The fate of decades old commercial establishments within the precincts of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) hangs in balance as the traditionally Left-leaning education institution experiments with capitalism.
The University's Campus Development Council (CDC) has proposed that the allotment for the oldest eatery on campus, Ganga Dhaba, and for a utility store be allotted to the highest bidder. The University has already sent eviction notices to Sushil Rathi, who runs Ganga Dhaba, which popped up on the campus in 1985, and to the utility store being run since 1993. This is a flight from the University's pro-poor policy. University officials refused to talk on the subject despite repeated attempts.
"I pray that they change their minds. The children here have assured us that they will fight for us," said Rathi. When the Ganga Dhaba opened, it was run by Rathi's brother-in-law Tejvir Singh. After Singh's death in 1989, it was transferred to Rathi's sister, Suman who died last year. But Rathi and other family members have been managing the dhaba since 1989. When he asked for it to be transferred in his nephew's name, he received an eviction notice in response.
Likewise another eatery, Mammu's dhaba, faces a bleak future. After 14 years on campus, in-charge Mohammad Shahzad Ibrahimi, or 'mammu', says the University authorities are harassing him, possibly to evict him from the premises. He recalled that JNU authorities had granted him space to open the food stall inside the administration block in 2007. But when authorities complained about safety hazards, he had to construct a stall elsewhere on campus, he said.
"The authorities assured me that since I had put money to build the dhaba, they would adjust the same against his electricity bills and rent." But, earlier this year, claims Ibrahimi, the University sent him an electricity bill of Rs 1,20,000. He said he paid the amount but two years later received another one for Rs 2 lakh in rent dues. "This was a clear violation of the assurance they gave me. When the second bill came, I asked for a detailed version, regarding which there has been no communication so far," said Ibrahimi. He plans to file a Right to Information request to understand how the University is sending him bills since there is no electricity meter installed in his dhaba.
Bittu bhaiya, as he is known to students who come to recharge their phones or buy utilities, said: "My income has already declined because kids prefer to recharge their phone balance online. With this notice, I don't have much hope left."
Students have expressed support to the three establishments. "The service providers in JNU campus have thus far performed to the satisfaction of the campus community and the campus community too have developed a strong bonding with them," said Akbar Chawdhary, JNU Student's Union (JNUSU) president. "We strongly oppose any policy that seeks to tilt the balance of the campus environment and its shopping spaces to big money culture. These are important concerns given the fact that JNU is a residential campus and not a shopping joint."
Sucheta, president of the All India Student's Association, said: "To first grant the means of sustenance and then to take it back is not fair. We vehemently oppose the move and will do anything so that we stop the administration from realising the proposal that they have forwarded."
Eviction notices to decades-old dhabas within the Jawaharlal Nehru University to accommodate establishments with the highest bid may mark the entry of commercialised outlets in what is arguably the last communist stronghold in the Capital