Reported by Naomi Karyamsetty and Ramcharanreddy
The Student Legislative Council, the student government body of IIT Madras, met for the first time this semester on 6th August 2018. The following agenda points were discussed:
Amendments to RAS and SGS rulebooks: The RAS rulebook was passed. It was decided that the SGS rulebook would be circulated to the GSB over a 24-hour period, before being put up for passing through an online vote.
Code of conduct for placement tests: It was recommended that a committee be formed to look into proactive and disciplinary action (to prevent and discipline malpractice in placement tests, respectively).
Discussion on mess menu and the need for feedback: The SGS listened to the various complaints on mess menu and assured that the feedback was being received and acted upon.
Centralised drinking water and vending machines in departments: Resolutions to implement these were passed and forwarded to the Dean (Administration) and the Heads of Department.
Indian commodes in department restrooms: A resolution to implement this was passed and forwarded to the Dean (Administration) and the Heads of Department.
Resolution welcoming freshmen: It was discussed and passed.
Reporting items: Chaithra Navada is the head of the Student Ethics and Constitution Commission. The disciplinary action taken on a former Executive council member was also reported.
Other points discussed: A query on serving non-vegetarian items as regulars in messes, as well as another on the increased guest room charges, was discussed. The possibility of constructing additional cycle sheds was raised, but not pursued.
Amendments to the RAS rulebook
The first agenda point discussed was the passing of the amended RAS and SGS rulebooks. Amendments were made in order to maintain rulebooks for each Executive Wing Secretary, explicitly stating the team structure and objectives of the student bodies falling under them. Most of the amendments to the RAS rulebook were in the composition of the teams under the RAS, and the organisational structure of the Research Scholars’ Day (RSD) team. The new draft was presented by the Research Affairs Secretary (RAS), Sudharshan R.
The MS/PhD Placement team’s maximum capacity was set at 16 cores and 32 coordinators. Since different numbers of scholars from each department sit for placements, there was no department-wise limit on the number of representatives, in an attempt to allow proportional representation. The limit on coordinators for the Research Affairs Council team was set to 32 (two per department). In the event of vacancies in the (elected) Research Councillor position, a provision for additional coordinators to be selected was included.
The high number of verticals and large size of the RSD organisational team had led to decentralisation and inefficient monitoring. To counter this, they were now condensed into six verticals: Events; Logistics; Operations; Media, Ambience and Design; Outreach; and Marketing and Sponsorship. The breakdown and composition of each team was explained. Research Connect, a team focused on industry connect and securing research collaborations and career opportunities, would be removed from under the RSD team and would function year-round. It would have a maximum of five cores and ten coordinators.
The criterion for minimum CGPA, which was specified in the rulebook as 7, was questioned by the Speaker, who said that the stipulated lower limit was 6.5. With some discussion over the minimum CGPA for scholars’ graduation being 7.5, the point was not pursued further.
There followed a discussion on the Research Affairs Council and the high number of councillors required. The RAS was optimistic that in the absence of sufficient councillors, they would guide their coordinators in executing the tasks, and that participation would increase with time.
Sudharshan was then asked about the large number of positions created under the RAS, and whether they all would be filled up. He was also asked how positions in the RSD organising team being open to undergraduate students would help the postgraduate community. He answered by saying that an event aimed at showcasing insti’s research does not have to consist solely of PG students. It was important that the five-day series of events be conducted smoothly, despite the lack of organisational participation from PG students as previously observed. He added that participation in RSD’s cultural programmes would be restricted to PGs (considering their minimal participation in other, insti-wide cultural events), and that people would be selected for the organising team based on the merit of their applications, to ensure event quality.
The rulebook was then put to the vote by the Speaker, and was passed with no rejections and no abstains.
Amendments to the SGS Rulebook
Sriram Kompella, the Students’ General Secretary (SGS), then presented the new draft of the SGS rulebook. He explained that the formatting of the previous rulebook had been improved, making it much easier to read, and that departments and teams that had not been mentioned in the previous edition had been included in the latest one. He added that certain rules and responsibilities of the SGS had been transferred from the Students Constitution to the rulebook.
Sriram went on to the organisational structure of the teams operating under the SGS, all of which were described in the rulebook. He mentioned one important addition to the rulebook: prior to any team-organised event, it had to be reviewed with the team’s Faculty Advisor and/or SGS, to ensure that they were aware of the events. He also said that volunteering positions (those not specified in team hierarchy) were not recognised by the rulebook, but that there was nothing to stop people who acted as friends of a particular team.
