University landslides

It may be called an irony of sorts or a ruinous consequence of lack of foresight. Bangalore University (BU), which once stretched over large swathes of surplus land, is now short of property to expand itself. Ever since the historical Central College was named BU in 1964, the premier centre of higher learning kept generously doling out chunks of its property to external institutions. This dispersal of precious land was often carried out for housing external centres of learning so that BU becomes a hub of prominent institutes. Occasionally, however, the University lost its valuable land to callous encroachments by land grabbers. Besides, some of its property is disputed by the people of six villages that crisscross the University.

The University operated out of the Central College Campus till 1973 when it moved to a much more sprawling campus comprising 1,100 acres at Kengeri.

An apparent lack of foresight by many Vice Chancellors coupled with a desire to please political bosses led to BU being reduced to a happy hunting ground for finding land to set up one institute or the other.

Think over this: BU has nearly lost or given away 500 acres of land. The Central College and Jnanabharathi campuses together house dozens of external institutes. While the Central College (CC) Campus is home to regional offices of the University Grants Commission (UGC), the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the Sahitya Academy, a petrol station (owned by a former Registrar), etc, the Jnanabharathi (JB) Campus has accommodated institutes such as the National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC), the National Law School of India University (NLSUI), the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), the Regional Institute of English, the Kala Grama (Art Complex), the Indian Institute of Plantation Management (IIPM), the regional centre of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, et al.

While some educationists support this distribution of land, a few others have criticised it saying this would cripple BU’s expansion plans. “Unfortunately, various Vice Chancellors became victims of circumstances. To please their political bosses and extend their tenure, they couldn't turn down Government's diktats. They sold the flesh and blood of the University for narrow personal gains,” a senior professor, wishing anonymity, said.

Nonetheless, there were instances when a few proposals such as setting up a power station at the CC Campus sometime ago was rejected bluntly. “The request was withdrawn following strong protests. Similarly, BU is not pleased with the acquisition of nearly acre of land at the Central College campus for the metro work,” he said.

But G Mohan Kumar, Director of BU's Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Board (PMEB), differs. “When BU began doling out land to set up various external institutes, it visualised to house prominent centres at its periphery. The University, no doubt, has benefited from this as only academic institutes have been accomodated.”   

According to Kumar, students can easily access various facilities. For instance, the SAI Sports Complex trains budding sportspersons by conducting camps, he argues.  
Kumar also disagrees with the notion that this generous dispersal of land was due to lack of foresight or political appeasement. “The issue surfaced only recently when prices of land sky-rocketed. Earlier, none complained about it,” he asserts. The official, however, admits that the JB Campus has saturated as there’s hardly any land for expansion.
Besides, the University needs land to cultivate flora. The existing Bio Park alone requires 300 acres. “In 2006, I had urged the then Vice Chancellor to demand 500 acres of land at Ramnagar from the Government. Nothing, however, fructified,” he laments.

MS Thimmappa, former Vice Chancellor, too maintains that BU lost nothing from the exercise as “lands were given on the basis of mutual benefit.” As for the shrinking space, Thimmappa argues that BU has never fallen short of land. “I don’t think it requires more land for expansion,” he says. The former Vice Chancellor, however, thinks that BU cannot afford to give more land. “The Bio Park was set up precisely to pre-empt further requests. Besides, it helped in protecting the environment,” he reasoned.

Thimmappa also disagrees that BU land has been encroached. “Earlier,  villagers laid claim on some parts and  approached the court. Fortunately, courts ruled in the University’s favour.”

Pointing out another aspect, Thimmappa said that no external institute is housed at the heart of BU Campus. The University ensured that only government and academic centres were located on its periphery. “So that land grabbers don’t create mischief,” he added.

On his part, Kumar maintains that the University has begun erecting a stone compound around its property. Further, it's going all out to protect the land in dispute with the villagers. But given the little success such efforts have enjoyed, it's anybody's guess if BU will ever have a sprawling campus again.

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