Institute Soapbox (Day 4): Hostel Affairs Secretary, Institute General Elections 2018

The last and final election soapbox for this year was organised on Friday, 9th March 2018 for the post of Hostel Affairs Secretary. It was contended by Shivam Singhal (department of Aerospace Engineering), Bhukya Chandana (department of Civil Engineering) and Nihal K (department of Civil Engineering). This soapbox saw the maximum turnout from the General Student Body (GSB) and therefore promised to be very interesting. Tony Fredrick, Tejas S, and Utsav Dutta report. The video for the same can be found on the SECC’s Youtube channel here.

As per standard soapbox procedure, it began with individual presentations by each of the three candidates, followed by cross questioning between the candidates and then, questions from the Executive Council Members and the GSB. The session was moderated by YVV Aditya of the SEC. Throughout the soapbox, there was a lot of hooting, catcalling and yelling from the GSB and this went on to foreshadow the nature of the proceedings of the Soapbox.

Presentation by Bhukya Chandana:

Chandana began by asking the GSB if they wanted a change in the soapbox procedure and began stating a number of issues facing the institute like food wastage, mosquito menace, lack of waste management etc. She then began presenting her manifesto points by saying that she proposed to diversify the cuisines in the messes and having a scheduled menu for extras. She wants to ensure that the food provided is nutritive by including eggs and sprouts with a nominal price rise. She also proposed to reduce the mess registration period from 45 to 21 days in order to ensure that students get to change their mess around five times a semester, and that the caterers provide high-quality food throughout the registration period.

Chandana also proposed the digitalization of food court coupons as she believes that being a technical institute, digitalization is very important. This move, combined with a pre-ordering facility for the food court, according to her, will reduce the waiting time at the food court. She also wants to extend the mess timings. She proposes to have amenities like tissue papers, sanitizers and hand-wash in the mess. She plans to implement a new scheme of recharging the ID card using UPI. She proposed to have a tech-store inside the campus and a scanning and photocopying machine near the girls’ hostel. At this point she was cut short, on account of having exceeded the time allocated to her.

Presentation by Nihal K:

Nihal started off by stating his vision, which was to improve accessibility and transparency of the facilities available, as well as improve the experience of stay.

To ensure transparency, firstly, the operational bodies under the HAS were to be made public knowledge. He wanted to implement performance based vendor evaluation.This is would ensure quality assurance of food in the mess.

Students could now rate vendors to be retained and removed from the institute if the service is unsatisfactory.

Nihal plans on implementing lab testing for food by sending periodic samples from the mess to Bio labs. The results will be made electronically available to all.

To improve accessibility, he first proposed a 1 click, smart card recharge option for money to buy extras. He wants to implement a delivery system across insti for the eateries here. Zomato, Swiggy and other such companies will be allowed to deliver across the institute. To make FFT student friendly, the menu will be revamped and prices will be reduced. FFT outlets will also have their delivery services in insti.

There will be hostel wise sub committees to address issues in the hostels. Earlier small issues required the involvement of the engineering committee which he wishes to bypass. The hotel sub committees will meet periodically.

Graduation students can complete the room vacating procedure online. Ambulances will be stationed in front of CCW. There will be 3 ambulances spread over the hostel zone. The posters over the institute will be replaced by digital posters. He plans to get cheaper vendors for mosquito meshes to tackle the mosquito problem. For the girls hostel zone, he plans to get 3 to 4 night canteens in Sharav which operate till around 3 am. He plans to shift a mess to Nilgiri and get a 24*7 multi cuisine outlet at Himalaya with 6 vendors.

He aims to reduce the 2 tonnes of food wastage a day to 1.5 by a structured program. Every month a special menu will be implemented based on the results of an online poll.

He wishes to implement a ‘pay-per-dine’ scheme in the messes so that you only pay for what you eat. Students can vote to add/drop items on the menu. There will be more scheduled extras in the menu. A QR code outside each menu will be provided to submit complaints online. He proceeded to expand on his vision for cooking club. He wishes to have in insti cuisine day where Samithis showcase their cuisine. He ended by listing out his credentials.

