What does it feel like when a place you go to study feels like a haunted house?
Sajani Shrestha, a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) student, says her new building on campus reminded her of a haunted house. A few months ago, she enrolled in the oldest educational institution in Nepal, Tri-Chandra Multi-Campusbetter known as Tri-Chandra College, in the heart of the capital.
Like Shrestha, more than 11,000 students are forced to study in such campus buildings where they fear the next major earthquake will occur during working days.
“The building made me anxious. On the first day of my class, I was afraid it would collapse. But, with courage, I faced my fear and sat in the classroom,” says Shrestha.
The campus buildings are nothing like those of an educational institution as they have cracks almost everywhere, wild grass on the floor, plants growing between the walls of the building, stinky and unsanitary toilets, unmanaged classrooms, messy bulletin boards, etc.
Students, teachers and staff at Tri-Chandra College are at risk because a building constructed in 1918, which was badly hit by the 2015 earthquake, has never been renovated. Stakeholders say rebuilding the building is key to reviving the glory of the historic institution.
The unknown institution
The 104-year-old Tri-Chandra College has a long history of teaching. The people who are currently in power were also once college students. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba himself studied here while Gagan Thapa, Secretary General of the Nepali Congress, was once the President of the Tri-Chandra College Free Students’ Union.
Although the college has produced a number of prominent figures, its status remains pathetic. The current state of the campus clearly shows that they never looked back to the campus and thought about improving its condition.
On Tuesday, June 21, the student wing of the Nepalese Congress, the Nepal Students Union, launched the Save Tri-Chandra campaign. They put up banners with the texts “Save Tri-Chandra” and “Renovate Tri-Chandra” in different buildings on campus.
Previously, students also staged a protest on June 14 outside the campus to demand renovations to the historic educational facility. However, it is still uncertain whether the government will respond to their request.
The oldest college in the country has three buildings. The building that shares the compound with the historic Ghantaghar (Clock Tower) was heavily impacted by the 2015 earthquake. At the time, the building also received a red sticker from the government, recognizing it as a high risk area.
It’s been over five years, but the building is still in a dilapidated state. Likewise, the middle building is relatively less affected by the earthquake.
Until two weeks ago, the building housed a classroom for Tri-Chandra College’s geology department as well as a room for its administrative work. However, at the onset of the monsoon, the department had to be moved to other rooms as rainwater began to seep in there.
Rainwater was also seeping into the building earlier, but this year it was more, says Ananta Prasad Gajurel, the head of the department.
On the first floor of the third building, opposite Ghantaghar, is the Department of Meteorology. In the same building, two rooms serve as classrooms on the top floor. The earthquake affected this building relatively less than the one in the middle. But, it still has to face the problem of leakage during the rainy season.
People associated with Tri-Chandra College identify various reasons for its stagnant and dire state. One of them is Govinda Thapaliya, a former president of the Tri-Chandra College branch of the Free National Union of Nepalese Students (ANNFSU), the student wing of CPN UML. He blames the government and college administration for the deplorable state of the campus as they are reluctant to renovate and improve the condition of the campus, Thapaliya says.
“They neglect campus issues.” He further says that while places like Ranipokhari and Durbar High School which are very close to the campus have already been rebuilt after the earthquake, the status of the campus remains unknown.
Similarly, no new FSU election in the past 16 years also hinders the development of Tri-Chandra College, he says. There are a number of student unions on campus and each of them has its own interests, he complains.
Thapaliya believes that once there are FSU elections, issues will be resolved in greater volumes.
The blame game
After the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) ceased to exist in December 2021, responsibility for renovating the campus has now been transferred to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. But, so far, no initiation has been taken for this. However, during the June 14 House of Representatives meeting, Education Minister Devendra Paudel advised that the Tri-Chandra College buildings would be constructed in that fiscal year.
Similarly, Shanta Shiwakoti, president of the Tri-Chandra College branch of the Nepal Students’ Union, the student wing of the Nepalese Congress, denounces the NRA’s neglect on campus.
“Their negligence forced students to study in risky buildings,” he says. “The Ministry of Education should immediately initiate a step to rebuild the college.”
After the NRA presented a master plan for the ambitious Grand Tundikhel project, reconstruction of the Tri-Chandra College buildings stalled. The NRA planned to expand Tundikhel from Ranipokhari to Tripureshwor and proposed to rebuild the Tri-Chandra campus in Jamal, where the Tribhuvan University Exam Controller’s office was previously located.
“But the students, professors and other people involved were against the NRA’s plan,” said one of the professors on condition of anonymity.
Rather than rebuilding the campus, the NRA had every interest in making the Grand Tundikhel project a success, the professor explains. “But since they couldn’t satisfy their interest, they started avoiding the campus.”
However, Minister Devendra Paudel has promised Campus Head Professor Sunil Adhikari to begin renovations of campus buildings as soon as possible.
“Although the minister has pledged to rebuild the campus immediately, it is still unclear whether they have taken action on this,” Adhikari says.