The institute student bodies (ISBs) under the SGS include: Extra-Mural Lectures (EML), Saathi, Jagriiti, Disaster Management Committee (DMC), IIT for Villages (IViL), Institute Design and Media team, Institute Web Operations and Mobile Operations, and the Institute Finance and Operations Team.
Sriram explained his intention to restructure the student mentoring team Saathi. He had observed that too many teams, and the consequent decentralisation of work, had resulted in a dying-out of enthusiasm. To counter this, he proposed a single central team that would supervise the working of Saathi team members in all their aspects. He also suggested that the mentors, academic buddies and English Minglish volunteers be recognised for their year-long, continuous effort, and that a new post, mentors of mentors, be instituted to immediately supervise these volunteers and ensure that their commitments are fulfilled.
He then briefly explained the purpose and structure of Jagriti, a body that was founded last year with the aim of social outreach in areas outside campus. Students in Jagriti would work on campaigns and projects that involved both volunteering and solving social problems. They would handle a lot of sponsorship, so it was important that the sponsorship and accounts verticals maintain good records. There would be four verticals, each having an upper limit on the number of cores, and the overall number of cores could not exceed four. This rule was introduced in an attempt to avoid excessive applications for particular posts, which could result in unnecessary expansion of those verticals. Sriram faced some questions on the nature of this last rule: whether it would be helpful from an administrative viewpoint, and whether it would fulfil its intended purpose. The stipulation of an upper limit and no lower limit made it highly likely that one or more verticals could end up without a core. It was then suggested that a more flexible structure would be to merge verticals, instead of potentially leaving teams without cores. However, Sriram did not find the situation odd, He felt it was up to the incumbent SGS to decide which verticals needed the most leadership, based on their year-long vision for the team. Separate verticals also meant they could be easily expanded in future, in case the need arose. He added that it was expected of cores to oversee the overall working of a team, especially so if certain verticals had no specifically allocated core.
Disaster Management Committee
Sriram then moved on to the DMC, about which he had observed that a lot of past members of the team tended to continue with the team in subsequent years. In this context, he considered it good practice for them, and for institute teams in general, to have a mentoring panel consisting of previous team members, to provide guidance in an official capacity without having to be involved in the team’s executive functioning. IViL, the next institute body, had their own constitution, which was linked to in the rulebook.
Institute Design and Finance Teams
Questions about who could avail the facilities of the Institute Design and Media team, and who was responsible for the funds to pay the students for their work, arose and were clarified. The Institute Design and Media team is intended to service any registered body in insti, and is specially intended for the requirements of other SGS teams and the SLC, who do not have a design vertical. Institute bodies did not have to set aside funds to pay them. Regional associations (sabhas, samitis and mitra mandals) are also allowed to avail their services, as are organisations like Shaastra and Saarang (the latter would have to accommodate them in their budget). The question of which design requirement received precedence was raised, and Sriram advised that teams other than SGS bodies and the SLC attempt to get their requirements met elsewhere, failing which to use the insti design team. Any clash in design requests due to limited personnel or funds would be solved at the discretion of the SGS and the design cores.
In the course of the discussion on payment, the Speaker described the decision to monetarily recompense the institute Design and Web & MobOps teams. He also mentioned that institute teams’ official social media handles were mentioned in the rulebook, and expressed a desire to establish a social media policy that they would follow.
The nature and functions of the Institute Finance and Operations was clarified to members of the SLC. This team handles the budgets of the SLC and of all teams under the SGS. The Speaker described it as the backbone of institute student operations. Its distinction from Jagriti’s finance vertical, which handles sponsor money intended for projects implemented outside campus, was explained.
Delayed Circulation of Rulebooks
Before the amendments to the SGS rulebook could be put to the vote, the chairperson of the Student Ethics and Constitution Committee (SECC) questioned why the rulebooks weren’t circulated to the students in advance of the meeting. The Speaker replied that there were last-minute edits to the documents that couldn’t be completed in time for them to be circulated. He then agreed to circulate the SGS rulebook to the student population for a 24-hour period, after which it would be put to an online vote.
The release of the various Secretaries’ rulebooks (which are in various stages of drafting and amendment) and the Students’ Constitution was brought up later in the meeting. It was stated that the rulebooks would be reviewed after the hostel legislators are elected to the SLC, following which they would be formally released. The Speaker stated that he intended to formally release the latest version of the Constitution in a ceremony, and was hoping for a suitable Chief Guest. Following this, the Students Portal website would host all the documents, once it was fully functional.
