It was shocking to observe the pathetic condition of my college recently after three decades. When we left the college, it was one of the brightest technical institutions in eastern India, but it has now turned into an ordinary residential college. Once enjoyed as an isolated campus, it emerges as a crowded college premises, where private vehicles including trucks and dumpers run anytime. Now it’s seemingly impossible for the college authority to take a major decision in favor of the pioneer institution along with its thousands of students, teachers, and other office staff. Is our adorable Assam Engineering College (AEC) facing a slow death?

Recently when seven brilliant AEC students died in a tragic accident on 29 May 2023, it created a wave of sorrow across the region. The boarders of AEC Hostel-7 were returning to the college campus during
the late-night hours and faced a road mishap near the Jalukbari overbridge point on National Highway 27. The luxury car carrying ten AECians lost its control and collided with a goods-carrying vehicle
after hitting the divider. Seven of them died on the spot and three sustained serious injuries. Three others in the vehicle were also injured in the incident.

It’s found that no professional driver was in the car (though it was rented) and it was driven by one of the victims. Kaushik Baruah from Mangaldoi, Rajkiran Bhuyan from Majuli, Niyar Deka from Golaghat, Emon Gayan from Dibrugarh, Kaushik Mohan from Charaideo, Upangshu Sarma from Nagaon and Arindam Bhallal from Guwahati. Hostel-7 boarders namely Arpan Bhuyan, Arnab Chakraborty, and Mrinmoy Borah wounded in the accident, and at the same time Muzammil Haque, Yusuf Ali, and Rajib
Ali also sustained injuries.

State chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who visited the site of the accident in the morning hours, expressed grief over their premature death. Sarma directed the education department to institute a
high-level probe committee to investigate the matter. With an aim to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, Sarma ordered the department to constitute another committee to strengthen discipline, rules, and regulations in the hostels of educational institutions. It will look into strict enforcement of hostel timing, staying of non-boarders, complete prohibition of alcohol, etc on the college campuses.

Founded in 1955 and inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on 16 January 1958 in its present location, AEC is the first engineering college in the region. Affiliated to Gauhati University,
AEC with the motto ‘Service before self’ offers bachelor in engineering degree (BE) in eight disciplines– Mechanical, Civil, Electronics & Telecommunications, Electrical, Chemical, Instrumentation, Computer Science & Engineering, and Industrial & Production. It also provides masters in Civil, Mech, Electrical,
Computer Applications and awards Ph.D. under various branches.

Spread across 400 acres of land in the western part of Guwahati, the premier institute caters to the needs of over 1000 students at a time. AEC has eight hostels (one reserved for girls) and nearly 100 permanent teachers. It was recently accredited by the National Board of Accreditation, New Delhi in five disciplines (Civil, Mech, Electrical, Chemical, and Electronic & Telecommunications). The accreditation has elevated the status of AEC to a global standard, which already has 20,000+ alumni across the world.

Dr. Atul Bora, the immediate past AEC principal, while speaking to this writer, informed that he regularly issued disciplinary guidelines to the students/boarders. The AEC authority also formulated hostel management committees comprising members representing parents, ex-boarders, boarders, faculties, and office representatives. Dr. Bora took the initiative in constituting campus sustainability committees for each AEC hostel, where the concerned warden was asked to play a proactive role.

Regarding the hostel boarders, anyone found to be absent without permission was supposed to be liable for punishment. Even the local police administration was authorized to pick up any such boarder
outside the campus beyond the permissible time limit without the warden’s permission. Consumption of alcohol/drugs inside the college campus was strictly prohibited and any student found involved in such activities would be expelled from both the hostel and college.

However, Dr. Bora admitted that only a few senior faculties prefer to reside on the college campus even though it’s a residential educational institution. Moreover, the senior teachers refuse to take the responsibility of being hostel supers. Their overall stay on the college campus is really low and they hardly show interest in taking other responsibilities beyond the classroom activities.

State education minister Ranoj Pegu recently visited the AEC campus to discuss with the principal and hostel wardens about the tragic incident. Later the government asked Dr. Bora to go on compulsory leave
and Prof Kalyan Kalita (HoD of Mech Engg) was appointed as in-charge principal of AEC. Hostel-7. Superintendent Dr. Sasanka Sekhar Sharma was also asked to go on compulsory leave until a probe, ordered by the government, is completed and its report gets submitted.

“The tragic incident should teach every one of us a lesson. First the AEC authority must enforce strict guidelines for students going out or coming inside the campus during the evening hours. We remember the then AEC principal Prof AK Padmapati used to note down everyone coming inside the campus after the evening. The authority should immediately introduce digital gadgets to observe the movement of people through all three gates,” commented All Assam Engineer’s Association (AAEA), a forum of graduate engineers.

AAEA (many of them are AECians) in a recent media statement also reiterated the demand for a complete demarcation of the AEC campus along with solid boundary walls to protect the historic institution.

Recollecting their memory of college/hostel days, the forum observed that the campus is now in no way isolated as it was supposed to be. In reality, it supports a huge volume of private residents, who use the
AEC road and its entry gates round the clock, said AAEA President Er Kailash Sarma.

It was shocking to witness that large areas of AEC land have been encroached on, distorting the unique feature of the college campus. The entire college campus was earlier covered by the Gauhati University
hills on the north and Deepar Beel on the south. Now, virtually the southern part of AEC supports a large number of private houses (including multi-storied apartments). It’s surprising how the low-lying areas (specified as the green belt adjacent to the wetland) were allowed for construction purposes by the concerned authorities which has created environmental and academic hazards to the college.

The AEC authority had already urged the State government to construct a boundary wall that would separate the private residents from the college campus. The construction was proposed to start with the point near to ASEB power office (adjacent to NH 27) and the AEC guest house touching the LP school. It would touch Tetelia Road and the back side of the principal office. Lastly, the wall would cover the PWD chock, Hostel-3 and Assam Police Radio Organization office in the west. It was also proposed that the private land within the campus should be purchased/requisitioned for allotting back to the college authority.

“The college authority has already approached various offices of GMDA, GMC, DTE, Kamrup (metropolitan) district administration with others for taking the possible administrative, legal, and technical measures to protect the AEC by constructing the boundary wall. We support the demand for the enrichment of AEC in all aspects and urge the government to do the needful,” concluded the AAEA statement. It also appealed to the parents of students to remain vigilant about their sons/daughters in
college campuses through various means.

Mentionable is that following the heart-breaking AEC incident, the authority of Jorhat Engineering College (the second government-run technical institution in Assam) issued strict guidelines for their
students as a precautionary measure. It was followed by other engineering colleges of Assam like Barak Valley Engineering College, Bineswar Brahma Engineering College, Golaghat Engineering College,
Dhemaji Engineering College etc.

Amidst all negative news, a group of AEC alumni along with AECians and faculties set a praiseworthy example. Former AECians Debarshi Baruah, Animesh Bora, Pratibhu Dutta, etc took the lead and collected funds for the injured driver, handyman, and helper of the vehicle, who were injured in the accident and recovering at Guwahati medical college hospital. Close family members of each victim were handed over Rs one lakh by the group to receive applause from everyone in the society.

The writer is a former AECian and is currently a professional journalist based in Guwahati