JU: development, environment and corruption

Nasir Uz Zaman | Updated at 06:10pm on August 31, 2019


Jahangirnagar University authorities have taken a project which includes the construction of five new halls of residence by cutting down a large amount of trees. The poorly planned project with a tag of corruption and the destruction of nature has sparked protests among the students and teachers. Corruption and destruction of environment in the name of development cannot be called development at all. From shit management to state management it is hard to find a place where there is no corruption, writes Nasir Uz Zaman

You cannot live a political life, you cannot live a moral life if you are not willing to open your eyes and see the world more clearly. See some of the injustice that is going on. Try to make yourself aware of what is happening in the world. And when you are aware, you have a responsibility to act.

— Bill Ayers, co-founder of the Weather Underground

IT BECOMES one’s historical responsibility to protest against injustices. This protest can be in different forms. Expressing solidarity with such protesters from one’s space is also a way to participate in the protest. The authorities of Jahangirnagar University have started cutting down trees on the campus to build five new halls of residence to initiate their master plan of development. There are allegations of corruption in the development project. Such a project with destruction of environment which also has the tag of corruption cannot at least be called development.

According to the marxists.org’s glossary of terms, development refers to the process of change in which something becomes more and more concrete and mature. If one considers the master plan of JU as development then there remain some points to be addressed. Development is the development of what? Who or what in fact will be developed? What is the demand behind the demand for development? How can such development occur? And what and how something will become more and more concrete and mature for such development?

The authorities of JU have taken the project when destruction of environment is a burning question across the globe. The largest rainforest, the Amazon which is also known as the ‘lungs of the planet’, is burning. The ecosystem of the Sunderbans is at risk for poorly planned industrialisation. The construction of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant is also going on by risking life and the environment.

Though the events are different but they are same in nature. They are being done in the name of so-called development. There are speculations that agriculture and mining giants are eyeing the Amazon for a long period of time. There is also assumption that there exists a huge amount of fossil fuel under the Amazon. According to the pro-development views, extraction of the resources could help the South America, including Brazil, to be free from poverty and to be developed. From the same views, the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant and the Rampal Coal Power Plant would fulfil the demand of electricity for the development of Bangladesh. In the case of JU, the authorities have taken such decision to resolve the seat crisis of university students with a view to develop tertiary education. From international to local, nature or the environment becomes the victim of the politics of development.

According to a press release issued by JU authorities, the vice-chancellor of the university, Farzana Islam, inaugurated the construction work of five residential halls on June 30. With the step, the university has started a new journey towards the development of education, research and infrastructure. The constructions of new five residential halls, three for male and two for female students, have begun with the aim to resolve the seat crisis and to admit more students. In the press release, the authorities also mentioned about the allotment of around Tk 1,450 crores for the development of the university.

In the national budget for the 2019-20 fiscal years government allocates Tk 61,118 crores for education. The amount is 2.1 per cent of the entire GDP of Bangladesh. The amount shows that the government has lack of well-intention to allocate adequate amount in the education sector to improve the quality of education. It is the national scenario and in local scene JU issue could be an example. JU authorities have taken around Tk 450 crores project of the construction of five residential halls under the mega project of Tk 1,445 crores which is undoubtedly not a small amount.

The authorities have shown its first priority in constructing residential halls rather than improving the quality of tertiary education through research. University Teachers’ Network in their last two-day convention in April 2019 shed light on how the quality of tertiary education has already decreased. Teachers and intellectuals also identified causes behind such a miserable situation. Some causes are — lack of well-intention, minimal budget for research, mismanagement, corruption, unhealthy political interferences and many more.

Universities and the state are connected in a sense that universities are the reflections of the state. State’s political situation has effects and affects on universities’ environment. According to the Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, Bangladesh ranked as the second most corrupt country in South Asia while being 149 in the world, the 13th from the bottom. Corruption in Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant project is a much talked subject. JU project is not anyhow irrelevant in this context. From shit management to state management it is hard to find a place where there is no corruption. From the beginning of the JU project, there were allegations of irregularities. Tender fraud is one of them. There is also an allegation that ‘Tk 2 crores were given to Bangladesh Chhatra League leaders for not intervening the project’, according to media reports.

It is true that there is residential seat crisis in the university and the students have raised their voices several times. They also demanded proper distribution of seats among existing students. But effective steps were absent. On the one hand, the corruption and on the other hand, poorly planned project with the destruction of nature have sparked the students and teachers to protest. More than one thousand trees are marked to be cut down and about 500 trees have been cut down already for the project. One point to mark here, the students and teachers are not protesting against constructing new residential halls but against the ways how the development project is going on.

Some questions are already pointed out about development. In the case of JU, the project would create 5,000 new residential seats but the campus will lose a hotspot of biological diversity. Ignoring the significance of research in tertiary education, spending the large amount of money in the development project without considering the context will contribute to become an institute that will not fully function as expected and that will create a situation where free intellectual engagement is not possible. It will help the university on the neoliberal transformation. In present context, the government is far away from democratic practices including accountability and transparency. The authorities’ attitude towards two university correspondents, who asked the VC about the corruption, raises a question obvious, are the authorities above accountability? The success of the project will be a contribution to such undemocratic practices to become more concrete and mature as the large portion of students and teachers are against the poorly planned development project. Corruption and destruction of environment in the name of development has become quite ‘normal’ to the people for widespread practices and the project will further support the process of normalisation. And last but not the least, this project as it is going on, will serve personal interests not the students and the university.

Now the main point is that in the ways how the development project is going on, should not go further. Corruption and destruction of environment in the name of development cannot be development. If the necessities cannot be coordinated in a development plan, such development plan cannot bring any good in the long run. For example, electricity is needed but the Sunderbans must not be destroyed with the project like the Rampal Coal Power Plant or life and environment must not be thrown at risk with Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. Trees as well as biological diversity, better quality of education, democratic practice, accountability and transparency all are necessary as the constructions of new residential halls are. And the authorities cannot deny the coordination among these necessities.

Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.