DISCLAIMER: The authors and editors of this article have tried to be as objective as possible in the following representation of the events of the soapbox. For the sake of brevity, we have discussed, what in our opinion, constitute the most relevant points of the debate. We have provided the video of the soapbox for GenSec.
By Kaushik Viswanath
A charged atmosphere led to the most awaited soapbox of the elections season. People trickled in throughout the Sports Secretary’s soapbox, filling the central section of SAC Middle Earth. The candidates were at their podiums before the applause for Sethu (Sports Sec candidate) died down. It was soon replaced by even louder applause and cheering for both the candidates, applause that refused to die down until repetitive warnings were given by the SAC Speaker. The candidates then explained in detail about their manifestos, first Sreeharsha, and then Purab Jain. This was followed by a Q&A session. The article is accordingly split into two sections – Manifesto Brief and Question and Answer Session.
Sreeharsha explained his manifesto in great detail, just fitting it in the 7 minute time limit.
He began with his opening statement and vision, “To make IIT Madras a safe and secure campus”.
Then came a description of the Student Affairs reforms he hoped to bring. He stated that the IITM App had no popularity, and proposed to revamp the IITM Student App which was being built by the MobOps Team, to better suit the needs of the students. The main points of the application included a personalized messaging and notification system so students only see notifications of their choice. He also proposed a feedback system, and said that the app would be a one stop solution, with much greater efficiency than the existing app. The clubs would be divided on the basis of the secretaries they come under, so people can browse and identify the clubs and activities they might be interested in.
He also proposed a course review and Acadbuddy system where students would review their course on a forum moderated by the Branch Councillors. According to Sreeharsha, this would be a brilliant way to both learn about a course, and get help from seniors who have already completed the course.He also proposed a Business Club, which would work in synergy with start ups, helping freelancers to find jobs.
He then proceeded to his proposed transport reforms, which included separate buses for the institute students and the KV students during the peak time, with the buses following a much shorter route touching all the parts of the academic zone, with a different proposed route for cycles and powered vehicles to prevent congestion and accidents.
He also hoped to introduce cycle transport reforms by auctioning old hostel cycles, and initiating free pooling of old hostel cycles, another point which would be debated upon later.
His next set of reforms were the security reforms, in light of the incidents that occurred recently. He proposed complete digitization of security at all gates, and initiate an online gate pass system for validation of frequent visitors, with the details of the person as well as the student in question being taken for the record.
He then moved on to the reorganization of the bodies under the Student General Secretary, starting with Prakriti, in collaboration with whom he wanted to set up a ‘Quick Response Team’ for animal welfare, considering the incidents in the past. As a part of this, he proposed a night patrolling unit consisting of guards, who would patrol the entire expanse of the campus.He also proposed giving the Assistant Wardens training in emergency response in case of any emergency.He also proposed Colloquiums at hostel level to discuss policies relevant to the SAC, following which the legislator would present the hostel’s views in the SAC meeting, leading to a more informed and interactive democracy.He also proposed a backup for the solar heaters in the hostels, and setting up of a Central Purchase Committee.
The applause took a while to die down, but people were listening eagerly, when the second candidate, Purab Jain began to speak. His vision for IIT Madras was a campus where all problems would be solved in the simplest of ways.
He began with one of the core points of his manifesto, the digitization of the campus. He proposed a new application called “IITM Essentials”, which would include a centralized complaint system for the students, where they can complain about any and all problems they’re facing, be given a complaint number through which they can track the status of the complaint. He also proposed to integrate the IITM bus app with the essentials app, making it a one stop application for all the problems.
Another proposal of his was the consolidated student profile for each user, which would help in resume verification and in updating credentials of the students. He put forth the inclusion of an Institute Calendar which would help students to keep track of events and competitions both in and around the campus.Aside from the application, Purab also proposed a vehicle monitoring system inside the campus to regulate and reduce the traffic through the institute. He also proposed setting up speed cams to identify over speeding vehicles.
He then moved on to his next point of focus ‘Cleanliness and Sustainability’. He proposed an E waste management system for the hostel zone, similar to the one existing in the academic zone.He proposed setting up of mosquito repellant plants, an initiative that was also proposed by Aditya Bharadwaj, the ex-General Secretary of IIT Madras. He also proposed the installation external power switches for all hostel rooms to save electricity.
He also proposed additional cctv cameras, strict background checks for all the security guards in the campus, and to revive the WithU app, another initiative by Aditya Bharadwaj, in cases of emergency.He also proposed an online counselling platform for students, similar to the ones existing in other IITs.
As a part of improving General Facilities in the institute, he suggested quite a few initiatives, beginning with the vacation bus transport system, where the institute buses will help students reach the railway stations and bus stations during the vacation timings, and also proposed taxis at discounted rates during the same period, to help the students.
He also proposed to revive the existing feedback portal, which had failed to attract any complaints in the past.
