing excess lands that belonged to the university. In their letter, the varsity states that the land had been leased to his father at Shantiniketan in Bolpur in Birbhum district and currently they demand that the same be handed over. 

Earlier too, similar reports were sent to Sen.

“Two options are open: the confusion that Prof Sen seems to be happily nurturing shall be cleared with the intervention of the court of law or through discussion with the Visva-Bharati authority,” the statement of the latest notice reads.

Alleging that mudslinging is taking place by those seeking to fulfil their vested interests over the matter, the statement said the issue needs to be addressed freely and frankly with no baggage carried from distortions of the reality.

The university sent two letters within three days last week to Sen, asking him to immediately hand over the 0.13 acre of land he was allegedly occupying in an “unauthorised manner” at the Santiniketan campus.
    
Sunday’s statement reiterated the claims made earlier that Sen has 1.38 acres of land which is over his legal entitlement of 1.25 acres.
    
“We have requested him to hand over the excess land and have also offered him the opportunity of a joint survey in presence of his surveyor/advocate,” the statement said.

Stating that of the 1134 acres of land in possession of the central university, 77 acres encroached till 2018, the statement said the authorities have reclaimed 15 acres from illegal occupants.

Visva-Bharati sent two letters to the economist on January 24 and 27 seeking the land he is "unauthorisedly holding" back.

Visva-Bharati Vice-Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty told The Indian Express that they would fight the matter in court, and said they had the papers to prove their case. “If he (Sen) goes to court, it is good. He should submit all the documents. The issue will be cleared. There will be no disrespect to him or to us. We do not feel good about it either.”

Hinting that action under law would be taken by the university if measures were not taken on the part of Sen now, the letter said, “The procedure for reclamation of illegally-occupied land follows the well-established laws of the land.” A Visva-Bharati official said the letter has been delivered to the Santiniketan residence of the economist who mostly lives in the USA.

Mamata Banerjee visits Sen

Following up on the repeated notices sent to Sen, Mamata Banerjee visited Sen’s residence on Monday evening to discuss the matter. According to media reports, she was quoted saying, “Ora oshonman korche. Amar khub gaye lagche. Tai ami eshechi (They are insulting you. I was feeling very bad about it. That is why I came)… I made government officers survey and get the records. Now it is proved that it is your land. We have found the land records. Now, no one can question you. They (the university authorities) are lying.”

Commenting on the land row, she said that the ongoing land conflict is a way to disrespect the noble laureate. “The university wrote that Sen has 1.25 acres of land, but after reading news reports, we surveyed and found out the truth. We have found records which say he has 1.38 acres. This proves Amartya Sen is right,” she said while speaking to reporters. 

Later, Banerjee ordered a Z-security for Sen and ordered a police camp near his residence. 

Political blame-game

The drive towards evicting illegal occupants started in response to the central government order of November 30, 2017, it said adding: "Individuals don't matter in our encroachment removal drive."

“I don’t know why he (Visva Bharati Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty) is targetting me,” Sen said to another question.

Asked if he is willing to hold a discussion with Chakraborty, as wished by him, Sen said in a ligher vein: “Yes I am so willing to talk to him.” To a query if the BJP-run Centre has any role in the entire row, he said, “I won’t talk about politics.” There have been allegations from certain quarters that the university’s actions may be politically motivated given the fact that Sen has been critical of many central government policies.

Asked to comment on the VC’s assertion, Sen said, “He can make any claim as he wishes on this issue, but I have really nothing to say.” Sen on January 25 had wondered why the central university suddenly has become “so active” in trying to drive him out of that place.

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In January 2021 also, Visva-Bharati accused Sen’s family of being in illegal possession of land on the campus.
Further, Banerjee alleged that the series of notices against Sen hints at “saffroniation” of the university.

    
(With PTI inputs)

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