Presentation by Shivam Singhal:

Shivam began his presentation by stating his motivation for standing for the post, which was improving the daily lives of students by way of food and facilities.

His vision was to make the existing system more transparent and accessible to students. He wanted to include a unique tracking feature in the complaint system so as to make students aware of the status of their complaints. He also stated his wish to increase the accountability of the post to all students of the institute and to improve the quality of food and facilities. He raised a point regarding the quality of MMCC, and planned to introduce a professionally certified chef in each mess to assure health, hygiene, quality and taste of food in the kitchen area. With respect to the menu, he proposed a reject and choose system wherein students can reject items they didn’t like and propose alternate ones. He proposed registering complaints in the Students App, wherein a unique tracking number would be provided regarding the status of the complaint. Shivam also proposed issues such as coupons and long queues with respect to digitalisation of the food court through a mobile app that would make the system more flexible. He also mentioned integrating a mobile repairing shop with the laptop repair shop in the institute, and a cobbler in the hostel zone. Shivam added that introducing milk and dairy products would improve the nutrition value of food provided in the institute. With respect to CMGFS, he stated that he would introduce night canteens in common hostel zones of Nilgiri, girls’ students facilities centre (SFC) and also in Ganga and and Jamuna hostels which have such a plan existing already. A common cafeteria would also be instituted in the ground floor. Mobile/laptop charging stations would be installed in spaces commonly used by students.
Regarding the hostel room crunch, he said that doctoral/graduate test committee approval would be required for providing in-campus single-room accommodation to post-graduate students.

Better designs would be introduced for dustbins to combat the monkey menace. An inter-hostel cleanliness competition would be organised, to make sure that the HHS is accountable.

Cross-questioning between the candidates:

The floor was then thrown open to cross questioning between the candidates. Shivam Singhal asked Bhukya Chandana how she was going to introduce eggs in the mess with just a nominal increase in the cost. He also pointed out that sprouts were already being served. She replied that she intended to do it every day, as opposed to once a week and added that by purchasing eggs in bulk and through negotiations, the price rise would be less than three rupees per day given the present costs of eggs and the number of non-vegetarians in each mess. Shivam asked Nihal about the current response time for the ambulance, and how much reduction would be brought in through his plan to station an ambulance in the Hostel Zone. He replied that it was three to five minutes all the way to Mandakini hostel and that his plan would reduce transport time by half. Shivam expressed concern over the fact that since the institute hospital had only 3 ambulances, such a move would make it even harder for them to manage. Nihal retorted that spreading out the ambulances would only make it easier for an ambulance to reach faster.

Nihal asked Chandana about her idea to introduce a UPI portal for recharging smart cards. He stated that he had spoken to the CCW Chairman, the CFO, and Triesten (which he pointed out was in-charge of this, as opposed to WebOps, as Chandana had mentioned in her manifesto) and that they flatly refused to his proposal on the same issue. She replied, however, that she had also done the same and that the aforementioned authorities had told her that such a possibility existed. In response to this claim, Nihal said that he would prove his point on paper before the election. Chandana in turn stated that she could provide numbers regarding the same, and that she had spoken to the Triesten executives who assured her that people could be contacted for the same. Ashwanth, the incumbent Hostel Affairs Secretary stated that Paytm was already accepted for academic payments and that if Chandana had known the problems faced by this, she would not have proposed this point. Nihal followed up by asking how transactions through UPI would be tracked, to which Chandana replied that it could be implemented similar to Shaastra and Saarang operations, at which point Ashwanth interjected and pointed out that the same would be discontinued this year.

Nihal asked Shivam about the groundwork he had done in connection with merging feedback with the mess registration portal. Shivam replied that he was in talks with the CCW, and though CCW objected on the first try, upon persistent requests, they showed  less reluctance. When Nihal pointed out that CCW (and Triesten) would not be able to handle the issue, Shivam replied that the emotions of the students were more important to him than logistics.

