Another war is brewing in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, this time over its iconic Ganga Dhaba.
Served an eviction notice, the owner had until Friday morning to move out. But as the eatery opens only in the evening, students started gathering at the dhaba in the morning to protest against the administration’s attack on the “dhaba culture” of the Left-leaning campus.
Authorities say Bharat Tomar doesn’t have a licence to operate but the eatery is not being shut. “No such move (to close the dhaba). However, all commercial spaces on the campus must adhere to the university regulations,” vice-chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar said.
It is hard to separate JNU from Ganga Dhaba, which opens at 4pm and feeds hungry students till 3 in the morning and at nominal prices. But, it is more than food. It is the ideas place, it is a debating club, it is a place where “revolutions are sown”.
A Facebook group named after the eatery, almost as old as the campus, has nearly 13,000 members. An old-timer went to the extent of describing the eatery as “a dhaba with university facilities”.
No wonder students are upset. They say Tomar should be allowed to continue. “He was served an eviction notice as he was illegally occupying the space and didn’t have the authority to run the eatery,” registrar Pramod Kumar told HT.
“You are hereby directed to vacate the premises before August 18, 2016 and hand over the possession of the Ganga Dhaba to the estate branch of the university…” the August 9 notice sent by the university’s estate officer said.
The University on Friday issued a statement, “Ganga Dhaba is not being closed by JNU Administration. It is considered as JNU Heritage. Since the present occupant is illegally occupying the premises, he has been asked to vacate the place so that tendering procedure may be initiated at the earliest to run the Ganga Dhaba.”
JNU students union general secretary Rama Naga said the university should retain Tomar. “He has been serving the campus for a very long time. If there is not a single complaint against his food or behaviour then why change him?” he said.
Tomar had not paid rent for three years, ignoring repeated reminders, Kumar said. “His father used to run the dhaba and then his mother ran it after his father’s death. Now he is running it. It is not personal property -- to be transferred to family,” the registrar said.
The university would call fresh tenders and Tomar was free to apply and seek a new contract, Kumar said. “He has been asked to vacate today (Friday) but if he seeks more time we can consider that,” he said.
“Ganga Dhaba is not being closed by JNU administration. It is considered as JNU heritage. Since the present occupant is illegally occupying the premises, he has been asked to vacate the place so that tendering procedure may be initiated at the earliest to run the Ganga Dhaba,” said the university in a statement.
But students are not convinced. Naga said the university said the same for a photocopy shop but a year on, the place was still shuttered. “…Same will happen with Ganga dhaba, this is a trick to attack the dhaba culture in our campus,” he said.
Tomar said that the Dhaba was alloted to his father in 1983-84. “We provide cheap food and have developed a relation with students. The students don’t want us to go,” he said.
A JNU official said that eviction notice was also sent to a Magazine Centre, which runs near the bus stand opposite to Ganga Dhaba.