President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said universities and institutions of higher learning must be bastions of free speech and expression and debates should be encouraged.
“Universities and institutes of higher learning are the best forum for debates, discussions, free exchange of views...such atmosphere should be encouraged,” Mukherjee said at the first convocation of Nalanda University, after laying the foundation stone for the first phase of construction work on the campus and awarding degrees in Rajgir, around 80 kms south east of Patna.
He said modern Nalanda University (NU) should, like the ancient one, be the place for free-exchange of ideas and viewpoints, keeping aside all narrowness, and encourage open debate and discussion.
“There should be no room for intolerance, prejudice and hatred within the space of this new institution,” he added.
Mukherjee said ancient Nalanda was a melting point of civilizations, a confluence of four historic traditions - Indian, Greek, Persian and Chinese - and the modern one needed to keep up the rich tradition.
Referring to the book 'Argumentative India' by Nobel laureate and founding NU chancellor Prof Amartya Sen, who was also present, Mukherjee said, "He has written how history and traditions have always celebrated the argumentative Indian. It cannot be done away with, as it is part of our life and ethos. The lesson for modern Nalanda is to ensure that the great tradition finds new life and vigour within its precincts."
The President said universities must be bastions of free speech and expression, providing room for diverse and conflicting schools of thought. "They must be a flag-bearer for the co-existence of multiple views, thoughts and philosophies," he added.
Pranab, who was involved with NU during its gestation stage as India's foreign minister, said he was privileged not only to deliver the address at the first convocation but also be at the site of his 'dream project. "It is a proud moment for me as the idea that revived NU took shape during my tenure in the south block," he added.
Maintaining, that in the sphere of higher education, India was a magnet for world scholars in the past with institutions like Nalanda, Takshshila, Vikramshila, Vallabhi, Somapura and Odantpuri, he said, "Sadly, India's modern day universities are yet to reach the top position in world rankings. We must work towards regaining the glory of the past. It was only due to my persistent efforts that some of the universities figured in the top 200 in 2015," he recalled.
Describing Nalanda University as a symbol of Asian resurgence, he said the 21st century was expected to be an "Asian century'. "At such a time, institutions of knowledge like Nalanda have critical importance. It is critical to India's 'Act East' policy," he added.
He also had a word of praise for the 'net zero' concept at NU campus and said it could be a model for other university campuses, keeping aside lofty ideas. "By adopting a net zero energy goal, the university has attempted to link its historical legacy with urgent contemporary issues of environment sustainability."
The NU campus is being planned in way that it shall be self-reliant so far as demand of energy, water and other natural resources are concerned. These needs shall be met from internal arrangement. The total energy requirement is proposed to be met through renewable sources only which would be a combination of solar photovoltaic panels and biomass.
"Today, the entire humanity is confronted with the challenge of saving the world. Will we be able to give the coming generations the world that we inherited? International conferences may deliberate on fixing responsibility for environmental degradation, but we also have to face the consequences of wanton destruction of Mother Earth. We can have satisfaction finding faults and saying the responsibility lies elsewhere, but the penalties are for the entire humanity," he added.
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, he said: "Mother Earth has enough resources to meet the needs of its children, but not greed of very few. It is the greed of a few that has created this situation."
For the first batch students, he had a special message. "Entering real life outside this campus, you will face a sea of challenges and you have to handle them, without the fostering care of your alma mater. But you need not feel nervous with the knowledge and skills you have acquired here," he added.
Bihar governor Ram Nath Kovind, chief minister Nitish Kumar, chancellor George Yeo, vice chancellor Gopa Sabharwal and Dr Amartya Sen also spoke on the occasion.