Chandana asked Nihal about phasing out posters as publicity and how it was different from what Sai Kiran and Ashwanth had stated in their manifestos. Ashwanth clarified that such a point was never a part of his manifesto. Chandana then proceeded to ask what was actually being done that was new. Nihal said that the process wasn’t streamlined  and that he was working on it, and that he would publicise the digital media over the posters.

Chandana asked Shivam to briefly describe the proposed Inter Hostel Cleanliness Competition (at this point, the Chief Election Officer had to intervene to make the crowd orderly, issuing a threat of stopping the soapbox at that point). He said that there are 20 hostels right now; they would be divided into groups of 5 and the health and hygiene secretaries would be responsible for the cleanliness of the hostels. The students, he said, could volunteer to help in the same. He said the HAS and representatives from the other group hostels would inspect cleanliness. The HAS however clarified by stating that there was an existing Health and Hygiene Committee, which currently inspected cleanliness.

Shivam then asked Chandana to explain her proposal to change the mess registration period from 45 to 21 days. She said that she had a presentation with relevant data to prove her point and it was only allowed by the moderator to showcase the data. However, her presentation began with a list of the challenges faced which lead to SECC intervention. A discussion ensued, during which Nihal was asked to pose his final question to Shivam (see below). She said that the forty-five day system was in place to let the messes complete their procedures regarding payments etc. She proceeded to state that a forty-five day system is a problem for the caterers as well, as it leads to issues in filing GST and other taxes. Shivam inquired about the drop in caterer income, since a lot of students don’t register for mess even after 30 days. Chandana could not give a satisfactory answer for the same.

Nihal then asked Chandana and Shivam about the proposed Food Court application. He wanted to know the groundwork behind this point and how much it would cost to build it. Shivam replied that the vendor would be given an app to scan the barcodes on the ID cards, and this could be done by the WebOps Team for free. Nihal pointed out that though the Zaitoon app was developed by an alumnus, it cost five lakhs. To this, Shivam replied that it was a rather simple app and from his experience of working with Android, it was feasible. Nihal said that there will be complications with respect to pre-ordering which would increase the app cost. Shivam agreed that this was the scenario, and that he had updated his feasibility report to reflect the fact that pre-ordering would not be possible, since it would be a caterer side app.

The SECC remarked that they had not yet approved the updated feasibility report.

Chandana said that she had spoken to the CEO of PutPeace, and the same database could be used for pre-order slotting, and that she could use the money from the Joy Of Giving Portal and the money that would have been otherwise spent in printing food coupons to build the app. Nihal further asked that while the booking opens at 11:30, the mess kitchen opens only at 11:45, and how this lag would be dealt with. Chandana corrected him by saying that the mess kitchen opens at 11:00.

Questioning by the Executive Council:

The current Hostel Affairs Secretary Ashwanth Monian asked Nihal and Shivam if they had conducted barbeque nights in their hostels. They replied in the negative.

He then asked all the three candidates how they would deal with increasing levels of waste generated by the common delivery system. Shivam replied that this was not even one of his manifesto points. Chandana answered about cleaning the hostel, but not the management of the waste itself, even after a clarification from the HAS. Nihal replied that he would outsource waste-management of the excess waste.

Ashwanth asked the candidates how they would diversify the cuisine without increasing the cost of mess food. Shivam replied that he would replace two sweets with a new dish to avoid an increase in the cost for every fifteen day period. Chandana was also questioned on her cuisine oriented messes, and if the layout of the menu would be changed. She said that new items would be added, but there would be no cost difference. Nihal said that the template would be altered partly based on student feedback.

On being questioned about the extension of the timings of the new food court, Food For Thought (FFT), Shivam erroneously stated that there were six vendors in the FFT, as opposed to eight. He said that he had spoken to the Dean of Students regarding the issue, but not to the vendors. Ashok, the incumbent RAS said that the FFT comes under the purview of the Dean of Administration and that he should have spoken to him instead. Ashwanth further stated that he should have consulted the vendors before writing the manifesto.

