The Jawaharlal Nehru University administration on Tuesday said it has decided to invite new bids to run canteens in the campus, and is exploring the feasibility of establishing food courts at suitable locations on campus. The decision was taken at a meeting of the university’s executive council.

The council also decided to take action against canteens that neither follow rules nor cater to students’ demand for clean, hygienic and affordable food”. Canteens that do not follow rules and have not paid dues would not be allowed to “participate in the tendering process”, the executive council said.

The canteens and dhabas on the JNU campus are central to student life and politics. Students use them for political debates and discussions, and billboards there are used for posters and leaflets. Student protest marches usually begin from the Sabarmati dhaba and end at the Ganga dhaba. Till about 2015, the campus had a 24-hour food court where hundreds of students used to have meals late at night after students’ union presidential debates. The administration, however, shut down the food court’s late-night operations and has threatened to close the other dhabas several times in the past.

The JNU Students’ Union criticised the administration’s decision, accusing Vice Chancellor M Jagadesh Kumar of attempting to privatise and “corporatise” public spaces at the university. The union said the administration had not called a meeting of the Campus Development Committee before taking this decision.

“JNU’s public spaces are places of academic engagement and have been built and cultivated over decades,” the union added. “Destruction of those spaces through closing down of existing dhabas for corporate takeover is nothing but a blatant move of privatisation that the JNU administration has started.”

The students’ union condemned the “autocratic and dictatorial manner in which the university is being run” and demanded that the executive council take back the decision and discuss it at proper fora.