Institute Soapbox (Day 3): Co-Curricular Affairs Secretary, Institute General Elections 2018

The Day 3 of the Institute Soapbox held on March 8 saw the candidates for the positions of Student General Secretary and Co-Curricular Affairs Secretary present to the student body their vision and mission for their respective positions next academic year. Surya Suresh puts down a brief report of the soapbox for the post of Co-Curricular Affairs Secretary in this article. The full video of the soapbox by the SEC is here.

The candidates contesting for the post of Co-Curricular Affairs Secretary are Abhijit S Gupta, a 4th year student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Vamsi Krishna Mula, a 4th year student in the Department of Civil Engineering. Both candidates were welcomed with rapturous applause by their set of supporters. As per standard Soapbox procedure, the candidates started out by presenting their manifestos and corresponding visions for their roles as CoCAS.


Vamsi Krishna Mula – Presentation

Vamsi began proceedings by discussing his vision for the institute’s technical sphere. He stressed on the importance of ensuring accessibility and inclusivity in the co-curricular sphere and focused on providing an easy and clear path for people from all backgrounds. Besides this, he also emphasised the importance of coordination between the 5 bodies under the CoCAS; Shaastra, CFI, TechSoc, E-Cell and Nirmaan.

Vamsi focused on his proposal to foster entrepreneurial spirit among institute students. He described his various manifesto points to achieve the same and these include the introduction of a course on entrepreneurship and a new crediting system for students with start-ups registered under Nirmaan. Vamsi also spoke in detail about CFI’s vision to nurture innovators and put forward his points for the same. He professed that the whole purpose why CFI exists is to create the kind of people who are willing to innovate and nurture the ability to do so beyond the campus. He emphasised the need for good branding and particularly focused on a proposed DIY series in which videos discussing various things in which CFI has expertise on will get broadcast on TV and on YouTube. The formation of interest groups to discuss blockchain, and exploring avenues to make CFI a hub for technology in sports and other emerging fields were the last points that he mentioned before moving on to points on Shaastra.

In his vision for Shaastra, Vamsi spoke about the importance of creating ‘Feels’ for Shaastra and highlighted the pressing need to showcase institute talent at Shaastra. He added that he plans on revamping the exhibition set-up by having international exhibits come down to Shaastra and provide exposure to cutting edge technology. Vamsi proceeded to discuss about his plans to reinvigorate TechSoc. He envisions TechSoc as a platform where ‘Tech meets Fun’ and hopes to improve participation by sending winners as part of the IITM contingent to other tech fests.


Abhijit S Gupta – Presentation

Abhijit began his presentation by speaking about the wonderful learning ecosystem provided by the institute; facilities, students, resources and professors. He proceeded to speak about his vision to rejuvenate the culture of science and technology in the institute by exploring untapped opportunities. He also emphasized on the importance of being accessible and accommodating people from diverse backgrounds.

Abhijit proceeded to speak about his proposals, starting with Tech Connect. He described Tech Connects’s primary goal of expanding IITM’s tech sphere by bringing people together. Proceeding with Tech Connect’s subsidiaries, Abhijit spoke about Skill Share, Sci Tech Cafe and Adventures. He spoke  about enabling students to take informed decisions and hoped that Skill Share would enable them to do the same. He envisions Skill Share as an application to connect various stakeholders and promote knowledge sharing. The Sci Tech Cafe initiative is to further promote faculty student interaction and also enable discussions on emerging technology. His section on Tech Connect came to an end with a discussion of his plan to conduct excursions to industrial units, incubators and research facilities.

Abhijit proceeded to focus on his strategies for branding. He spoke about the negative portrayal of IIT Madras and sought to correct this through the creation of a blog with photos and videos about the work done at IIT Madras. He proceeded to discuss about his initiatives for Shaastra in order to make the fest ‘Bigger and Better’. Exhibitions, events, ‘Carnival’ and quality were his main focus. With regards to exhibitions, he spoke about the possibility of expansion by reaching out to governments, national bodies, professionals and start-ups. He particularly focused on inviting start-ups to showcase their innovations and hire interns from campus. Carnival was another proposed initiative of Abhijit’s that he envisions as a platform to showcase institute projects and improve the overall ambience of Shaastra. Another major initiative that he spoke about was to diversify events, particularly into the areas of bio-tech, civil engineering, fintech and astronomy.  He concluded this section by emphasizing on the need to ensure quality and proposed to achieve the same through digitization.

