Visva-Bharati University

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Poush Mela

History (1843- onw); glitches in 2019

SOMESWAR BORAL, June 5, 2019: The Times of India

Visva-Bharati can’t meet NGT norms, junks mela


Visva-Bharati authorities on Tuesday decided to dissociate themselves from organising the over 125-year-old Poush Mela, putting a question mark on one of the annual highlights of the campus set up by Rabindranath Tagore.

Though the mela was started in Santiniketan in 1892 on the 7th of the Bengali month of Poush, its history goes back to 1843 when Devendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore, accepted the Brahmo creed. A Brahmo temple was established in 1891 and a fair was organised the next year in Santiniketan.

The mela draws lakhs from neighbouring towns and villages as well as from Kolkata and other parts of the world every December. But it has attracted criticism from environmentalists in recent years for polluting the environment and the campus. A petition by green activist Subhas Datta led to the National Green Tribunal setting preconditions, including setting up solid waste and sewage treatment plants, which the university failed to comply with.

“It is not possible for an educational institution like V-B to execute the task of organising a mammoth event like Poush Mela in a manner directed by the NGT and other authorities. We are, therefore, constrained to take this painful decision,” the university announced in a press release issued on Tuesday evening after a meeting attended by its vice-chancellor, registrar, senior officials and members of the Santiniketan Trust (ST). V-B spokesperson Anirban Sarkar said the decision to dissociate from the Poush Mela was unanimous.


After 120 yrs, end of Visva Bharati’s Poush Mela, July 5, 2020: The Times of India

The festival, held annually in December, attracts over two lakh visitors
From: After 120 yrs, end of Visva Bharati’s Poush Mela, July 5, 2020: The Times of India

New Delhi:

The curtains have come down over the century-old Poush Mela in Visva Bharati University. The 120-year-old fair and festival organised for three to four days in December annually had been disrupted only twice – in 1943 due to the famine and in 1945 due to the second world war.

Caught in a web of violations of the National Green Tribunal’s orders, fine imposed by West Bengal Pollution Control Board and police complaints over alleged harassment, the central university’s executive council (EC) decided to scrap the fair, which attracts over two lakh visitors. The council also resolved to organise Basanta Utsav, the Tagore edition of Holi, on a different day, citing that if held on the same day as the festival of colours it would be tough to manage the crowd.

As per sources in EC, the university has been spending lakhs of rupees in multiple legal battles because of the mela. Also, academically the university has been on a downslide, managing only B+ NAAC grading and slipped from 37th to 50th position in the 2020 NIRF rankings. The university has written to the Union HRD ministry as well as apprised the Prime Minister’s Office regarding the developments, such as a police investigation (a copy of which is with the TOI) against it after the administration tried to remove shops on completion of the fourth day of the mela “to honour the order of NGT.”

“The PM office has been informed by the university that some officials were summoned by police for interrogation. This was related to December 2019 Poush Mela when the organisers tried to vacate the fairground after the scheduled four days. A section of local businessmen resisted which led to a scuffle. A complaint of outraging modesty was lodged against a number of university officials including the vice chancellor,” said the MHRD official. On January 7, 2020 the WBPCB also wrote to the university asking as to “why an environmental compensation amounting to Rs 10 lakh shall not be imposed,” over non-compliance of the NGT order.

The observations and orders of the NGT on the mela made in the last three years include that the essence of the mela has disappeared and it has now become purely a commercial event.

2020: university closes after boundary wall row

Visva Bharati univ closes after trouble over boundary wall construction, guv talks to CM, August 17, 2020: The Times of India

KOLKATA: The heritage Visva Bharati University was shut down indefinitely following violent protests against the varsity's decision to construct a boundary wall around the venue of Poush Mela, a prestigious annual cultural event started more than a century ago.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee came out against the fencing, while Governor Jagdeep Dhankar expressed concern over the situation.

Trouble erupted at the Visva Bharati campus in Monday as a large number of people ransacked the university's properties protesting erection of the boundary wall at the fair ground.

Sources said that the university authorities had decided to fence the ground where the annual winter carnival started in 1894 by Debendranath Tagore, father of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, is held and the construction work started in the morning.

Following the incidents of violence, the varsity authorities decided to bring the matter to the notice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is also the Hon'ble Chancellor of the university, and decided to close down the university campus till the situation improves.

However, admission, examination process and emergency services would be taken care of.

