On strike since October 4, when a B.Tech student was critically injured after being hit by a car on National Highway-58, over 900 students of the National Institute of Technology Uttarakhand’s (NITUK) temporary campus located alongside the busy road left for home on Tuesday.
The students have threatened that they would continue to boycott the lectures till the “unsafe”, “ill-equipped” campus is shifted from its present location along NH-58 in Srinagar Garhwal town.
An Institute of National Importance, the NITUK was among the 10 new NITs sanctioned in 2009 under the Eleventh Five Year Plan. It started taking in students in 2010. But eight years later, with 980 students, it continues to operate from a 3.4-acre temporary plot.
The students began their strike after Neelam Meena, in the third year of her B.Tech (Electrical and Electronics) course, was hit, becoming the third NITUK student to have met with an accident on NH-58 this year. Meena, who suffered multiple injuries in her brain, chest and spinal cord, is admitted at AIIMS Rishikesh and her lower body is still immobile.
Earlier, in August 2017 too, the NITUK students had held a six-day protest demanding a permanent campus.
The NITUK’s temporary campus comprises two clusters — one the hostels and classes located on the government polytechnic campus, and second the government Industrial Training Institute (ITI) 400 metres away, housing the administrative buildings and laboratories. Many of the buildings are pre-fabricated structures, standing atop buildings that were damaged during the flash floods of 2013. Besides, the laboratories are ill-equipped and, for lack of space, up to six students share a hostel room.
NITUK Director Shyam Lal Soni says that this year, the B.Tech seats were reduced from 300 to 150 “due to lack of space and facilities for students”. Of its 980 students, currently 866 are pursuing engineering, 90 are M.Tech students, and 24 are PhD scholars.
The lack of facilities is also reflected in the institute’s academic record, with data showing that no patents were registered at the NITUK in 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17 academic years. Besides, it did not sponsor any research projects in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
The permanent campus has missed many deadlines, with the state government first allotting 310 acres for it, at Sumari village, about 15 km from the present premises, back in December 2013. As per the original plan, the institute was scheduled to shift there by 2015.
In 2014, National Buildings Construction Corporation Ltd started raising a boundary wall at the Sumari site, giving an initial estimate of Rs 188.26 crore for site development and Rs 315.75 crore for the first phase of construction. When it revised this amount to Rs 1,200 crore, the Ministry of Human Resource Development rejected the site at Sumari.
On June 28, 2016, then HRD minister Smriti Irani wrote to then Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat requesting for fresh land. When no action was taken by the state government, on February 10, 2017, current HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar wrote to Rawat reiterating Irani’s request.
On June 12, 2017, the NITUK’s Civil Engineering Department released a report on the land at Sumari warning about “the safety of life and property” given that the site is “prone to landslide, earthquake, and cloudburst”.
The college administration also said that with the land at Sumari being landslide-prone, several retaining walls needed to be built, which would escalate the construction cost.
Uttarakhand Higher Education Minister Dhan Singh, however, claims they have not received any such report, adding, “No document of any geotechnical survey that mentions the site at Sumari being disaster-prone has been submitted to the government by the NITUK. The MHRD told us that the cost of construction at Sumari is very high, so we have now decided to allot additional 112 acres land for the institute in Jaletha village. Now the MHRD can get the institute built in two parts on suitable land at the two sites.”
Says Additional Chief Secretary Om Prakash, “The land owners had handed over the land in Sumari in the past itself, and the handover of land at Jaletha will happen soon.”
About the Central government’s role, R Subrahmanyam, HRD Secretary, says, “It is the Uttarakhand government which has to allot the land for the construction, and it has assured us that the process is on.”
NITUK Director Soni says allocation of two campuses, 3.5 km apart, would hardly solve their problem. “The state government has not communicated to us the plan. Both locations are remote and it would be very difficult to get teachers and experts to visit such remote locations.”