At this point, the moderator reminded the candidate about the time limit of 10 minutes for the presentation. Abhijit proceed to quickly provide a summary of his initiatives for TechSoc and CFI. In his vision for TechSoc, he spoke about ‘TechSoc for insti’, ‘TechSoc for fun’ and ‘TechSoc for career’; his three pronged approach to address different stakeholders. He then proceeded to discuss about promoting social entrepreneurship through E-cell and an online repository for CFI.


Q&A Between the Candidates

The floor then turned to cross questioning between the candidates, roughly following an alternate questioning pattern. This was a very intense session where both candidates were passionate about their respective views. T5E has strived to reproduce the Q&A session as accurately as possible.

Vamsi began by questioning Abhijit whether CFI’s primary purpose was to build projects and prototypes. Abhijit responded in the affirmative. Vamsi argued that CFI’s primary purpose was to nurture innovators and that the latter’s response clearly indicated his lack of groundwork. Abhijit proceeded to question Vamsi on the novelty of his proposed start-up crediting system. The existence of an ‘Undergraduate Research Project’ and courses under the ‘ID’ stream were Abhijit’s main counters to Vamsi’s proposal. He enquired why it should be considered  a new initiative and how it will add value to the existing system. There was a heated discussion on this manifesto point with several back and forth discussions between the candidates. While Abhijit felt that start-ups are easily getting credited under the current academic system particularly with the involvement of professors, Vamsi disagreed by stating that his proposal would enable greater flexibility in the types of start-ups that could get credited and also ensure a measurement of work done.

Vamsi proceeded to question Abhijit about the feasibility of his proposal to upload videos of CFI projects on the web. Abhijit was confident about the feasibility of his proposal and stated that the necessary equipment was in place and it is not particularly difficult to produce the required video content. Vamsi pointed out that such initiatives had been attempted before and had failed. Abhijit remained confident about his initiative and stated that publicity would come through the IITM’s students app. He proceeded to question Vamsi about the latter’s proposal to create a CFI project portal. Abhijit attempted to show the apparent redundancy of Vamsi’s idea by demonstrating the functionality of Google Sheets for flagging issues, live updates and dynamic timelines and this was received by rapturous applause by his supporters. Vamsi defended his proposal by stating that the portal offered an opportunity to interact with alumni and sponsors and that the biggest issue for CFI right now is cash crunch. The candidates continued to debate on this issue.

Vamsi went on to question Abhijit about his ‘Startup Hive’ proposal and commented that the same event had been conducted in Shaastra 2015 and under the name of Tech and Innovation Fair in Shaastra 2018. Abhijit conceded that similar events had been attempted before and he was attempting to reintroduce them in Shaastra 2019. The objective of Tech and Innovation Fair, he said, is for people who want start-up. But the aim of Startup Hive, he continued, is for start-ups to exhibit, network with each other and then hire networks which is not being done and he, Abhijit would like to reintroduce it.

In the final question of the Q&A, Abhijit questioned Vamsi about Facebook’s new publicity algorithm, in the context of his proposal to enhance Shaastra’s online publicity. Vamsi was not sure about the changes to the Facebook algorithm but stated that Shaastra’s online reach increased during the last days of February. Abhijit concluded that, as an ex-Design Core, he was aware of comparatively better methods to achieve online publicity. Vamsi responded that he had discussed his proposals with one of Shaastra’s ex design cores. He also noted that he had made persistent efforts to meet with the current design cores and that they were in vain.


Executive Wing Q&A

After the completion of the cross-questioning session, the floor was opened to questions from first the Executive Wing Members and then the General Student Body.

