Frustration boiling over as land acquisition, development setbacks plague Jagannath University's new campus

Despite the extension of the deadline to Jun 30, 2024, students doubt it will make it in time due to the slow progress of the work

Anupam Mallik AdityaJagannath University Correspondentbdnews24.com
Published : 15 Feb 2024, 07:47 PM
Updated : 15 Feb 2024, 07:47 PM

Construction of Jagannath University's new campus in Keraniganj is ongoing. However, progress has been hampered by the unresolved status of 4.61 hectares of land, causing delays in the land development tendering process. The sluggish pace of work has sparked frustration among students.

The government announced plans to build a new campus for the university at Taghoria in Keraniganj in September 2016 in the wake of student protests demanding a residential hall.

It approved the acquisition of approximately 81 hectares of land in the western part of the union 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.

On Oct 3, 2018, the land ministry gave its final approval of the land and the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) cleared the project about a week later.

The Tk 19.2 billion project initially set a completion date of October 2020. The authorities showed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina the plan in July 2019. The university received funds of Tk 9 billion at that time.

On Jan 23, 2020, JnU received 76.28 of the total 81 hectares. However, university authorities have yet to secure the remaining 4.61 hectares.

In late January, a visit to Taghoria unveiled that one-third of the demarcation wall was still incomplete. Despite the completion of the lake construction, the university has yet to acknowledge it.

Stones have been used to stabilise the soil along the lake's banks, but certain sections have undergone refilling because of landslides triggered by monsoon rains and grazing cattle.

Construction of the engineering buildinghas started, but delays in the tender process have stalled progress on earth filling.

Meanwhile, wharf construction is ongoing, with no other tasks initiated yet.

Despite multiple extensions, the project's timeline has been stretched until Jun 30, 2024.

However, given the current pace of work, students harbour serious doubts about the project's completion within this timeframe.

THE LAND ISSUE

Syed Ali Ahmed, the deputy director of the Planning, Development, and Works Office and director of the new campus project, told bdnews24.com: "Initially, local landowners were holding out for higher prices. There are still 4.61 hectares of land yet to be acquired. Hopefully, this issue will be resolved soon."

An official familiar with the project, speaking on condition of anonymity, mentioned that some "dishonest officials" from the campus and local influential figures are impeding the progress of the new campus to further their interests.

Many people farm the land and raise fish, and they are concerned that fast building construction will disrupt these activities, he said.

DELAYS IN LAND TENDER APPROVAL

Initially, there were 76.28 hectares of land. On Sept 12 last year, a tender was issued for a total of 81 hectares of land. The work is divided into four parts, each covering 20.23 hectares.

More than eight contracting companies submitted tenders, and the scrutiny process began in October.

However, the authority took over six weeks, surpassing the three-week timeframe stipulated for tender selection according to the rules.

Despite two months passing, the education ministry has not yet granted approval after the JnU planning and development office forwarded the matter to them on Nov 21.

Project director Ahmed attributed the delay to the former vice-chancellor's illness and subsequent hospitalisation, which prolonged the finalisation process beyond their expectations.

Additionally, administrative delays stemming from the formation of a new cabinet after the Jan 12 national polls further contributed to the hold-up. The file remains under the ministry's review.

"I am maintaining regular communication with the ministry, and they have indicated that approval will be granted soon,” said Ahmed

Once approval is obtained, work will begin as planned, he added.

DEMARCATING WALL CONSTRUCTION DELAY

Construction company Kingdom Builders Ltd got the work order to build the walls and was supposed to finish building the 4.75-kilometre demarcating wall for the new campus within a year for Tk 300 million.

However, they have been unable to finish it after two.

The incomplete demarcating wall is causing a delay in other construction activities such as earth filling, engineering building, and internal road construction.

Anwar Bepari, a contractor with Kingdom Group, mentioned that 80 percent of the demarcating wall has been finished, leaving only 1.37km remaining, including sections near Mujahidnagar and 305 metres next to the railway track.

Bepari attributed the delay to land acquisition problems, expecting completion within three to four months once the issue is resolved.

However, this delay has also led to financial challenges for the company, according to the contractor.

Despite this explanation, university authorities disputed the claim, stating that only 4.45 hectares of land are experiencing acquisition issues.

However, the contractor was unable to complete the remaining construction within the designated two-year timeframe.

Helal Uddin Patwary, the university's chief engineer, said, "We're in the process of tendering for earth filling, which should start soon after approval.

“If the tender is finalised quickly, we aim to finish before June.”

“We're also closely monitoring the border wall construction and hope to complete it soon."

STUDENT FRUSTRATION OVER DELAYS

Students have expressed frustration over the sluggish progress of the new campus construction and have raised doubts about the university administration's intentions.

Ridwan Islam, a fourth-year student in the Department of Bangla, emphasised the urgent need for student halls, suggesting they should take precedence over other features like the boundary wall and lake.

He emphasised the crucial role resident students play in campus security.

Ridwan believes the development of the new campus is hindered by the frequent changes in vice-chancellors.

"We feel overlooked and demand the prompt construction of a hall on the new campus," he insisted.

Chayan Krishna Dev, a fourth-year mathematics student, shared his disappointment, saying, "Upon arriving at the campus in 2020, I was excited to hear about plans for a new campus across the river. I had hoped to enjoy the experience of living in a residence hall for at least a year. However, considering the current circumstances, I doubt I'll have the opportunity to see the new campus within the next decade."

Professor Sadeka Halim, the first female vice-chancellor of the university, informed bdnews24.com that she had recently assumed her role and is not yet familiar with the details of the new campus projects.

“I'll share more information after consulting with project officials,” she said.

"There is no room for irregularities. I will be visiting the new campus soon," she assured.

[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Shoumik Hassin]