Controversies galore from smuggling of trees out of the campus to non-supply of books to the library

The Melur Government Arts College website gives a rosy picture about the institution. The website’s colourful content, which includes photographs of foreign students working on laptops, makes it appear to be an institution of international standards. But the reality is otherwise.

The college, spread over 87 acres, most of which lies unused, does not have a boundary wall. Last month, about 19 trees on the campus were felled and smuggled out, along with fencing material worth around Rs.6 lakh. The police registered a case.

Recently, the college librarian-cum-Associate Professor K. Shajahan lodged a police complaint accusing a local bookshop owner of cheating the college by not supplying books worth Rs. 4.5 lakh since 2011. The complaint lodged on July 5 says the books were supposed to have been supplied before March 31, 2011 as per a government order issued that year.

However, the supplier — P. Ramanathan, proprietor of Brain Plaza Book Shop at Melur, had been dodging the college authorities for more than two years, the complainant alleged. He also accused the supplier of going back on a promise made by him to supply the books within a month when a similar police complaint was lodged on December 3, 2012.

As per the librarian’s version, the government had allotted a total of Rs. 10 lakh in 2011 for the purchase of books. Accordingly, a committee comprising himself, the then principal and a few teaching staff handed the contract to Mr. Ramanathan, who claims to have supplied books worth Rs. 5.23 lakh despite receiving cheques for just Rs. 9.73 lakh.

Mr. Ramanathan then lodged a counter complaint with the police on July 17 and accused the librarian of demanding 10 per cent of the total amount of purchase as a “compliment” to the members of the committee. The bookseller reportedly expressed his inability to concede to the demand and that led to animosity between them.

“Later, Mr. Shajahan purchased books worth Rs.60,000 and a laptop worth Rs. 45,000 for a school run by his wife in Melur. When I demanded the money, he said that Rs. 60,000 was given away as compliment to the committee members and that he had taken the laptop as a compliment to himself. Since I refused to accept the reasoning, he lodged a false complaint against me,” the bookseller alleged.

When contacted for his reaction, the librarian said that the principal was the only authorised authority to speak on the issue. On his part, Principal M. Balasundaram, said that he had nothing to comment on the issue as the police were seized of the matter and it was up to them to initiate appropriate action against the wrongdoers.

On complaints of trespassing, he said that 60 per cent of the college campus was protected by a compound wall and the administration was in the process of mobilising funds for securing the rest of the property.

The college was established as a co-educational institution in Melur, the largest taluk in Madurai district, in 1969 and 65 acres of land were allotted to it in 1971. An additional 22 acres were added to it recently. At present, around 1,800 students from the southern districts attend the college.

B. Stalin, a former student of the college and resident of Melur, said that the institution had seen very little development in the last 44 years despite possessing huge tracts of land and serving as a beacon of hope for students from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, Backward Class and Most Backward Class communities.

It offers undergraduate degrees in 10 different disciplines such as Tamil literature, English literature, history, economics, commerce, mathematics, physics, chemistry, botany, zoology and computer science. It also offers post graduate degrees in history, computer science, commerce and economics. A majority of the students were from the lower strata of society.

The fees collected from students is nominal. The highest annual fee of Rs. 700 is collected for computer science education. Most students do not pay any fees because they are eligible for scholarships provided by the State government for poor students.

“It is painful to see such a great institution go to ruins. It’s unbelievable that no one in the college saw people cutting down 15 trees that were more than 30 years old and situated right next to the mathematics classroom and behind a men’s toilet. It could not have been possible without the connivance of insiders,” Mr. Stalin said.

Melur Sub-Inspector of Police S. Ramakrishnan said that investigation in the tree smuggling case was almost over and a charge sheet would be filed soon.

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