The Trinamool Congress government condemned the violence, but threw its weight behind the protestors, as West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said she doesn't want any construction to take place on that site and has asked the district administration to call meeting of the stakeholders.

According to district officials, tension between the locals and the university authorities have been simmering for last few days over the latter's decision to construct a boundary wall around the venue of the fair held in the Bengali month of Poush, usually December-end.

On Saturday miffed by the decision of Visva Bharati to call off "Poush Mela' from this year, a local traders' body prevented the university authorities from erecting a boundary wall along with the fair ground.

The tension snowballed into large scale violence after 4,000 people assembled near the campus this morning and then entered ransacking some properties and pulling down one of the university gates built outside the ground using a JCB machine.

On the basis of the suo moto complaint lodged by police eight persons have been arrested in connection with Monday's vandalism ," Shyam Singh, SP, Birbhum said.

According to sources, Trinamool Congress MLA from Dubrajpur, Naresh Bauri, who is also a former student of Visva Bharati, was present when ransacking was taking place.

"I am present here not as a TMC leader but as a former student of the university. The construction of the boundary wall is unacceptable. The university authorities are behaving strangely," Bauri said.

The construction workers were thrashed, and the temporary camp office was also razed to the ground

Sources said a wall around the field was needed so that "outsiders" do not get access to it, which had angered the local traders.

The university authorities said that the fence is required to honour verdict of the National Green Tribunal, which had on November 1, 2017, said that a "barrier needs to be constructed to demarcate the Mela ground from the university and the locality."

While reacting to the violence, the university authorities in a press statement said they have decided to shut down the campus until the situation becomes normal.

"Given vandalism today leading to the destruction of university property worth several lakhs (of Rupees) due to the complete absence of police deployment in spite of having two police stations within the university campus, it is decided to bring this to the notice of the Hon'ble Chancellor (Prime Minister)," the university said in a press statement.

"Given the volatile situation in the campus, and also the threat to many colleagues with dire consequences, it has been unanimously resolved in the meeting of all directors, Principals and HODs to close the university till the situation improves," it said.

The district administration has convened a meeting of Visva Bharati authorities and other stakeholders on Wednesday to look into the matter.

The incident triggered a political face-off between the TMC government and the opposition parties and Raj Bhawan which accused it of not doing enough to avert the violence.

Underscoring that Visva Bharati is a central university, Banerjee had said that she had a word with the governor regarding Monday's violence on the fair ground and told him that the state government's role in the matter was "limited" and blamed the "outsiders for trying to protect the construction."

"The governor had called me. We had a discussion over the violence that took place on the ground. I told him that Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore founded it with a vision to celebrate different festivals... I also told him that I don't want any construction to take place on that ground.

"There were outsiders who were trying to protect the construction," she said.

Earlier in the day, West Bengal Governor expressed concern over the situation and said the status of law and order in Visva Bharati is alarming.

"The events that unfolded during the day have tarnished the image of state of West Bengal and have been adversely impactful on the working of the prestigious institution Visva Bharati. All exemplary steps @MamataOfficial need to be taken to salvage the situation at the earliest," Dhankhar tweeted.

State BJP president Dilip Ghosh said, vested interest in tacit understanding with local TMC leadership, was trying to grab the land of Visva-Bharati.


The ‘illegal plot holders’ issue

As in 2020

Manash Gohain, December 24, 2020: The Times of India

Visva-Bharati has written to the West Bengal government alleging that dozens of its plots have been recorded wrongly in favour of private parties with the list of unauthorised occupants prepared by the varsity including Nobel laureate and eminent economist Prof Amartya Sen.

The girls’ hostel, academic department, office, even the VC’s official bungalow find mention in the list of plots recorded incorrectly. The university alleges that due to wrong recording of ownership in the government’s record-of-right (RoR), the university’s land has been illegally transferred and private parties have set up restaurants, schools and other businesses on land procured by Rabindranath Tagore himself.

In Prof Sen’s case, the varsity has said there is an unauthorised occupation of 13 decimals of land, in addition to 125 decimals legally leased to his late father by Visva-Bharati. In an email reply to TOI, Sen said: “I see from your report that Vice Chancellor Bidyut Chakrabarty of Visva-Bharati is busy arranging the ‘eviction of unauthorised occupation of leased land in the campus’ and that I have also been named in the list of occupants. The Visva-Bharati land on which our house is situated is on a long-term lease, which is nowhere near its expiry, but the vice-chancellor can always dream about evicting anyone he wants.”

According to Visva-Bharati’s estate office such erroneous records were prepared in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of these plots are located in Purvapalli area of Santiniketan, known to be the residential hub of asramites (families associated with the asrama school and Visva-Bharati during their inception) and eminent persons.

Documents with Visva-Bharati’s offices and also sent to the ministry of education (MoE) and the CAG revealed the proportions to which the encroachment of the university land reached in the late 1990s. Prof Sen in 2006 wrote to the then vice chancellor for transfer of the 99-year-old lease-hold land to his name and this was done after a decision was taken by the Executive Council but the excess land was not returned to the university. TOI has both documents.

A confidential internal report, issued to various offices by the estate office of Visva-Bharati in July 2020, states that the university has taken up the matter of correction of ownership record of 77 plots of land.

“Unauthorised occupants from leased plots of Purvapalli/ Dakshinpalli/ Sripalli areas to be evicted. These are very high profile people,” the reports states. VC Bidyut Chakrabarty refused to comment on the matter saying, “I will not like to talk to the media on matters related to Visva-Bharati administration.”

However, a senior official at the estate office said : “Rabindranath Tagore and later his son Rathindranath got eminent people like ICS officers, educationists and royal family members to reside in Santiniketan with the assurance they would be given land to build houses on the basis of 99 years’ lease. In return, some of them contributed money to Visva-Bharati’s development funds. However, many of the original lessees transferred their plots illegally after the passing away of Tagore and his son. Most of the present day heirs are non-resident Santiniketanis, occupying huge tracts of prime land on the campus and often indulging in businesses. They don’t treat the land as part of university campus.”

Sen said in his email: “Having been born and brought up in Santiniketan, I could comment on the big gap between Santiniketan culture and that of the VC, empowered as he is by the central government in Delhi, with its growing control over Bengal. I would prefer to use Indian laws as they exist. For mental strength, I may clutch the beautiful old picture of our home by Abanindranath Tagore, among others. The VC would be spared the necessity of inventing completely imagined conversations with me, beginning impossibly with my introducing myself as Bharat-Ratna — something that no one has ever heard me do. The VC, of course, is an inventive artist as well.”

An estate official, however, said that “Sen is well aware that he is occupying a good quantum of university’s land unauthorisedly” and added that the family benefited by selling plots in the vicinity of the campus (in Deer Park and Sripalli areas) that had no access except through the campus”. A “tentative list of unauthorised occupants,” issued on December 16 alleges that many leaseholders or their families have sold their leasehold lands to outsiders. This could open a can of worms as there are names of industrialists, asramites, educationists, NRIs, intellectuals and local politicians. The varsity is built over 1,132 acres of land of which 77 acres are under encroachment and through legal battles and eviction drives it has managed to free 22 acres in recent times.

CM gives Sen the land deed

Tamaghna Banerjee, January 31, 2023: The Times of India

Kolkata : Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee handed over land record documents of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s residence in Santiniketan to the economist, dismissing claims of the current Visva-Bharati dispensation that he was illegally occupying a part of that land.

No one should harass the 89-year-old economist, she said, after announcing that the state government would provide him Z-plus security and post a police camp outside his residence. 

Sen’s residence Pratichi stands on 1. 38 acres of land. He has said his father took 1. 25 acres of land on 99 years’ lease in 1943. The remaining 0. 13 acre of land was bought by his father later, Sen has said. The current Visva-Bharati dispensation under VC Bidyut Chakraborty has questioned Sen’s ownership of this portion of the land. Its estates department served two notices to Sen on January 24 and 27, urging him to return the “13 decimals of land”.

Banerjee, while handing over the land record documents retrieved from the state government’s block land revenue office to Sen on Monday, stressed that Sen was “the rightful owner of the 1. 38 acres of land”. The documents she gave to Sen dated from 1956 and 1984, officials said. “You don’t worry about any more letters and notices as you have proper legal documents with you now,” she told Sen during the 30-minute conversation.

She also “wondered” whether Chakraborty was fit for the VC’s position. “We look at Visva-Bharati through Tagore’s eyes, not through the hue of saffronisation,” she said. 
Sen acknowledged the CM’s efforts. “But there is no reason for the controversy to subside anytime soon. Those who want to throw me out of my home must have much larger political motives,” he told a private TV channel following Banerjee’s visit.

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