Prothom Alo: Why have you all taken up a movement against the development work at the at Jahangirnagar University?
Rayhan Rhyne: We heard about huge funds being allocated for Jahangirnagar University under a master plan, but knew nothing about the details of the plan. The university administration did not inform us about this either. Later the students said around 1500 trees near the Bishwakabi Rabindranath Tagore Hall were to be felled.
We also came to know that three 10-storey halls would be constructed around the five-storey Bishwakabi Rabindranath Tagore Hall. This would mean that this beautiful grean space would be destroyed in the name of development. That is when the teachers and students took up this movement. We want development but not at the cost of the environment. And the development work must be free of corruption.
Prothom Alo: How did the movement to save the environment turn into a movement demanding the VC’s resignation?
Rayhan Rhyne: The Teachers and Students Oikya Mancha already existed as a platform. We started rallies under the banner of the platform. The the VC’s office phoned us to know why we were staging the movement. We said we wanted to see the master plan and they agreed. But at the meeting they showed us drawings of just a few buildings, not the master plan. We said there must be environmental survey, waste management, drainage and other things included in the master plan.
Professor Anu Muhammad of the economics department proposed that the development work be held up for three months and that the master plan be published online. The administration refused, saying that the master plan would be stolen if it was uploaded online. That was no logic. A master plan is done for a specific area. Why would other people will steal it? Then they said, the work can’t be delayed otherwise the money would be taken back.
Prothom Alo: What was your position then?
Rayhan Rhyne: We went ahead with our movement. We saw many trees are being felled on the campus. We held a meeting with the head of the concenred management committee and talked to the project director and chief engineer. We insisted the grounds by the Bishwakabi Rabindranath Tagore Hall be saved. They said the grounds could be saved if the planned establishments are shifted to the area finalised for the second phase of construction.
Later the VC also agreed to remodel the plan in a joint meeting with students, teachers and administration officials.
But we were worried that the trees would be cut down during the Eid vacation. The VC assured us no trees will be felled during the vacation. But at the crack of dawn just after a few days after Eid, many trees were sawed down. The students took to the street immediately and the tree felling was halted. Then the movement took a new turn.
A huge number of students joined the movement. The VC said we could hold discussions but the work would go on. We told her if she remain inflexible, then there was no point of discussion. Then on 23 August, Bangladesh Pratidin published a report about Tk 20 million of the development work being 'shared'. The same news was reported in The Daily Star. Two journalists were harassed by the Bangladesh Chhatra League men on the campus. The university administration then enforced a law saying no report can be published against the interests of the university. This provoked yet another demonstration.
Prothom Alo: How did you realise corruption was involved with the development work?
Rayhan Rhyne: We formed a fresh platform, ‘Jahangirnagar against Corruption’. There were a few more incidents reported before this. BCL man beat up a cultural activist, Saimum, when we were preparing for a meeting. The BCL man was no longer a student. We demanded action against non-students. Students are being forced to stay in the ‘Gano Room’, a small dormitory where many students live in crowded conditions. The BCL man was then driven out.
Earlier, the university sought tender for some development works within 15 days but no tender papers were available for 14 days. On the last day, no companies outside the were allowed to buy the tender papers other than a 'selected' few. United Constructions filed a written complaint in this regard. These incidents pointed to corruption. We presented a three-point proposal to ensure transparency in the work.
Prothom Alo: What were the points?
Rayhan Rhyne: We met the VC on 12 September and presented the three-point proposal. These prposals were, the development plan must be remodelled, transparency and accountability must be ensured, and there must be investigation into the corruption allegations for the sake of the university’s reputation. That could be done by the judiciary, UGC (University Grants Commission) or the office of the chancellor.
The vice chancellor accepted the first two demands. Regarding the third demand, she sought time for three working days for legal counsel.
Prothom Alo: Did you continue the movement?
Rayhan Rhyne: We had no alternative but to continue the movement. There was corruption in all the development work of the university. The halls become unliveable within a few days of construction. On 13 September, the vice chancellor herself told a media conference that BCL leaders demanded commission from the development fund. But earlier, in all meetings she told us that they simply had paid a courtesy call and there had been no discussion about money.
Prothom Alo: Why are you demanding the VC’s resignation?
Rayhan Rhyne: The VC has lost her moral right to remain in office after the leaked phone conversation of the BCL leaders. We had a blockade outside the VC’s residence for three days and demanded her resignation. In the beginning, the VC threw a challenge to the BCL leaders. Later, BCL leader Golam Rabbani challenged her back. The leaked phone conversation between JU BCL leader Saddam Hossain and Golam Rabbani proves the VC’s involvement with the corruption. This is why we have no-confidence in her and called to resign by 1 October. We will go for tougher programmes if she does not do so.
*The interview, published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza