The final session of the 2019 Election soapboxes was held on the Saturday 9th March 2019 for the post of Hostel Affairs Secretary. The only candidate contesting the post was Venkata Vamsi Nanimela, a fourth year undergraduate from the department of Engineering Design. The session was moderated by Ms. Chaithra Navada, the Chief Commissioner of the SECC. There was a poor turnout from the GSB with only around 10 audience members apart from 5 members from the Executive wing. Dr. Anup Kumar Bhandari, the Deputy Chief Election Officer was present to oversee the proceedings. Dr Thyagaraj, the Chief Election Officer also joined him shortly. Gayathri Prakash reports.

Candidate Presentation:

The candidate was brief in his presentation as he quickly listed his proposed measures under four broad categories.

In his vision of creating a digital institute, he proposed to equip all the CMGFS facilities with a digital kiosk which would allow pre-ordering and on-spot ordering of items along with payment through ID cards and that students could then place their orders through an application and thus save time. His second proposed initiative on the same line was to enable ID card payments in the hostel vending machines. He further plans to install a common portal for room infrastructure where students can post their requests for LAN ports, mosquito nets etc. The portal, he mentioned would save students the trouble of multiple visits to the hostel office to get things fixed. 

To improve life at Insti, he proposed to replace Zaitoon with a new multi-cuisine restaurant in the Quark Ground floor that would also include a special dessert counter aiming to bring in variety in the food options available. His second initiative was to remodel the Girl’s SFC to deal with congestion. Thirdly, he planned to install 24/7 Sanitary napkin dispensers in all the girls’ hostels. Girls would be able to purchase these napkins by paying through cash, Paytm or even using their ID cards. He further plans to adopt a Centralized MoU with vendors to cater to bonding nights in hostels at cheaper rates.

In order to ensure savings for students, he plans to introduce monthly cycle repair services in hostels at  cheap rates; a Mobile and Laptop Repair shop near Gurunath and also promote  the sale of institute starter kits that would include essentials like mattresses, buckets and LAN cables in the freshie hostels, at discounted rates. 

To reduce environmental impact, his proposed initiatives included installation of a Central Laundry Facility in all the hostels, tank water level indicators in all the hostel bathrooms and energy and water consumption audits in all the hostels. He ended his presentation by listing all the follow-ups he planned to execute which included the Make-Your Menu, Quantified Nutrition Store and the Central Delivery System.

Questioning by the Executive Wing:

  1. The present Hostel Affairs Secretary Nihal started off the questioning session by asking Vamsi whom he had contacted about the feasibility check for enabling ID card payment in the hostel vending machines, who was the proposed vendor, how many vending machines he planned to introduce and how many MoUs they currently had for the same. Vamsi replied that he had spoken with the CFO and the CCW office, he planned to work with the dealer Vendiman and that this would be executed in all the hostels that are interested in this initiative. With regard to the question about the MoUs, Vamsi responded incorrectly at first by saying that they had one MoU with Vendiman but later he corrected his statement and replied that at present Vendiman was running in a trial period and that he planned to sign a MoU with them after successful completion of their trial period. He added that he had spoken with the dealers and that they had agreed to the same. 

Nihal then presented a situation where supposing that they had signed a MoU with Vendiman, installed an ID card enabled vending machine in all the 19 hostels, the CFO charges a rent (for machine integration) of four thousand rupees per machine, per month and finally the vendor doesn’t get enough money to pay the rent given that the margin from wholesale products is low. He asked Vamsi what he would do if Vendiman refuses the contract. 

To this, Vamsi replied that firstly Vendiman was very much interested in this initiative. Secondly he added that though he didn’t have the exact numbers involved in hand, once ID card payments are enabled, he was sure that more people would start using the vending machines which would likely prevent such a situation.

  1. Moving on to Vamsi’s next manifesto point about the portal for hostel room infrastructure requests, Nihal asked him what he was trying to achieve through the portal that a simple google form couldn’t.

Vamsi replied that a google form wouldn’t suffice as the portal would have all the room infrastructure listed out and students could register their issues against the list. He went on to add that the General Secretaries of the respective hostels would have access to the portals; the portal would be put up in iKollege and it would be one similar to the IVRS portal (which is being operated by hostel managers) where students could log in and register their complaints. He further added that he had also done a feasibility check with CCW and that this complaint portal would be monitored by the chairs and hostel secretaries. 

On followed up with how he planned to fund the charges integration with iKollege incurred, Vamsi’s response was that his portal wasn’t going to be an additional portal but that it would just be an extension of the present IVRS portal. Nihal interjected him again to ask if he would give access to the IVRS portal to the HAS and all the students. To this, Vamsi replied that the students would be able to access only the complaint registry part and that the HAS would only have access to monitor whether the issue has been resolved or not. Nihal though still unconvinced voiced that the whole process could be integrated in a simple google form and that it would actually be simpler. 

  1. Moving on, he asked Vamsi where his proposed dessert counter would be coming up, if that place was separately tenderable and how he was planning to manage the crowd especially near the billing counters.

Vamsi replied that the dessert counter was going to come up in the Parfait space in Quark ground floor and that he was planning to give the tender to the same vendor for both the places. To manage the crowd, he replied that digital kiosks were going to be set up which would ensure that people could order online and even pay from a mobile app itself and thus wouldn’t need to queue up at the counters.

When questioned if this feature wasn’t available in the present Zaitoon app itself, Vamsi replied in affirmative and started to justify how his app wouldn’t have the same infrastructure but Nihal moved on to his next question. 

  1. On being asked to explain about his proposed Centralised MoU for vendors, Vamsi replied that it was going to be the same procedure that is followed presently for hostel nights and central contracts. Nihal then asked him how it counts as a manifesto point if his role there is just to bring the present three MoUs together. Vamsi’s response to this was that it was a valid manifesto point because it takes a lot of time to get vendors and to sign a MoU. 

When further questioned about if he wasn’t going to work with the vendors that the current hostel secretaries are working with, Vamsi started replying that he planned to go with multiple vendors under a single MoU but was soon cut short by Nihal asking him to clarify on the difference between a vendor and a MoU which he answered. 

  1. In his next question to Vamsi, Nihal asked him if he knew why boys weren’t allowed into girls’ hostels. Vamsi chose not to answer that question. Nihal then asked why spouse entry into PG hostels was presently not allowed. Vamsi started to reply that he had spoken with people from CCW who said there was some issue (which wasn’t explained) and that he was planning to implement a biodata form to verify identity of the spouses but he was cut short as Nihal moved on to his next question. 

Continuing his rampant questioning Nihal then challenged Vamsi to explain why something like ‘Discounted starter kits’ which is usually a marketing strategy to attract students was a manifesto point of the HAS. He went on to ask if this was some sort of a publicity stunt for department shops to attract freshies and sell their merchandise. Vamsi responded that this wasn’t something that was restricted to Gurunath and that the vendors also wouldn’t necessarily advertise it as starter kits. He explained that as the he HAS could negotiate with the vendors to bring down the prices, he had formulated a list of 21 essential items that would be sold and that he even had the discounted rates finalized. 