He also hopes to build a Spons team under the SGS, to help find sponsors to increase the scope of activities of clubs and organizations under the General Secretary.He proposed the old cycle sale,but at a time when freshies enter the institute, along with the new cycle sales, so students could choose accordingly. He said, the first floor of Quark was to be turned into a hangout/meeting spot, called “The Hub”, where students could sit back and relax in their free time.
Among other points, he also pushed for eateries in the Academic zones for the students to grab a quick bite, and second hand book sales throughout the year to help students. He also proposed the setting up of tailoring and ironing services in the hostel zone for the students, as well as a second hand book sale. He concluded with a display of his credential, amidst loud applause and chants.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION
The first question posed by the Speaker, was important, especially in light of recent events in campus. The question was, “Will you support legislations against disruptive and noisy protests?”.Purab answered first, stating that the Executive Wing was a mere executive body, and would implement any and all legislations that the SAC make, and that is what he would do as a General Secretary. Sreeharsha took a different approach, and said that he would talk to the ISBs(Independent Student Bodies) for permissions for a protest, and monitor if all the norms set by the Dean are followed in case a protest does happen, and ensure appropriate actions are taken in case the norms weren’t followed.
The next question, also aimed at both candidates, turned up multiple times in the evening, since the audience and the secretaries present felt that it was not answered properly.
‘How will you better implement WiFi at public places?’, was the question posed, to which Harsha replied saying that the current SGS was already working on the problem at hand, and if it wouldn’t be completed by the end of his tenure, Harsha would accomplish it in the first semester of his term if he became the GenSec. Purab also answered in a similar manner, stating that the tender for the WiFi was already out, and that he would make it happen if it was not completed.
The question was posed again later in the evening, but in a different format. “What new initiatives are you taking to ensure WiFi at public places?”. To this, Purab again repeated his words, saying that the current SGS had reported progress, and would follow up on the same later to ensure that the work is done.
Harsha, however, stated that a minimal budget of 1.1 lakh could be spent on WiFi at a few locations like Guru, Zaitoon and Himalaya, using industrial grade routers, similar to the ones used in the Placement Cell. He was quickly corrected by the I&AR secretary, who said that this network would be an unsafe network, and could be easily accessed by anyone who was not a student. Even LDAP login is not as safe as encryption, which is the reason for the wait at the moment. Harsha, however said that this would only act as a temporary alternative until a much safer WiFi is brought forth by the tender.
Another question was posed as to why the non vegetarian options in the messes were limited to chicken only. Harsha chose to answer this question first, armed with his experience as the CMFGS Core. He stated that the food poisoning levels were much lower in chicken when compared to that of fish and mutton, and this was the reason chicken was preferred over the other two. However, he stated that this could be extended to mutton and fish if the students wished so.
Purab replied saying that the MoU that was signed with the CCW regarding the menu did not have a GSB member to look through it. He said he would push for the inclusion of a GSB member, and also circulate a form among students to get an idea of the kind of dishes that they would like to see. Harsha countered this statement, saying that as a part of the CMGFS team, he knew for a fact that a GSB member was included in the decision making process.
Then the duo were quizzed over a common manifesto point, their mobile apps. When asked about the special points of their app, Purab replied, saying that this app would be outsourced, and would be a one stop app for all students. He said that his features were also better, and that the maintenance costs would also be low in case of outsourcing the app.Harsha stated that he would revamp the existing app, adding features for Lit and Tech Soc, Personalized Notifications and Division by Secretaries. However, this was questioned by the I&AR Secretary, who said that it was the I&AR team managing the present app and not the MobOps team, and that the present app could not be revamped. This lead to a heated discussion, with Harsha clarifying his statement by saying that he wasn’t talking about the existing app, but the one that was in the pipeline. Purab then argued, stating that the entire point of him “revamping” a non-existent app and his statement that people had no knowledge about the existing app was moot.
The next question was posed by Dheeresh, to Purab, regarding the groundwork behind his proposal of an E-Waste management system, and logistics behind the amount of E-Waste generated in the hostel zone.To this, Purab replied saying that such a system exists in the Academic zone, and he had already spoken to the DoSt and the representatives from Ozone, who were more than willing to take up the task at hostel zone. Harsha retaliated, saying that Purab should have first consulted the SNet, since it was an existing body that worked under the SGS and was supposed to take care of the same.
Dheeresh then addressed the fact that the presentations from neither candidate had any say about the MiTr and Saathi, two of the institute bodies that focused on mental health. Purab Jain remarked that he had gone over the issue, and had suggested online counselling as a viable platform, since most students didn’t feel comfortable going to a counsellor in person. He had also proposed stress relief sessions for the same.Harsha countered the statement by stating that an online counselling platform was a concept that had already been envisioned by Saathi, and was also proposed to the Director, and claimed that he did not add it to his manifesto to avoid redundancies. He also added that his initiative on acad-buddies would help reducing academic stress.