Both candidates were questioned extensively by Ramprashanth, the current Co-Curricular Affairs Secretary. He began by asking both candidates to explain their plans for the Inter IIT Tech Meet, given that it did not receive a mention in either manifesto. Abhijit spoke about reaching out to students through CFI and TechSoc channels. He also mentioned the importance of recognizing tech meet winners, in order to promote the brand of Inter IIT Tech Meet. He added that the recent SPAN meeting had discussed conducting a General Championship that would be contested by all the IIT’s and Abhijit felt that this would improve the ‘feels’ for tech in insti. Vamsi responded to the question by elaborating on his plans to send  contingents to other tech fests. He also stated that he would use his proposed CFI portal for mentorship and resource sharing. Srikanth Musti, the incumbent Cultural Secretary (Lit) questioned Abhijit about his idea to have Tech Meet posters at placement venues, to which Abhijit replied that this move would make companies prioritize tech meets. Srikanth commented that he doubts the move would be of use. The CulSec then proceeded to question Vamsi about the feasibility of his plan to send contingents to other tech fests, given the existing cash crunch in CFI’s budget. Vamsi was undecided with his reply but concluded that the Dean was onboard with the idea.

Ramprashanth went on to question both candidates about the large number of new PORs that were mentioned in both manifestos and was also concerned about maintaining the quality of the coordship. In the case of Abhijit, this pertained to Tech Connect and the proposed events. In Vamsi’s case, this pertained to his proposals for a revamped publicity and security team. Abhijit responded first by noting that his proposed PORs would promote faculty student interactions and would not be redundant. Further, he mentioned that Bio-Fest, CEA and Finance Club heads had agreed to lead the new events verticals and that they would source quality coordinators. Ramprashanth proceeded to question Abhijit about his new initiatives and commented that some of them were redundant owing to the presence of CFI newsletters, Immerse magazine, Shaastra Adventures and the Discourse portal for CFI. Abhijit responded that he had plans to collaborate with Immerse. He also discussed his plans to integrate various institute blogs and post the content on Medium. Abhijit mentioned that the CFI newsletter would be segmented and posted online on a regular basis. With regards to his Adventures programme, Abhijit spoke about adding additional venues and attracting a larger crowd.

To Ramprashanth’s question, Vamsi responded that he was introducing only 2 new PORs, one for security and the other for publicity. He stated that both teams would only have a few coordinators and hence, there should be no worries regarding the quality of the coordship. Nikhil Namburi, the incumbent SLC speaker proceeded to question Vamsi about the feasibility of creating a security team and the importance of incentives for the security coordinators, citing Saarang’s security team as an example. Vamsi responded that he would appoint a super-coord to handle the security team and that coordinators would be selected only a few weeks before Shaastra. Further, he stated that Shaastra merchandise would be used as incentives for security coordinators in response to Nikhil Namburi’s question on incentivising the team, and that he would get the CSO involved as well in order to not compromise on security.

For his final question, Ramprashanth asked the candidates to describe their views and experiences in Shaastra 2018 and also elaborate on their plans for the expansion of Shaastra 2019, particularly with respect to the EDM night. Vamsi spoke passionately about his leadership experience as the core of Evolve for Shaastra 2018. He spoke about his leadership and organizing experience and mentioned that Shaastra 2018 explored a lot of avenues and opportunities, such as the IP Law Moot, large numbers of registrations, and so on. With regards to the EDM nights Vamsi conceded that he was initially against the idea of having an EDM night, but had fully supported the team once the decision was made. Upon noting that providing a good experience was also an important component of Shaastra, alongside promoting tech and innovation, he concluded by noting that he would support the decision of his core team with regard to expanding the number of shows for Shaastra 2019. Abhijit agreed that Shaastra 2018 improved on a lot of aspects such as organization and standardization of design and expressed his appreciation for the same; however he asserted that Shaastra shows should be limited to technology and that he was against the idea of expanding them otherwise, sticking to the 2017 vision of the fest in this regard.

