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‘JNU Dhabas Central to Campus Life, Closing Them is bad Choice,’ say Students, Teachers

Ravi Kaushal |
JNU administration’s order to close the dhabas seems to have sent jitters to the owners who are still trying to recover from losses of the pandemic years.
‘JNU Dhabas Central to Campus Life, Closing Them is bad Choice,’ say Students, Teachers

Image Courtesy: PTI

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), one of the national capital's prestigious central universities, in a controversial move has notified its iconic dhabas to vacate the premises by June 30 after paying their dues. 

In a notice, JNU Joint Registrar M K Pachauri said that the dhabas and other establishments, including pantries and photocopy shops, were allocated without due tendering process, and the dedicated spaces of the university need to be vacated in line with the provisions of the Public Premise Act, 1971.

The notice reads, “Whereas a notice dated 30.5.2019 was issued on the recommendations of the committee constituted by the university to look into issue of allotment of canteens/pantries/ xerox shops without following due tender procedure with further notice on 17.8.2020 to deposit pending dues within 7 days from the date of issue of the notice so as to why eviction process should not be initiated as per Public Premises Act 1971 due to unauthorised occupation of premise/spaces…” It adds, “Dues on rent, water snd electricity charges etc outstanding against the said space up to the date of vacation should be cleared. Further premise should be vacated by 30.6.2022 along with record of all furniture, fixture etc and handed over to the caretaker, concerned school under intimation to the estate branch failing which proceeding shall be initiated under Public Premises Act.”

The order seems to have sent jitters to dhaba owners who told NewsClick that the pandemic years proved to be the worst and they are staring at uncertainty and job loss if the administration does not reconsider the notice. 

A canteen vendor who has been running his outlet for a decade told NewsClick that he was handed over a bill of Rs 20 Lakh to be paid before June 30 and vacate the premises. He said, “I have been running my outlet in one of the schools. Now I am being told that you were allotted the space temporarily, and the tendering process was not followed. If the administrators did something wrong earlier, why should I pay the price with my livelihood? Right now, I am preparing my reply and will wait to see if they grant us some concessions or not.”

Another Dhaba owner said that even though he was allotted space after a due tendering process, he too was served a similar notice. Talking to NewsClick over the phone, he said that businesses were still recovering from losses incurred during the last two years of pandemic and lockdown when the campus was closed. He said, “We received notices earlier too but could not pay dues because there was hardly any income. We requested them to give us some extra time to pay our dues. I have staff to pay salaries to; where will they go after the shutdown? I, too, will have to go back to my village and do farming.”

A JNU teacher who did not wish to be named told NewsClick over the phone that the administration should clarify if it wishes to bring a new centralised mechanism to generate more revenue. He said, “We had a similar experiment a few years before when Nescafé came to the campus. It miserably failed because the prices were too high, and the quality remained horrible. Besides, it was vehemently opposed by students too.” 

He added that the dhabas are central to learning on the campus because these outlets provide spaces where students from diverse backgrounds and courses can debate, discuss, and learn from each other. “The students liked these spaces because food and beverages were cheap. The administration had also put a cap on the prices of food. If classes happened in different buildings, the real learning where students interacted with each other happened at these dhabas. What must be noted is that the dhabas provided fresh food whereas expensive outlets generally offer stored foods. So, it’s a poor choice to shut them.”

Commenting on the notice, Aishe Ghosh, President of the JNU Students Union said that the students will resist the move if the dhabas are forcibly shut. The dhabas provide cheap food and the students from humble backgrounds go to eat there without a second thought, the JNUSU president told NewsClick

She said, “The JNU administration has recently sent notices to the dhabas/ canteens/ photostat shops with charges of fine up to Rs 19-22 lakhs to them citing that these dhaba/ canteens owners are illegal occupants. During the pandemic, the canteens had been closed for almost two years. Despite the closure, the JNU administration charged them huge amounts of money rather than relaxing the rent, water or electricity charges, and stated that if they failed to pay, their shops would be closed down.”

All these dhaba owners have been regularly paying rent, water and electricity charges, but the university administration is trying to intimidate them with unnecessary fines and threatening to close down the Dhabas in the name of "illegal occupants", she said, adding, “We will mobilise students if these are forced to shut down.”

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