Nihal suggested that the reluctancy on the part of the vendors would come from lower sales at late times; in response to this, he would pitch for the common delivery service and had spoken to the vendors regarding the same.

Ashwanth then inquired when Shivam had asked for his feasibility report to be updated. The SECC replied that a mail had only been sent that morning, and hence the report was not approved yet.  Further, he inquired about the pre-ordering systems both Chandana and Shivam had proposed, specifically if the caterers were in agreement with updating menus frequently based on availability of dishes/change in menus. Chandana suggested that data would be taken for a week on a pilot basis, and based on this, the quantity would be decided. Ashwanth first clarified that the data was already available with the caterer, and furthermore, his question was not about the operations but about the constant updating of the app itself. Chandana reiterated her previous answer and upon further clarification, said that it would be feasible; when Ashwanth asked which caterer was consulted for the same, she responded that it was Annamalai. Ashwanth corrected her by saying that firstly, Annamalai would not be here the next semester, and as of now, it was just a south Indian mess, and was removed from the Food Court because of bad service. To this, Chandana added that a mess in Nilgiri had also been consulted, and upon further questioning, did not provide an explanation.

When inquired about when he had decided to change the app structure, Shivam said that he had come up with the new idea only today. When Ashwanth questioned the need for an app instead of using the smart card used for buying the extras, Shivam did not have an answer.

Sai Kiran, the current Student General Secretary addressed Shivam in inquiring about the increase in cost in case a professional chef was appointed, and if such a chef was already a part of all messes. He replied in the negative. He also added that the price increase would amount to a rupee or two per day, and that a professional chef would be in charge of the health and hygiene of the mess as well as of the quality and quantity of dishes made. When Sai Kiran said that the MMCC coordinator served the same purpose, Shivam said that the coordinator would not be present in the mess at all times, to which Ashwanth said that officials were in place to supervise the same. Ashwanth asked if the chef would be hired through an external contractor, or if each mess would be left to their own means. Shivam replied that it would be a point in the tender proposal. Ashwanth pointed out the logical fallacy in there being one mess appointed employee overseeing another one, and asked how they would be held accountable. Shivam said that since an educated person would be appointed, he would take care of the hygiene. When asked about the proposed salary for these chefs and that of the existing chefs, Shivam said that the new ones would earn Rs 40,000-45,000 per month, while the old chefs received Rs 25,000-30,000, based on his discussions with the manager for Marvel mess. Ashwanth replied that this number was incorrect, but the questioning moved on due to a time constraint.

Sai Kiran then inquired about the groundwork done into Nihal’s food waste management plan, the work done by the professors with regards to the same, and also the main reasons for food wastage. Nihal stated that bad food along with students taking excess food in the first serving were the main reasons for the food wastage. Sai Kiran then informed that the food trolley was already envisioned in Kishore’s tenure and scrapped due to problems. While Nihal replied that the pilot was proposed by the Sakthi Kitchen (SK) mess, Sai Kiran stated that this did not change the fact that the experiment failed, and that groundwork needed to be done before proposing it again.

When Chandana was questioned about the feasibility of a cooking club event in association with Sabhas and Samitis, Ashwanth said that it was a part of his manifesto and that he had executed it. He questioned if Chandana had anything new to add, and if Sabhas were asked if they were interested in conducting any events. She was unable to provide a response owing to the lack of time.

Nihal was questioned about the same, and he replied by saying that he was approached by a few Samiti heads after Ethnic Day and besides that, the events would be open to any individuals who wanted to showcase talent, and not just Sabhas.

On being questioned about the dog menace,Nihal said that the entry of dogs would first have to be restricted through the gates of the institute, and this could be done only using proper fences. Chandana said that each hostel should have its own alpha dogs that would prevent the entry of other dogs into their hostel. She said this system was working in some of the other IITs. Shivam said that dogs must not be permitted to enter hostels and that students must be discouraged from feeding them.