  1. Nihal then asked Vamsi as to how many hostels had Sanitary Napkin dispensers already and what was the reason for their absence in those that didn’t have them. Vamsi responded by saying that it was started in Sarayu and Sabarmati as a pilot scheme to gauge how many people used them, then added that he had spoken with CCW and Narayana Perumal sir’s office  and that he planned to extend it to all the hostels and they were supportive of the same. Moving on Nihal asked him how this would be a zero budget initiative, who would pay for putting it up and how they would break even. Vamsi’s response to this was that there wouldn’t be any rental charges for it and the vendor would only have to pay OHM the maintenance charges.
  2. On being asked to explain his proposed model of the Central Laundry Facility, Vamsi replied that he planned to bring a common vendor to all the hostel common rooms who would work the washing machines, iron and return the clothes to the students at minimal rates. Nihal followed it up by asking him if he had already spoken to any service providers and whether it  was going  to involve signing of a tender or a MoU, to which Vamsi replied that he had spoken with TrueColors and Vendiman and that he planned to float a tender.   As a first break to what had turned into a sole interaction between Nihal and Vamsi, the present Student General Secretary Sriram Kompella asked Vamsi why he hadn’t implemented this as a CMGFS core itself. Vamsi’s reply was that they had in fact run it as a pilot scheme but it wasn’t implemented because the vendors weren’t very keen at that time. But he added that the present vendors he had spoken with had different plans and were willing to pull this off. 
  3. Nihal then questioned Vamsi about his proposed installation of Tank Water Level indicators (TWLs)  and energy audits. When asked about the cost incurred for installing TWLs , Vamsi claimed that he estimated a cost of rupees five thousand per hostel. He added that even though energy audits have been conducted in the past, they weren’t publicized enough and his motive was to publicize the results of these audits among students to sensitize them about their levels of energy consumption. He further mentioned that if this worked he would consider outsourcing them as third party audits as well. Former Speaker Namburi broke in to inform Vamsi that he had put forth a similar idea in his manifesto and even an ad-hoc committee had been formed for the same but that they didn’t work. Vamsi retorted by saying that he would ensure that the work is done.
  1. After accepting his confident reply that he had enough manpower to pull off the penalty scheme to be enforced in the CMGFS, when asked why he wished to extend lunch timings Vamsi responded by saying that he proposed this because a lot of people found it difficult to make it to the mess before it closed especially during the weekends and that he had spoken with the CCW who had concurred that it could be done since there was no clause that restricted mess timings in the tender document. When enquired if this would leave the mess workers with no rest, Vamsi replied in affirmative.
  1. Nihal then moved on to the poll- based revamp point Vamsi had proposed and both Nihal and Sriram the Student General Secretary asked Vamsi what he would do if the students picked something that didn’t satisfy the tendering clauses,  whether he would restrict their choice. Vamsi replied that they would be restricted to a given list of choices, following which he was asked if he knew who and all were involved in the menu making process. He mentioned MMCC,HAS and chair of MMCC but after prompts from both of them he added that the caterers, GSB, Eatitude and Ozone were also involved. Sriram then went on to ask that if a uniform menu were to be followed across the messes, would he incorporate a specific change for a specific category of people if the poll results called for such a scenario. Vamsi replied in negative and added that the opinions of the GSB would be incorporated only in a uniform manner and no segmentation would be entertained. 
  2. Nihal then challenged Vamsi to explain why the present biometric systems in the messes was inefficient and what he planned to do about it. Vamsi replied that he didn’t know the specific reasons for its inefficiency but that he had spoken with the CFO who had promised that the entire biometric system in OHM would be upgraded within two to three months to make it better equipped. Sriram interjected to ask whether he trying to bulldoze something that he didn’t understand in the institute without knowing whether something was inefficient, given that he was proposing to change that system.  To this Vamsi replied that with what he had heard from the CFO, the issue was that the biometric data wasn’t being updated properly during mess transfers, especially during the vacation period since the frequency of mess changes becomes high given that people change their messes every week and that his target would be to mainly address this logistical problem. 
  3. Nihal and Sriram then asked Vamsi what he thought about Eatitude’s efficiency and what their job description was at IIT Madras. Vamsi replied that he hadn’t spoken with anyone from Eatitude but that he had received fundaes about them from Nihal and Aswanth (the previous year’s HAS) and as far as he knew, they help with issues regarding the messes that couldn’t be handled by the MMCC. 

Next followed a brief session where Sriram and Nihal asked Vamsi as to who were the stakeholders in OHM and MMCC, the student representatives in MMCC and finally what were the committees that HAS would come under, which the SGS wasn’t a part of. Vamsi answered these questions by listing out the stakeholders with prompts from the Executive council.