Other members of the Executive Wing proceeded to question the candidates on their proposals. Sashi Sekhar, the incumbent Academic Affairs Secretary, questioned Vamsi about his proposal to credit start-ups under Nirmaan. The AAS argued that the proposal was redundant owing to the relaxation of crediting norms for start-ups under the revised academic curriculum. He also noted that the spectrum for the type of start-up that could get credit had widened. Thus, he questioned Vamsi about the value addition that would result from his proposal. Vamsi conceded that students with tech-startups would not benefit from his proposal but argued that non-tech start-ups would be able to get credits, citing the example of Involve; an insti start-up working in the field of education. The AAS remained unconvinced about Vamsi’s proposal and noted that the administration would be unwilling to credit non-tech startups.

Ashwath Monian, the incumbent HAS questioned both candidates about the system currently in place for T-shirt sales. He also asked them about their proposals for an alternative since Ikollege (the existing system) is being phased out next year. Both candidates were aware of the current system. Abhijit noted that CCW was finding it difficult to handle T-shirt sales owing to other responsibilities. He also stated confidently that the Ikollege amount would be incremented  through the tuition fees from the next semester and cited his discussions with the SGS regarding the same. Ashwath responded by noting that the Dean (AC) was the right person to contact regarding this and not the SGS. Vamsi stated that only 5-10 lakhs of profit came through T-shirt sales and he was confident that Shaastra would be able to move T-shirt sales to other platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart. Nikhil Namburi questioned the candidates about his contingency plan in case of a drop in T-shirt sales. He argued that freshies were the major contributors to T-Shirt revenue and that these sales would drastically reduce on moving from I-kollege to e-commerce retailers. Vamsi responded by noting that Shaastra had managed for several years without Ikollege and that they would move to another portal without taking a massive hit in terms of revenue. Abhijit suggested the creation of an alternate portal but did not elaborate on his solution.

Nikhil Namburi proceeded to question both candidates on their proposals for waste management. This was in the context of the National Green Tribunal’s advice to move Shaastra and Saarang out of campus. Abhijit identified animal deaths due to vehicle speeding, sound and pollution as the major concerns and stated that he would ensure continuous monitoring of decibel to 105 dBA near the console and 95 outside OAT; and tracking of PPM and CO levels through pollution monitors. He also added the need to distribute more number of bins for better waste disposal. Vamsi proposed to increase the frequency of waste disposal by coordinating with Ozone, stating that bins can overflow quickly. He also discussed the possibility of having a liquid drainage system near food stalls. With respect to sound, he stated he would monitor decibel levels and that he was a part of an NGT meeting the previous year where the same issues had been taken into account.

Srikanth Musti then asked both the candidates if they would conduct an EDM Night next year and if yes, whether it would be in collaboration with Saarang or not. Abhijit stated that he would not conduct an EDM Night in 2019; Vamsi on the other hand said that he was open to the idea of EDM Night, but would respect the decision of his team if they wished not to have it.

The Sports Secretary went to ask both candidates about their views and plans on increasing hostel participation in TechSoc, given that some hostel secretaries do not put in the required effort. Venkatraman Ganesh, SLC Speaker 2016-17, took this moment to point out that hostel technical affairs secretaries do not come under the CoCAS’s purview, and added on the question of whether or not the candidates think that these secretaries should be elected or if the post should be scrapped entirely, replaced by selected people. Abhijit responded by noting that TechSoc needed a revamp, and that the TechSec should not be scrapped. He laid down his plans to increase the value of TechSoc and felt that such changes would result in renewed credibility for the technical secretaries. He spoke about the importance of providing hostel secretaries with incentives in order to ensure that they deliver. Abhijit spoke about making TechSoc fun and engaging while simultaneously providing Technical Affairs Secretaries with career benefits and the credibility required to climb the ladder in insti’s co-curricular sphere. Vamsi spoke about his plans to ensure large participation and create events that are engaging and fun. He also mentioned syncing the TechSoc and CFI calendars in order to enable basic information through CFI before any TechSoc event, and about incentivizing TechSoc by sending winners to other fests as part of IITM’s contingent under his short term vision. He also wanted to build a culture of enabling freshie and second year participation in TechSoc as a long term vision. Some of the EW members were not convinced about the impact of Vamsi’s proposals on the work ethic of the technical affairs secretaries. The Q&A session by the EW came to an end with a question by the HHS about accomodation charge for external participation during Shaastra, and how much of it was given to CCW. Abhijit responded that it was about Rs. 300-400, of which Rs. 75 went to CCW; stating Shaastra profits as a reason for the gap. Vamsi said the initial caution deposit was Rs. 500 which is returned post Shaastra, with Rs. 400 per day per person being the actual charge, with Rs. 75 going to CCW; his justification for the gap was that Shaastra needed some amount to run, and that he was open to having more transparency in profits. Sai Kiran questioned both the candidates on their contingency plan in the event that accomodation for Shaastra and Saarang will not be provided on campus in 2019. Vamsi replied that the sponsorship and PR team would get in touch with different hotels and strike deals to avail of hotel rooms at discounted rates. Abhijit concurred with Vamsi and said that he would do the same.

