Netrokona university: PM’s gift caught in construction delay
Yet another epic example of how a good initiative can go awry thanks to bureaucratic tangles
When the Sheikh Hasina University project in Netrokona was commissioned in 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said it was her gift to the people of the northeastern district, and that the university would focus on research aimed at developing the haor region.
But now, just three months before the project deadline is supposed to end, reality bites with the implementation agencies – University Grants Commission (UGC) and Sheikh Hasina University authorities – having so far failed to lay a single brick on the acquired 4,098 acres of land.
The acquired plot for the campus is low lying as a few university signboards stand on the submerged fields. Locals said the land must be developed before any construction gets underway.
With 210 students in two sessions in four subjects, the university now conducts its academic and administrative operations from a temporary building.
"We could not move to the permanent campus even after three years," said a second-year student, adding, "We do not know whether we will be able to have a single class there before ending our academic life."
Project set for extension, blame shifted to pandemic
The university was established on 12 February 2018, with the prime minister inaugurating the permanent campus construction on 2 November that year.
On 7 November 2018, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the "Sheikh Hasina University Project" involving a cost of around Tk2,637 crore.
The project deadline was set for 31 December 2021. But progress so far has only related to an acquisition of land.
According to the university sources, the construction is divided into 44 packages while tenders for only four packages – land development, construction of the administrative building, ten-storied academic building and construction of the university school and college – were floated at the beginning of this year.
The work order is now stuck with the education ministry and the cabinet committee on government purchase, though four contractors have been chosen through the tender.
On condition of anonymity, a project official said the cabinet committee on government purchase will approve packages worth above Tk100 crore while the ministry will approve packages worth less than that.
"We sent the files to them on time, and even selected the soil source in advance that will be used for development of the land," claimed the official.
The official said if the contractors cannot be awarded the work orders within December this year, the tenders will get canceled and a re-tender then may delay the implementation further.
Selim Ahmed, project director of Sheikh Hasina University, said, "The pandemic hampered our work slightly. We hope the higher authorities will give us the go-ahead soon."
"Since the project has not been implemented within the deadline, the time will certainly be extended," he added.
'We are frustrated'
The project delay has sparked agitations among the locals alongside the students. People in Netrokona have staged multiple demonstrations demanding an immediate start to the university project.
"The PM gifted the university to us and allocated the funds on time. We are obviously grateful to her, but the procrastination over its implementation just frustrates us," Hayder Jahan Chowdhury, a freedom fighter, told The Business Standard.
He demanded the PM's attention and immediate intervention too.
'Think before you act'
Dr Ferdous Zaman, a secretary at the UGC, said the academic activities of the university had been started "for a greater interest" before the construction of a permanent campus.
"Now the education ministry emphasises a speedy construction of the academic buildings. The ministry recently held a meeting and asked the authorities to ramp up implementation," he said.
Professor Dr Rafique Ullah Khan, vice-chancellor of Sheikh Hasina University, said the project will hopefully be completed within the next one year.
"Due to the lack of infrastructural facilities, we cannot introduce more faculties or subjects now. I hope the issue will go away too once we move to the permanent campus," the vice-chancellor told The Business Standard.
Prof Dr Nazrul Islam, former chairman of the UGC, said he appreciates the government's plan to establish at least one university in each district, but the implementation of such plans must take into consideration the availability of quality teachers and existing infrastructure.
"Many universities are being established without good and long-term plans. The authorities concerned must think before they act," he added.