The debate began at a function at IIT-Patna last April. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar wanted the Central University of Bihar to be set up in Motihari; Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal preferred it in Gaya. They argued gently,with no sign of the bitterness that would follow over the following one year. The standoff has now reached flash point with the Centre announcing Sibals choice as the venue and Nitish refusing to cooperate in setting up the university.
Then,Sibal had praised Nitish for his skills at presenting his case like a Supreme Court lawyer,and gone on to counter Nitishs arguments point by point. Nitish had cited Motiharis historical importance,especially its Mahatma Gandhi connection because of the Champaran satyagraha. Besides,he wanted equitable distribution Gaya has Magadh University already.
Sibal argued that historical importance is not good enough a reason to set up a Central university,but availability of a suitable location is,and Gaya has that advantage.
The debate became more intense in a chain of letters between the two (see box). During this period,Nitish once described Sibal as arrogant.
The chief minister had in fact chosen Motihari years before he first discussed it with Sibal. In 2006,when Arjun Singh was HRD minister,Nitish had requested New Delhi for a Central university in Bihar,though he did not specify then where he wanted it. The next year,Parliament passed an Act for 14 Central universities,one of these in Bihar.
Nitishs mind was made up by the time a site selection committee arrived in Patna in 2007. The committees three members were taken by helicopter to Motihari,200 kms from Patna. So fixated was Nitish on Motihari that in 2010,ahead of the Assembly elections,he promised to name the Central university there after Mahatma Gandhi. This was after the Centre had already named it Central University of Bihar; it would need an amendment by Parliament to add Mahatma Gandhi to the name.
The committee was,however,not convinced about the infrastructure in and accessibility to Motihari,district headquarters of East Champaran. It rejected the choice.
A series of discussions followed. Then HRD minister agreed in principle on Motihari but left the final decision with the committee. Sibal eventually took over,a new site selection committee discussed Patna and even Bihta,25km away,while Nitish would not look beyond Motihari.
Last month,the HRD Ministry announced the site: 300 acres of unused defence land in Gaya. The land had been used as an airfield till World War II.
For Motihari,the Centre offered a state university. A livid Nitish Kumar has not only turned that down but threatened non-cooperation in the setting up of CUB at Gaya.
He said the state did not require any special central assistance for opening a state university as offered. And if the Centre needs the state governments cooperation to open a Central university,he said,it must consider Motihari,not Gaya,the choice of which is against popular sentiment.
Not that his threat not to cooperate will make a difference. The Centre has the option of inviting global tenders and awarding the project to an agency,an arrangement that would shut out the state government,but which would also involve the risk of straining the Centre-state relations.
CUB has been running since 2009 on the premises of the Bihar Institute of Technology in Patna. It has 250-odd students doing Masters and M Phil courses.
WHY NOT GAYA
Because higher education needs to follow equitable distribution. Gaya already has Magadh University. Centre had already agreed in principle on Central university at Motihari; decision on Gaya smacks of some prejudice against Motihari. The choice of Gaya is against popular sentiment.
The availability of land has never been an issue. It is more an emotional matter with Motihari being the workplace of Mahatma Gandhi. People have now attached emotional importance to a central university in East Champaran, Nitish has written to Sibal.
In one letter,Nitish observes that the Centre has set up Central universities in remote places in Kerala,Orissa,Punjab,Himachal Pradesh,Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. He asks why the Centre has been using a different yardstick for Bihar.
Selection of land in Gaya was a uniliateral decision by Centre,says Nitish,vowing to write to the Defence Minister challenging the MoDs decision to transfer the land to HRD without holding consultations with state government.
Already on international tourist map. It is a historical and cultural centre of international importance and is located at a distance of 25km from Gaya International airport. It is 140km from Patna,well connected by rail and road;Bodhgaya has many hotels and restaurants.
WHY not MOTIHARI
You may kindly appreciate that Motihari is neither adjacent to an urban agglomeration nor is well-connected for the intended purposes. Motihari is 200km from Patna,has hardly more than half a dozen good hotels,and falls in seismic zone 5 against Gayas safer zone 3
Some of those universities mentioned by Nitish have not been performing well,replies Sibal,and hence the Centre cannot repeat the same mistake for a Central university,which should primarily attract students with accessibility and infrastructure.
Sibals reply is that when the Bihar government had not provided any land at Gaya,the HRD Ministry had to procure the requisite 300 acres of land from the Defence Ministry. [The plot,which served as an airfield till World War II,is now unused.