GSB Questioning:

Namburi the previous SLC speaker unofficially started off the GSB questioning when he broke in to ask Vamsi to list members of the MMCC. He next put forth a constitutional question, asking Vamsi what  an executive veto was and what was his opinion regarding the same. Vamsi replied that executive veto gave the  members of the Executive Council an additional power to override the decisions of the SLC and that he didn’t support it. When Namburi followed it up by asking what an executive committee was, Vamsi didn’t have an answer. 

Next up a member from the GSB who was also named Vamsi, inquired about the closing of Andavar fruit and juice shop. In response to this the aspiring HAS clarified that in fact Andavar hadn’t been terminated but that its license period got over. He added that owing to a number of hygiene and waste segregation violations, they weren’t planning to extend the license period. The GSB member followed up by asking since it was the responsibility of the CMGFS to ensure a fruit shop in the  campus and being a core member of CMGFS what he was going to do about it. When the candidate clarified that CoolBiz catered to fruits too, he expressed displeasure over students walking all the way to CoolBiz for fruits and about the delay he witnessed in setting up one more fruit shop. Over the course of delivery of his question, Sriram broke in to declare that they weren’t ready to gamble with students’ lives over the trouble they faced with respect to proximity.  To this Vamsi clarified that they were already floating an open tender for another fruit shop  and with a prompt from Nihal, he explained the tender process and said that open tenders usually took 6 months while closed tenders could be drafted in nearly a month.  The GSB member still unsatisfied by his response said that when he had asked them, CoolBiz had expressed interest in setting up another shop and why Vamsi hadn’t contacted them. To this the candidate replied that they lacked the infrastructure to set up a shop right now and that Andavar had been operating in a digital kiosk they had set up on their own. He also clarified that the shop was in no shape to bring in another vendor; this had been their primary reason for not extending Andavar’s tenure and also that all steps from their side had been taken asking them to remove that kiosk to no avail.

Swathi CS, a member of the SECC, posed the next question where she asked if it would make more sense to install sanitary napkin dispensers in departments than in hostels and if he was planning to install an incinerator of sanitary napkins as well. To this, Vamsi replied that departments didn’t come under his jurisdiction and that he was ready to install the incinerators as well, along with the dispensers. 

T5E Questioning :

The first question posed from T5E’s side was given that all the girls hostels are already operating beyond capacities and some UGs are even carted off to Tunga which is an ad-hoc women’s hostel, how he planned to resolve the issue. Vamsi replied that at present he had no answer and that he would need more support for the same. When asked on how he plans to remodel the new SFC, he replied that the problem at present was that there was only one entrance. He said that he planned to incorporate an exit there that would promote free flow of crowd. He mentioned that he also planned to set up digital kiosks to reduce queues and also that a small part of the front grills would be removed and replaced with a door.  

Back to GSB questioning:

The next question was posed by Puneeth from the GSB. He asked Vamsi if he knew that food court coupons were being sold on social media as a result of which the people who aren’t a part of the food court could also eat there. He then asked Vamsi how he would make sure this doesn’t happen.  Sriram and Nihal followed up on this question by asking whether he would introduce biometry in food courts to prevent people from bringing their friends along, to which Vamsi replied that he wouldn’t and in fact he would allow the people in. When asked how he would manage the rush then, he replied that he didn’t have an answer for the same.  

Puneeth followed up his question by asking if digitization of food court coupons would help. Vamsi replied that digitization of food coupons, student recognition and payment through ID card and digital kiosks all couldn’t be installed in food courts as that would require more infrastructure and money which the caterers can’t afford. When questioned on the sustainability of the food court, Vamsi replied that it wasn’t sustainable both on the grounds of finance and food wastage. 

Namburi then inquired if there was enough financial accountability on what the OHM and the hostel council spend and if Vamsi has any plans to ensure that the students could access the details on how much was spend and on what. Vamsi replied that he currently had no such plans but when Namburi suggested that he could talk with the CCW and help the speaker  to extend the purview of FAC even to the hostel council, he assured that he would do that. 