Code of Conduct for Placement Tests
The next agenda point under discussion was the recommendation for a code of conduct to be followed during placement tests, and a disciplinary system for violating it. Common violations included copying and unauthorised consulting of external websites. Sudharshan, the RAS, explained that there is no code currently in place, since placement tests are conducted by the respective companies, not the Academic Section. Suggestions from the SLC were invited, and the ones given centred primarily around restricting the websites that students sitting for the tests could visit. The RAS and SGS fielded the suggestions, explaining the situation as they did so. Companies typically host their tests on their own websites, and their willingness to host it on an institute website was questionable. Restricting certain external websites and not others also appeared tricky. It was suggested that mobile phones be confiscated, but this turned out to be not very effective, as students could still access the internet through mobile hotspots from their devices. The secretaries didn’t entirely want to prevent this, either, as there was a chance institute-provided networks would fail, and they preferred mobile hotspots to be available as a backup option.
The discussion of this agenda point concluded with the Speaker recommending that an ad-hoc committee, on which the RAS and AAS would be present, be formed to look into it.
Discussion on Mess Menu, Non-Veg Regulars and Cleanliness
Discontent with the South Indian mess menu
Subsequently, various members of the SLC brought up specific cribs about the new mess menus. A lack of South Indian staples (like upma and rasam) in the South Indian messes, and some unsatisfactory menu items being neither nutritional or filling, were discussed. The SGS answered that only seven days had passed since the start of the semester (at the time of the meeting), and that the adjusting of the mess menus was a continuous process, based on feedback. To this end, he asked the SLC and the GSB to continue to give feedback, and to allow for enough time for the Mess Monitoring and Control Committee (MMCC) coordinators to implement changes and for improvement to be visible. He also promised a revamp of the Vindhya mess if it was required, followed by ones for Nilgiri and Himalaya.
Discussion regarding egg items introduced on the regular menu
The Speaker then introduced, on behalf of a GSB member, an agenda point about the recently-introduced egg items being served as a regular item in messes. It was requested that they be reverted to extras on the menu. The SGS fielded these questions, as the HAS was not present. He was of the opinion that these items remain on the regular menu. The arguments around this agenda point were on the following two lines.
Firstly, there was the issue of possible contact with non-vegetarian food, which would reportedly be undesirable to some students who ate pure vegetarian food. The SGS assured the SLC members that preparation of non-vegetarian and egg items was done separate from vegetarian items, and distinct sets of gloves were used for preparation and serving. He added that there was a pure Jain mess available, which used separate vessels, and had a regular strength of around 500 people. It was observed that people who had an issue with proximity to non-veg and egg items were welcome to opt for this mess.
Secondly, there was the issue of having an equivalent ‘extra’ item for vegetarian eaters. Sriram elaborated on how the egg wasn’t an ‘extra’, in the sense that it didn’t contribute to the increased mess fee in the same way that making an extra item a regular item would. It was suggested that another item be made available exclusively for vegetarians. The SGS agreed, adding that separate counters for vegetarian and non-vegetarian eaters could be implemented, provided the mess had enough space to accommodate them. However, he didn’t think the vegetarian/non-vegetarian exclusive should be implemented to the extent that people be prevented from eating something they wanted to.
Cleanliness issues in Indigo mess
There were also complaints regarding the hygiene standards in the Himalaya mess caterer Indigo and the ground-floor Vindhya mess. Sriram replied that the latter had been fixed, and that the tender clauses were strong enough to enforce penalties on vendors should they violate hygiene or other rules. He encouraged the SLC and the GSB to continue reporting infringements on the Students App, or to send emails to the MMCC or SGS e-mail IDs.
Centralised Drinking Water and Vending Machines in Departments
The next agenda point brought up for discussion was the need for a centralised drinking water supply and vending machines in the various departments. Although all departments are supposed to have centrally-supplied UV-treated water, it was reportedly lacking in the Biotech department, as well as some others. The SGS mentioned that it was also possible to order a water-can supply, to which some department legislators replied that there were no funds available for water. The motion to have drinking water was then passed with no rejects and two abstains, and would be sent to the Dean (Administration) and the Heads of Department to be followed up. A subsequent request to have cold drinking water in departments was also passed, with no rejects and three abstains.
