Bihar Varsity Students Caught Between Two Campuses

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The tussle over the location of a Central university bodes ill for higher education in the state, reports Nirala

Nitish and Kapil Sibal
Tug of war, Nitish and Kapil Sibal at IIT-Patna, Photo: Vikas Kumar

GAYA AND Motihari occupy two different worlds in Bihar. While Motihari prides itself as the seat of Bhojpuri in the state, Gaya has been Bihar’s fount of knowledge since the Vedic times. Motihari, birthplace of George Orwell, is where Gandhiji started his Satyagraha movement. And it was in Gaya that prince Siddharth became Budhha.

However, some recent developments have brought things to a boil here. Bihar might be busy revelling in its centennial celebrations, but the provincial squabbles of these two places are threatening to usurp the state’s place of pride.

At the heart of the conflict lies the location of the main campus of a Central university. Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal wants it in Gaya, while CM Nitish Kumar insists it should be in Motihari. Caught in a bind in this spat are hapless students of the university, which started its sessions from the Birla Institute of technology (BIT) premises in Patna three years ago.

Regular disputes between the Vice-Chancellor of the university and the BIT administration has led to the latter threatening to evict them from the campus.

“Bihar needs not one, but four Central universities,” avers state Human Resource Minister PK Shahi. Opposition leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the RJD too echoes: “We should not only demand a Central varsity in Gaya and Motihari, Patna University should be accorded the same status too.” However, Sibal has agreed that an extension of the Central university could be set up in Motihari.

His insistence on Gaya is not entirely baseless. The Central universities set up by the HRD ministry in the hinterlands of Tamil Nadu and Odisha had ended up getting neither students nor faculty.

The Gaya-vs-Motihari tussle began in 2004, when the UPA-1 had announced the setting up of 15 Central universities across the country. One fell into Bihar’s lap. Meanwhile, during the inauguration of an engineering college in Motihari, Nitish Kumar announced a Central university package for Motihari, on the condition that the locals provided the land. The locals readily agreed, and Nitish gave his stamp of approval to the project.

A team was sent by the Centre to study the feasibility of setting up a university there. But it rejected the proposal, citing backwardness, difficulty in commuting, and population as reasons. The Centre then presented its alternative proposal of starting a Central university on army-owned land in Gaya. This set off an ego clash and a war of words between the Centre and Nitish, one that has now boiled over to a political moot point of losing prestige.

SIBAL AND Nitish are now playing to the gallery, but the odds are stacked against the chief minister. If either Gaya or Motihari is deprived of an exigent solution, the NDA alliance will lose on political mileage. The coalition has a clear mandate in Motihari. Besides three MPs, it is sitting on nine of the 11 Assembly seats there. The Lok Sabha seat in Gaya is the BJP’s and nine out of 10 MLAs belong to the NDA. The Congress, on the other hand, has nothing to lose, hence the Union HRD Minister’s seemingly deliberate rebuff to the CM.

While the MPs from Bihar scream hoarse about this alleged affront to Gandhiji, who had spent some time in the erstwhile Champaran district where Motihari lies, the 28 schools started by Gandhiji in west Champaran lie in shambles. The model school of Kumarbag, which was once the pride of Champaran, is also in ruins.

Gaya’s track record is no better. In spite of having the largest varsity, Magadh University, in the state, it has failed to turn it into a centre of excellence. Educationist Vinay Kanth says the clamour for Central universities in Bihar is drowning out concerns for the existing varsities that now rest only on past laurels. “Patna University has no infrastructure or the necessary faculty. Bihar’s gross enrolment for higher studies remains a dismal 8 percent; the national average is 15. Who’s responsible for this?” asks Kanth.

Central universities receive 60 percent of the UGC’s budget while only 40 percent percolates to the state-aided ones. This policy only exacerbates the situation. “Central universities are indispensable, but we should realise we need to strengthen state universities too,” adds Kanth. Only then can Bihar truly revel in its pride.

nirala@tehelka.com

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