One of India's oldest universities in the country is facing a malaise of modern times. With swanky cars and two-wheelers cramming into virtually all the open spaces for which the Panjab University (PU) campus is famous, the authorities have decided on a referendum in which the students will decide whether or not the the picturesque campus should be made a vehicle-free zone.
The referendum will be conducted on August 26 along with the students' union elections.
A two-day survey by the PU authorities last October had revealed that nearly 23,000 vehicles were daily entering the university's main campus, located in Sector 14.
"In two days (Oct 27 and 28, 2014), the campus saw 45,190 vehicles entering through the university's three gates. These included over 19,500 cars and other four wheelers and nearly 24,300 two-wheelers," a senior PU official told IANS.
On any given working day, the PU campus is bursting at seams with vehicles around academic departments, eateries, the Students' Centre and the administrative block. The residential areas, where faculty and staff stay, is relatively less congested.
"Chaotic traffic on the campus has been a major concern. There is a heavy flow of traffic, including vehicles of campus students and staff. People from 192 affiliated colleges, parents and employees as well as their relatives also come to the campus. We carried out a survey in Oct 2014 and have chalked out a plan to create more parking lots customized to meet the requirements of visitors," PU Registrar Col. G.S. Chadha (retd) told IANS.
To deal with the vehicle menace, PU, which was ranked No. 1 among all academic institutions of higher learning in the country by the Times Higher Education World Rankings 2013-14, is trying to work out various measures.
"We are planning battry-powered transport facility for providing shuttle service to visitors from parking area to departments. This apart, Rs.35 lakh ($53,000) has been sanctioned for creating more parking areas and the work is in progress. Stickers have been issued to employees and students for restricted entry to the campus. Enforcement will be done by special traffic management staff being hired shortly," Col. Chadha added.
Faculty members and old-timers at the university are a worried lot at the increasing numbers of vehicles on the campus.
"PU was always known for its open spaces and greenery. In the last few years, the number of vehicles has made things chaotic. Some solutions need to be found to save this beautiful campus," Sanjiv Tewari, a retired senior PU officer, told IANS.
University officials are hoping that students will judiciously give their opinions in the referendum.
"The referendum is being done to get the opinion of the students on this important issue as it affects everyone," PU Director for Public Relations Vineet Punia told IANS.
In the past, PU officials have tried various measures to control the growing number of cars and other vehicles on the campus.
These measures include refusing to give hostel accommodation to students who bring their cars to the hotels, declaring one day of the week as no-vehicle day and promoting the use of cycles.
PU even offered to provide loans to students and staff who opted to buy cycles. The campaign, however, was a non-starter.
"Many students bring their cars on the campus when they live in hotels. The campus has been designed in such a way that the hostels are not more than a 10-minute walk from any department. Why do hostellers need cars for such short distance travel," a university official asked.
The problem has compounded in the past one decade because PU introduced new under-graduate departments and courses. Each of these departments, including engineering, law, hotel management and others have enrolled hundreds of students.
The campus has nearly 15,000 students, the majority of them girls.
PU is a walled campus spread over 550 acres in Sectors 14 and 25. The Chandigarh traffic police do not have jurisdiction in the campus and PU has its own private security personnel.
Established in 1882 at Lahore (now in Pakistan), PU got its new campus in Chandigarh in 1956. Noted alumna of the university include former president Shankar Dayal Sharma, former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and I.K. Gujral, Nobel laureate Hargobind Khorana, astronaut Kalpana Chawla, country's first woman IPS officer Kiran Bedi and many more.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at email@example.com)