With respect to the demand for vending machines, the vendor of the machines would have to be paid rent by the department. Department legislators were told that they could get a low rate if they bargained for it. The money for the same could be obtained either from department funds, or allocated in department fest budgets. The possibility of having eateries instead of vending machines was raised, and the SGS made it clear that vending machines were the more feasible option, due to institute rules governing eateries, the obtaining of space for the stall, and garbage disposal. In addition, packaged food that vending machines carried was less prone to contamination by monkeys. The resolution to have vending machines in departments was then passed, with no rejects and two abstains.
During this discussion, departments were advised to hold a general body meeting (GBM) at least once every semester, chaired by the department council (consisting of the the department legislator, the research legislator, and the research councillor), and to have a quorum give their consent to decisions that significantly affected the department. In response to a difficulty in obtaining quorum, the Speaker and SGS advised that efforts should be made to keep the students informed about council decisions. Interest in the council proceedings could be increased by holding a GBM week, which would also have relevant fundaes sessions that students would voluntarily attend.
Departments were also advised to draft a department charter, on the same lines as the HS department charter, which stipulated the nature and functions of the various student bodies under it (e.g. department fests) in order to reduce the levels of arbitrariness in their functioning. Legislators were advised to form a drafting committee in order to accomplish this.
Request for More Cycle Sheds
A member of the SLC raised the requirement for cycle sheds, as many cycles were left exposed to the rain and the sun. The SGS cited construction limitations and restrictions in the general rules as the reason no short-term solutions could be pursued. It was also stated that the administration was unsure of legal validation of an idea crafted from loopholes in the rules, and it was not pursued further.
Installing Indian Commodes in Department Restrooms
The next agenda point was the installation of at least one Indian-style water closet in each department restroom block. A department legislator explained the situation. Hygiene standards in departments were frequently below par, and western-style closets caused contact with the toilet bowl, and increased incidences of urinary-tract infection (UTI) were observed.
In the ensuing discussion, the SGS pointed out that it was logistically easier to enforce hygiene rules than to change the closets. In connection with this, the Speaker introduced a poll that had been collated earlier on the state of hygiene and the need for vending machines in departments. In any case, the point was passed, with no rejects and no abstains. It would then be forwarded to the Dean (Administration) and the Heads of Department.
Resolution Welcoming Freshmen
The resolution to welcome freshmen was then displayed and discussed. It was mentioned that freshmen orientations on student government would be conducted in the undergraduate hostels (orientation for postgraduate students had already been conducted).
There was a brief discussion on student representation in the Student Disciplinary Committee. One member of the SECC is reportedly an invitee on the committee. It was also mentioned that the disciplinary committee did not come under the purview of the Right to Information Act.
Appointment of new SECC Chairperson
The Speaker then moved on to the reporting items on the agenda. He mentioned Chaitra Navada’s promotion to the chairperson of the SECC, and added that applications for other team posts would be open next semester. He then mentioned that midterm elections are announced, and that eligible students are encouraged to apply.
Disciplinary Committee report on a previous Executive Council member
The next reporting item was pertaining to the disciplinary action meted out to a member of the previous Executive Council (2017-18). (The member’s identity was not disclosed, as decided previously, but was referred to during the discussion as ‘he’.) He was caught with a very serious disciplinary violation towards the end of his tenure, and after a long deliberation process, he was found guilty by the Disciplinary Committee. By this time, the general elections had already occurred and the SLC had been dissolved, so the mechanism to impeach him was not available. It was therefore decided that he would not be given a certificate for his tenure, and that the proceedings would be reported in the SLC.
There were multiple requests for further details, and one member of the SLC suggested that the meeting be made closed so that they would be at liberty to discuss the case. The Speaker refused to do so. The question arose of what would have happened if the incident had been after the student’s tenure. There was no direct answer, but it was mentioned that the institute had a right to revoke an alumnus’s degree, if they were found to be indulging publicly in belligerent activities.
Discussion on Increased Guest Room Charges
A member of the SLC had a query pertaining to the increase in hostel guest room charges. The rate had been increased from 250 to 500, with no visible improvement in the facilities provided. The SGS replied that the issue had been discussed in the previous SLC meeting. This was the first increase in nine years, taking into account the GST rates and inflation since then, and it should have been increased periodically instead of this sudden leap. The Council of Wardens had reportedly considered this facility as one not frequently availed by the students.
During the course of this deliberation, it came to light that the decisions of the CCW were not under the Right to Information Act, and that the CCW were under no obligation to disclose their processes.
The meeting was then closed with an announcement about a workshop for SLC members, who were asked to suggest relevant topics for the same. In addition, the legislators were asked to indicate their preferences for the Standing Committees they desired to be part of through a Google form.