Nihal was then questioned about all the delays, mistakes, and failures in his career as CMFGS core, and he retorted saying that he spent the first three months collaborating with the WebOps to develop an application for a complete online system. The Parfait delay was caused due to an existing court case about the same, and new tenders could not be made before this closed. On the GST mishap, Nihal said that no framework was in place for the changes, and that a lot of establishments struggled with this problem. Regarding the girls’ SFC, Nihal said that the vendors had to be finalised.

Nihal was then questioned if the tenders were made specific for vendors or if vendors were chosen post the tenders. Ashwanth stepped in by stating that the Jamuna night hostel canteen was chosen by a poll. The discussion was halted by the SECC due to a lack of time.

Sai Kiran, the current Student General Secretary asked what was left for the candidates to do about the night canteen in the girls’ hostel since the tender is ready and the contractor has also been finalised. Shivam replied that he would look after health and hygiene. Chandana stated that Professor Sudharshan P said that the tender had not been finalised.

The three candidates were then asked for their take on the idea of introducing beef and pork extras in the mess and in eateries. Shivam replied that he would conduct a survey to find out the majority opinion and go with what the students say. Chandana replied that since this was a very touchy issue and that it interfered with religious sentiments, it would be better to avoid including beef and pork in the mess and eateries. Nihal said that the introduction of these extras would hurt a section of the student population, but the lack of it would not hurt any, and therefore he would not introduce beef and pork.

The RAS then requested the SECC for one last question which was pertinent to the research scholars: he said that Chandana and Nihal had not mentioned anything regarding research scholar room allotment on a case to case basis,  and then questioned Shivam about the same.. Shivam did not guarantee any results, but he said he would put the point forth. Chandana tried to assert that a point did exist in her manifesto regarding the same. Nihal answered by saying that he would collaborate with the RAS elect in whatever ability he could to help solve the existing problem.

Questioning by the General Student Body

A member of the GSB asked Nihal that since he proposed to introduce a QR code mechanism for mess feedback, anyone could scan it and give negative feedback for a mess. Nihal retorted by asking her why anyone would do such a thing. He said that it was highly uncommon for a person to have personal vendetta against a caterer.

A GSB member then raised the point that given the recent demise of a hostel mate due to dengue, and inquired into the steps that would be taken to prevent any further incidents of the same kind, further asking how they would ensure better health and safety. Nihal said that as a primary measure, a rate contract method would be used to purchase mosquito nets and frequency of fogging would be increased. Apart from this, he also proposed that plant essence be sprayed in the plants/ gardens of the hostels that would last for 15 weeks, and that the horticulture department was already doing this in the vicinity of the hostels.

Chandana seemed to have stated that the issue faced was a very trivial issue and that a lot of factors were involved, adding that the secretaries alone were not to be blamed. She however did not have an answer to the question posed, and did not state anything further on the subject. We recommend readers to view the SECC video from 2:16:00 onwards, to clear up any potential ambiguity in the statements issued by the candidate on this particular question.

Shivam said that this could be accomplished through the inter hostel cleanliness programme proposed in his manifesto.

Another student asked Chandana about her proposal to introduce bunk beds in the hostel to optimize room space. She asked her if she knew the room dimensions and expressed concern over the fact that the move severely affect ventilation, and if she would provide air conditioning in the hostel. As Chandana began answering her question, one of the SEC coordinators attempted to retrieve the microphone from the GSB member in question.

Abrupt ending of the soapbox:

The GSB was already disappointed by the fact that only twenty minutes were allocated for GSB questioning although there were three candidates for the post. The Executive Council had taken up too much time in their questioning. There was a minor scuffle when the coordinator tried to take the microphone back. As he was being instructed to retrieve it, he pulled it from her and accidently touched the GSB member’s hand. All the concerned student’s friends began to protest against what they perceived to be an inappropriate response by the SECC coordinator, and created a commotion. The SEC failed to placate the students and control the situation. When it was clear that nothing could be done to save the situation, the SEC called for the soapbox to come to an end abruptly.

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