It was shocking to observe the pathetic condition of my college
recently after three decades away. 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 & dumpers run anytime. Now it’s
seemingly impossible for the college authority to take a major
decision in favour 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?

Assam Engineering College Students Killed

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 the road mishap near the Jalukbari
overbridge point on National Highway 27. The luxury car carrying ten
AECians lost 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 were 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 recurrence of such incidents, Sarma ordered the department to
constitute another committee to strengthen discipline, rules &
regulations in the hostels of education 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 the present location, AEC was the first
engineering college in the region. Affiliated to Gauhati University,
AEC with the motto ‘Service before self,’ it 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 master’s in civil, Mech, Electrical,
Computer Applications and awards PhD under various branches.

The Campus

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.

Discipline Guidelines

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 initiatives 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 warned that any student found
involved in such activities would be expelled from both the hostel and

However, Dr Bora admitted that only a few senior faculties prefer to
reside in 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 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.

Encroachment On AEC Campus

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 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 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 the 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 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 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.

AEC Alumni Action

Amidst all negative news, a group of Assam Engineering College 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 Nava Thakuria is a former AECian and currently a professional journalist
based in Guwahati.