Core Team Q&A

The core team Q&A session began with a question from Hitesh, the incumbent events core. He asked Abhijit about the difference between E-Cell’s intern fair and his proposals for start-ups to come down to Shaastra. Abhijit replied that his proposal was focused on technical roles, and on networking among start-ups and the chance to hire interns from IIT Madras. He also agreed that he could leverage the synergies from Intern Fair.

Abhishek, one of the Envisage cores, proceeded to question Abhijit about his proposals such as Carnival, Tech Creation and Tech Ambience. Abhishek stressed that some of these proposals had been attempted before, and asked what the latter would be adding to the same. Abhijit responded that he would showcase merchandise and institute projects other than the ones created in CFI; adding that the difference from open house would be that these projects would be showcased outside, potentially near CLT. Abhishek then questioned Vamsi whether the EDM night would undervalue Envisage, and innovation on campus in general. The candidate replied that Envisage was a one-of-a-kind event that was uniquely branded. He assured Abhishek that no event would overshadow Envisage.

Giridhur Sriraman, the incumbent head of CFI’s Industry Connect Team questioned both candidates about their work in CFI, given that the CoCAS is traditionally from a Shaastra background rather than a CFI one. Venkataraman also added a follow up question on what the candidates thought of having a Shaastra Head. Abhijit spoke about his startup under Nirmaan and his involvement in the institute’s tech sphere, and stated that he had spoken to the Dean IAR regarding crowdfunding initiatives and ultimately estimating 5 to 6 lakhs to be raised for CFI, citing sources of funding such as Joy of Giving and an example of an initiative at MIT that he wishes to implement. Vamsi mentioned his 2nd year coordship under CFI and his 3rd year experience with Shaastra Solutions which went on to be integrated with ICT. With respect to Shaastra Head, he stated that given the success of both the bodies in recent times, more time would be required to observe the proceedings and assess the necessity of one.

Shubham Nandeshwar, one of the incumbent cores of Shaastra’s sponsorship & PR department proceeded to ask both the candidates about the feasibility of expanding exhibitions. This was with regard to avenues for expansion, space constraints, cash constraints and Shaastra’s vision.  Vamsi responded by noting that Shaastra and his vision will always be to promote in-house talent from CFI and research labs and different teams. Expanding embassy contacts was a solution in terms of international exhibitions, or allowing sponsors to exhibit their work. He also mentioned that the Dean of Students had agreed to his proposal of expanding KV grounds in order to host professional exhibitions, and stated that the layout must be made more compact. Abhijit discussed his proposals regarding Carnival, Startup Hive and the demonstration of institute projects. He also mentioned that he would expand exhibitions by contacting embassies, national and international companies and national bodies. With respect to space, Abhijit agreed with Vamsi regarding the expansion of KV grounds. He also suggested using CLT, OAT and ICSR for exhibitions.  This was followed by a heated discussion regarding Abhijit’s vision for exhibitions since he was willing to outsource exhibitions. Shubham questioned Abhijit whether he was aware of the reason why coordships existed. Abhijit replied in the affirmative and noted that their purpose was to promote learning among students. Shubham proceed to question him about how professional exhibitions would foster learning. Shubham also argued that Abhijit was undervaluing certain POR’s while enhancing the value of other POR’s. Abhijit responded that undervaluing POR’s was not his intention. He noted that he was looking to collaborate with other organisations and not outsource exhibitions but Shubham and some of the other cores remained unconvinced.