When questioned as to whether he had gone through the nutrition committee report that was passed in the SLC the previous year, Vamsi replied that he hadn’t and that he didn’t know that there was such a committee. Sriram then explained what the committee was and asked him to consider the points published in the report and act on them the next time. 

Nihal then moved on to ask Vamsi what he was planning to do about the accommodation crisis that we face at present in IIT Madras. He stated that the RAS had conducted a recent survey where out of the 400 research scholars who were surveyed, 350 were willing to take up HRA and live outside the institute. The candidate then replied that if this was carried out and at least 300 of the willing 350 were to move outside, some room crunch could be resolved. He also added that apart from this he didn’t currently have any other plans to solve this issue and would need more support.  

When asked to comment upon the Pay and Dine Vamsi replied that this had been a manifesto point of the past three year secretaries but that it wasn’t feasible to implement as the base cost of dining would increase. 

Sriram then declared that he felt that Vamsi didn’t understand tendering process enough and asked him how he planned to implement a ranked pool of caterers, what he would do to publicize the tender to ensure that there are enough tenders to enable allocation of a few as backup options and if this was even legally possible. Vamsi replied that he would chart a list of all the caters across institutes and inform them about the tender. He added that this was feasible and the ranking and allocation could be managed even if they were to receive as many as 25 tenders. When asked about the bidding price of tenders though he didn’t have a clear answer.

Vamsi the GSB member now followed up with a series of questions: when the new laptop and mobile repair shop would take over the present laptop shop, if it would be feasible to renovate and reuse the Andavar fruit juice kiosk, what was the difference between Establishment A and B charges and would the Est. B charges be refunded if not used up and finally why the dysfunctional Put Peace printers were still present in hostel rooms and hadn’t been removed yet. 

The candidate responded that a new tender would be floated for the repair shop and that a new shop would be set up in around two months when the extended tender of the present shop would end. He added that the fruit juice kiosk was not an infrastructure provided by IIT Madras and hence couldn’t be renovated. Further he agreed that the Est.B charges could indeed be refunded though he wasn’t very clear about what the money was being used for. Finally the aspiring HAS candidate agreed to remove the printers as well. 

When enquired by Namburi about the role of HAS in the disciplinary committee, Vamsi replied that he believed that he would need to represent the students and voice his opinion if he found some punishment more harsh than required. 

Sriram Kompella then went on to ask what the procedure was to spend money before proposing the budget before SLC. Vamsi replied the if the Dean of students and chairperson’s permission is sought it could be done. When asked what the role of SLC was if it could be bypassed, Vamsi replied that he wasn’t sure about this but knew that if done this is the procedure followed. He also replied in affirmative when asked if he was using money before the budget. 

When Nihal asked him what he proposed to do to stop this, Vamsi replied that all he could do was to push his standing committee member to pass his budget. Vamsi expressed that he felt students shouldn’t be a part of the vigilance Committee. He was then informed that an aspiring SGS favored this and whether students would be part of the vigilance committee in his tenure if both of them get elected. Vamsi replied that he didn’t think it would happen. 

When followed up with what he would do to resolve a conflict of opinion between the executive wing members if he was elected, Vamsi replied that he would pass it in SLC.  

When questioned about the central delivery system, Vamsi replied that it was a follow-up and that the project would be rolled in two weeks. Vamsi from the GSB then asked the candidate about his budget for bonding nights being rejected in the recent SLC meeting but was stopped short by Amar Jyothi the present SLC speaker who clarified that it had been the budget of the HAS and that the candidate had only been representing the HAS. He also added that the candidate didn’t have to answer that question. 

When Nihal asked him why he needed a weighing machine to sensitise people about food waste when a simple notice would do the job, Vamsi replied that this proposed machine would show each person what his contribution was to food waste and would thus help to sensitise them better.

Sriram finally asked Vamsi, that given that we are facing a serious water crunch in non-potable water and would need to do everything possible to conserve water, whether Holi should be celebrated with water. Vamsi chose not to answer this question as he believed that it would only reflect his personal opinion which wasn’t helpful.

With that the final soapbox for the 2019 General Elections was wrapped up. 

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