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JU Development Scandal: Jahangirnagar VC teaches BCL the art of the deal

  • Published at 01:09 am August 30th, 2019

The talk of the town this week has been over a media report of the VC of Jahangirnagar University (JU) allegedly presiding over a meeting to divide Tk2 crore, a portion of the campus development funds, to various Bangladesh Chhatra League factions

Politics and academics have been intertwined long before the birth of Bangladesh, but never before has an incumbent vice-chancellor (VC) of a top university found themselves embroiled in one of the most scandalous acts of corruption and unethical patronage.

The talk of the town this week has been over a media report of the VC of Jahangirnagar University (JU) allegedly presiding over a meeting to divide Tk2 crore, a portion of the campus development funds, to various  factions.

Dhaka Tribune can confirm that a meeting did take place at the VC office, where Prof Farzana Islam, the incumbent VC, met with the faction leaders and arbitrated a dispute over the shares.

Prof Farzana confirmed that there was tension between the factions. She also confirmed that Tk5 crore in funding had already been approved.

Division exposes Chhatra League factions

On August 9, two days before Eid-ul-Azha, three factions of the Chhtra League JU unit arrived at the meeting at the VC office. 

A Chhatra League leader present at the meeting said originally JU Chhatra League President Jewel Rana and General Secretary Abu Sufian would get Tk50 lakh each. Both are fervent supporters of central Chhatra League President Rezwanul Haque Chowdhury Shovon. 

But after a third faction, led by Joint Secretary Saddam Hossain and Vice-President Niamul Hassan, contacted central Chhatra League General Secretary Golam Rabbani earlier on August 7, things fell apart.

Tension between the three factions have been linked to numerous skirmishes in the campus throughout this year.

Prof Farzana told Dhaka Tribune: “I admonished them, told them to work together and sort it out.”

At the meeting, it was decided that Jewel would get Tk50 lakh, Abu Sufian Tk25 lakh, and Saddam and Niamul would get Tk25 lakh. The Chhatra League Central Committee would get Tk1 crore.

But the vice-chancellor denied accusations of her being involved in the transaction.

Media reports say Jewel gave Tk18 lakh from his share to his supporters from Al-Beruni Hall, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Hall, Maulana Bhasani Hall, Mir Mosharraf Hossain Hall, Shaheed Rafiq Jabbar Hall, and Bishwakabi Rabindranath Tagore Hall.

Leaders from AFM Kamal Uddin Hall and Sheikh Hasina Hall were personally paid by the president.

Abu Sufian distributed Tk40,000 to Shaheed Rafiq Jabbar Hall, Tk30,000 to Al-Beruni Hall and Tk30,000 to Mir Mosharraf Hossain Hall. 

The third faction leaders distributed Tk9 lakh among Bangabandhu Hall, Rabindranath Hall and Maulana Bhasani Hall, and kept Tk9 lakh for themselves. They also reportedly paid Tk60,000 to the Central Committee.

Money and mooching

Dhaka Tribune could not confirm where the Tk1 crore originated, whether from the allotted project funds or from the project contractor. However, as the contractor stands to benefit from the funding, the money would ultimately have been pilfered from government funds.

The VC claimed it was from the contractor. Dhaka Tribune could not reach the contractor at the time this report was filed.

She said: “I heard the contractor earlier promised to pay Tk2 crore, but are offering Tk1 crore now.”

Both Jewel and Abu Sufian vehemently denied the allegations.

They both admitted to being present at the meeting, but claimed it was to settle disputes between rival factions.

“We had no talk about the money with Madam [the VC],” Jewel said, echoed by Abu Sufian.

Dhaka Tribune reached out to both Shovon and Rabbani. Neither responded at the time of filing this report.

Development at the cost of green

The government approved Tk1,445 crore for the development project in October last year. The JU has been going through severe housing crisis, as student protests demanding dormitory seats have grown frequent.

A team from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) submitted a project plan, which JU authorities claim was prepared over the last three years. It includes the construction of 23 new buildings. However, the construction would require cutting down 1,150 trees, a cost decried by Prof Anu Muhammad, a noted environmentalist and member of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports.

The project’s first phase has already felled 500 trees, angering students and teachers alike.

Prof Md Khabir Uddin from the Department of Environmental Sciences said: “They could have struck a balance by planning accordingly. There was no need to cut so many trees. If there was an e-tender, the process would have been transparent and there would not have been any misappropriation of the funds.”

Prof Mohammad Jamal Uddin from the same department said the project was “planned by the architect, not the planner.”

The JU campus has been renowned for its acres of forestry, which is home to many different species of birds, animals, and insects. Cutting down 1,150 trees is expected to grievously harm the biodiversity.

TIB calls for probe and transparency

In a press release issued Wednesday, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) expressed concerns over the corruption allegations regarding the development at JU. The TIB also expressed solidarity with the protesting students and called for transparency in its development activities and an investigation into the allegations.

TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said the university’s anti-environmental activities, concealing the development master plan and colluding with student political organizations are regrettable and asked for the authorities to proceed with effective dialogues to resolve the situation.