This was followed by an exchange between Abhijit and E-Cell’s head Aman Verma regarding Abhijit’s proposal for an intern fair at Shaastra. He also questioned Abhijit’s proposal by noting that start-ups would come to the IIT M for hiring interns only after a gap of 6 months. Abhijit hoped that E-Cell would collaborate with Shaastra but Aman Verma countered that E-Cell would not collaborate with Shaastra for the same since the winter intern fair was one of E-Cell’s flagship events. The E-Cell head also stated that the winter intern fair does not differentiate between tech and non-tech startups. Abhijit responded that the purpose of his proposed ‘Startup Hive’ is to enable startups to showcase their products and build a network, thus differentiating ‘Startup Hive’ from the intern fair. However, Aman remained unconvinced about the possibility of startups visiting IIT Madras twice in the span of a month.

Satish, the events core, noted that both aspirants had no manifesto points regarding events and workshops despite the fact that they brought in the largest footfall. He asked both candidates for their take on the same. Besides this, he also questioned Abhijit about how he would source coordinators given his expansion plans for new verticals. He also questioned Abhijit about the allocation of venues for the new events verticals. Abhijit responded that the CEA, BioFest and Finance Club coordinators would be responsible to handle the respective events during Shaastra. Further, they would also handle the arrangement of venues in their respective departments. Vamsi agreed with Satish about the importance of conducting impactful events. He also noted that his manifesto mentions the front end integration of CFI and Shaastra and he stressed that this would ensure a good experience for event coordinators.  The final question from the core team came from the O&IP core, Shrigopal, regarding the allocation of venues for new events. He stressed that it was very difficult to get venues allotted owing to a lack of coordination from the side of the HoD’s. This was directed at Abhijit, considering his plan to expand the events vertical. Abhijit responded that events in the new verticals would be handled by the heads of the respective department fests. He also noted that the objective of his proposal was to diversify events and not to increase them. Shrigopal disagreed with the plan and felt that it would undermine the role of O&IP coordinators.

Ramprashanth followed up Shrigopal’s question by asking Abhijit about how he would get the money for diversifying events. Further, he also noted that several events have limited participation and questioned Abhijit about the tradeoffs between diversifying events and conducting large scale workshops such as the AWS workshop. Abhijit responded that participants do not benefit a lot from large scale workshops such as the AWS workshop. Further, he asserted that department fests bring in their own sponsors and have a footfall of 500 people. A heated discussion ensued between Abhijit and Ramprashanth regarding Abhijit’s plan to scrap large scale workshops and the EDM night. Ramprashanth questioned the practicality of Abhijit’s plan but the latter held his ground by noting that the quality of workshops was equally important.

Questions from the GSB

One of the GSB members questioned the candidates about the groundwork done to enhance TechSoc participation specifically from freshie hostels. Vamsi responded by mentioning his initiative to restructure the points system. Abhijit spoke about his initiative ‘TechSoc for fun’ and mentioned that this would improve hostel participation by enabling students to engage with technology at the lowest possible level. There was also a question regarding TechSoc’s vision. Both candidates responded that it provided a platform to enter the institute’s co-curricular sphere. The GSB session concluded with one of the members criticizing Abhijit’s Google Sheet demonstration. The member noted that Sheets, along with add-ons had been tried by teams in the past and had ended up being miserable failures.

The moderator closed the Q&A session owing to a lack of time. He encouraged GSB members to mail their questions to the SECC.

This brought to an end the soapbox for the post of Co-Curricular Affairs Secretary.

Disclaimer: The views are not to be construed in any manner as the official views of IIT Madras.
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