The discussion then made its way into the mess allotment, where Purab stated that he would give girls the option to dine in the Himalaya mess, an option which they can not opt while registering for the mess. Dheeresh clarified by saying that the only reason girls need a written permission was a logistical issue that prevented allotment, and that this could not be overcome. Purab then supported his statement, by saying that he had spoken to the CCW about the issue, and they were sure to get it sorted. The HAS, however, found problem with this, since his meeting with the CCW a few days ago, along with the SGS, resulted in no solution for the problem.Purab retaliated that he had met the Dost and CCW and they agreed to allow the girl students to dine in Himalaya on the basis of a survey conducted by him.
The AAS raised his objection about the mosquito repellant plants proposed by Purab, where he recalled that a similar idea was put forth by the previous General Secretary, Aditya Bharadwaj. It did not work out well, with the deer eating the catnip meant to ward off mosquitoes. He questioned the feasibility of the plan, and its effect on the natural habitat. Purab supported his plan with a clarification that the plant he chose was marigold, which will not be eaten by deers. Moreover, he had already consulted the Horticulture department, which had agreed with the plan, which would be effective if the plants are in large numbers.
The cycle pooling initiative by Sri Harsha was under scrutiny, not only by the SGS, but also from several members of the audience. The SGS asked for feasibility check and budget. Harsha laid down a basic budget of 20k for repairing and maintaining around 20 cycles from a hostel, which would then be used for cycle pooling, with the students giving their ID cards in exchange for the cycle keys. Any damage to the cycle would reflect on the iKollege portal of the student.
The audience, however, had more queries. While some argued that the budget specified would be nowhere near the amount required to repair the cycles, others felt that more cycles needed to be repaired to cater to hostels, which have a student population of around 500. Harsha upheld the budget earlier specified, stating that the CMFGS set a thousand rupees as the yearly cost of insurance of a cycle. As for the number, he said it would expand over the years, until it becomes a centralized cycle sharing system.
The RAS inquired about steps taken to increase PG participation in events in the institute. Harsha responded saying that he already has a feedback system in place the IITM app, and that he would push for a constitutional amendment for reports from the Research, Department and Hostel legislators about topics discussed in the SAC. If the feedback showed active participation, steps would be taken to increase PG participation in the events they are interested in.
Purab said that he had talked to many PG students, including the PG cores from Shaastra and the RAS as well. The solution he proposed involved a separate call for Coordinators , and would also have a different questionnaire from the UG students.
Another proposal of Harsha’s that received questions from the audience was the installation of screens at Vindhya, Himalaya and GC. Both the cost effectiveness and the feasibility of the plans were questioned. Harsha assured them, stating that the initial expenditure of 2.5 lakhs for the screens would be beneficial in the long run, with no recurring expense for banners, posters, projectors and screens, with the only expenditure after the initial purchase being that of maintenance. Another concern raised was about the screens handling the weather conditions, which was put at rest with Harsha stating that the budget included a protective glass for this very reason.
Purab’s proposal for external switches was deemed as not feasible by Dheeresh, to which Purab replied that the cost of installation would be minimal compared to the savings in the long run, and that the CCW had agreed to the same.A member of the audience enquired as to why external switches were not installed in Narmada( the hostel for which Purab Jain was general secretary), even though the point was on his manifesto. Purab responded saying that this idea was turned down at CCW itself, and that he did not have the opportunity to speak to the Engineering Unit and the Engineering Unit has now agreed to do the same. Dheeresh however clarified that CCW plays no role in the internal matters of the hostel and the switches could have installed with the consent of the warden itself.
By this point, the audience was disrupting the soapbox, with the supporters of one candidate heckling the other with loud chants and whistles, and the Speaker had to remove a few audience members before the soapbox could be resumed in full swing. Even then the noise refused to die down, and it became increasingly difficult to follow the proceedings.
A few serious topics were brought up, including queries about the sexual harassment cases in institute, and about how the students deserved to know about the information, as well as queries regarding the transparency of CCASH. Harsha emphasised on the sensitivity of the issue, stating that the administration and EW had to scrutinize the situation before making any statements, and that this was not the case for media bodies outside the institute. As for the transparency, he cited the Visakha Guidelines, a ruling which prevents the disclosure of information regarding sexual harassment cases that were reported. Purab said that he would discuss any situation immediately with the DoSt and Director, and give the students an idea of what was happening on campus before they hear it from a source outside the institute.
Among other topics, one concern that was voiced was the increasing substance abuse in the institute, and the lack of awareness campaigns for the same. While Purab assured that awareness campaigns would be conducted at the institute level, along with student bodies like MiTr and Saathi, Harsha added that Assistant wardens in the hostel should be made aware of the abuse, and that both proactive and reactive methods need to be taken.
With the clock ticking into the late hours, and the unrest of the crowd growing, the Speaker decided to conclude the session. Nearly ten minutes of loud chanting and booing later, the correspondents present had a word with Aroon Narayan about the usefulness of the soapbox, with most of them turning into shouting matches between the supporters. Aroon said that he was happy that people were participating in the election process, and that we, as an institute would have to start at some base before we reach the ideal democracy.
The video of the proceedings can be found here. Credits : Media Club, IIT Madras