Visva-Bharati Vice-chancellor Bidyut Chakraborty has said that the university will not restrain itself from taking legally endorsed steps to reclaim land held "illegally" by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in its Santiniketan campus.
The eviction notice served to Sen by VB is in the public domain and those criticising the university for serving it to the well-known economist are requested to go through it before making their comments, Chakraborty said in an open letter on Thursday.
Encroachment of land cannot be supported and the law must be uniform for everyone. But unfortunately in West Bengal "the self-proclaimed moral custodians of Bangaliana (Bengaliness)" tend to give privilege to an individual at the cost of a great institution like Visva-Bharati, the vice-chancellor commented in the letter posted on the university's website.
The VC said it was said that the university's charge is invalid since the papers claiming that Professor Sen is the legal owner of the land in question were given to him by the West Bengal chief minister. "I have my reservation about this kind of logic".
Prof Amartya Sen had moved the Calcutta High Court in early May seeking relief as the university had passed an order directing him to vacate 0.13 acres (5,500 sq ft) of land at his ancestral Santiniketan residence in response to which the HC gave an interim stay on possible eviction last month.
The Nobel laureate in his petition argued that in October 1943, the then Visva Bharati general secretary Rathindranath Tagore had given 1.38 acres of land for a lease of 99 years to his father Asutosh Sen, who later built Pratichi.
Chakraborty, a former Delhi University professor of political science, in his letter said: "We urge the hon'ble chief minister of West Bengal to take care of the interests of an institution for which Gurudev left no stone unturned during his lifetime. The law is uniform for those involved in grabbing public property. We, thus, expect that it will be the same regardless of who the person is".
Referring to Sen's claims that the VC had nursed a "vindictive attitude" towards him as the famous economist had supported student causes, Chakraborty wrote, "We have nothing personal against him (Sen). We are also indebted to him intellectually. But does that justify the fact that he can own a piece of land illegally?" He went on to write that the university "will not restrain itself from taking other legally-endorsed steps that may cause further embarrassment not only to him but also to Visva-Bharati".
Sen has repeatedly spoken out against certain anti-student steps of the university which he felt went against the liberal ideals of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and Visva-Bharati's ethos.
On earlier claims by the university that it had witnessed land encroachment in the past decades, he said "Visva Bharati had 1,134 acres, which it acquired over time out of donations by philanthropists and through purchase by the institution. When the new administration took over in 2018, I was told that the land sharks had already grabbed 77 acres of Visva-Bharati's land." The vice-chancellor said that the university had till now succeeded in reclaiming 12 acres since 2019 in response to directions from the Centre.
"We have evicted those who built temples on our land by risking annoying those who are institutionally empowered to harm Visva-Bharati," after directions from the Centre and the university’s annual audits, he said.
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