The soapbox for the post of Student General Secretary (SGS) took place on 8th March, 2018. Sriram Kompella (fourth year Civil Engineering Dual Degree) was showered with numerous questions from the GSB in what was an intense soapbox session. To the surprise of the executive board members however, the audience turn-out was very low. The video for the soapbox can be found on the SECC’s Youtube channel here. Swetha Srinivasan reports.
The session started off with Sriram making his presentation followed by questions from the members of the Executive Wing and a few from the audience too.
Sriram’s vision is to make all opportunities IIT Madras has to offer, accessible to all students. The IIT-M campus, according to him, aims to foster creativity and technical interest. Sriram aims to improve the tech-ambience in order to inculcate the spirit into people’s hearts. He addressed some hostel infrastructure issues and wants to bring in hot water showers and methods for sanitary napkin disposal in the girl’s hostels. Widening warden’s quarters road to accommodate cycle traffic was another initiative proposed to reduce cycle traffic and accidents.
Reduction of waiting time in the Institute hospital, online slot booking, general medical check-up camps for institute students and digitization of medical records are some measures he wants to bring into force with respect to the Institute Hospital.
To improve upon the ease of access to resources and academics, Sriram proposed to create photocopying and stationery stores in academic zones, separate 24*7 reading halls and methods to notify the students whenever the professors upload resources or worksheets through the Student’s App.
This campus offers a sense of security and safety to the students and to further ensure that, he wishes to bring in insurance for laptops, cycles and phones. E-Rickshaw rides for safer commute within campus at nights and sensitizing security guards on the various policies and measures would, according to him, further add to this.
Stressing on the importance of overall development and fitness, he wishes to start three new clubs, one for Adrenaline, one for Prakriti and one for Yoga. He also suggested starting LTAP courses on fitness focusing on three main locales- the gym, the stadium and classroom coaching.
Acknowledging the necessity for good communication skills, he spoke about setting up of a Skill Development Centre where one-on-one mentorship would be provided to improve communication skills.
To aid those writing supplementary exams, ‘Academic Buddies’ would help facilitate learning.
Department open houses, vernacular EMLs, setting up of a Central Purchase Committee, rating hostels based on hygiene, a department wide list of the various instruments present and available for use, common cooking spaces were other measures highlighted in the presentation.
In order to nurture volunteering amongst students from all branches, and streams, he intends to kickstart Jagriti, provide separate PoR applications for PGs, and launch a PG mentorship programme to facilitate more PGs to lead clubs and take up other such responsibilities.
Outgoing SGS Sai Kiran asked Sriram to state the difference between a Hostel Affairs Secretary (HAS) and the SGS to which he answered that the SGS must coordinate between all the secretaries and must ensure an overall development of the campus. This is not the major responsibility of the HAS.
Sai Kiran questioned him on the ground work done in order to facilitate the road widening to which Sriram replied that he has spoken to the Dean (Planning) regarding this. They are already planning to widen one road and make it exclusive for cyclists, however Venkataraman Ganesh, ex-Speaker of the SLC seemed unconvinced about the feasibility of an exclusive road for cyclists.
Sai Kiran and later, Venkataraman, asked him about his idea to improve the tech-ambience, and how it would benefit the students. He aims to have utilitarian tech-structures like light and water sensors in hostels and non-utilitarian ones like sculptures or arches and believes that this will encourage more people to take up tech related activities during their stay here.
Regarding the groundwork for the E-Rickshaws, his response was a tie up with Ola or Uber to get the rickshaws running and decide the fee after taking a poll amongst the students. He however hasn’t spoken to these vendors yet and hence couldn’t give concrete data. Having spoken to the SGS of IIT Roorkee, Sriram said that he was willing to help as this system is already there in IIT Roorkee.
Sai Kiran also questioned him on the size and composition of the Saathi team, and further expanded his question to ask what Sriram would do on the decreasing number of applicants for Saathi or other SGS PoRs. Sriram replied that he liked an initiative by the previous SGS, Purab Jain, on branding institute student bodies and expressed his wish to work more on the same, along with more mentorship programmes to encourage more people to take up these responsibilities.
When questioned about the implementation of reading halls and stationery shops by YVV Aditya, Chairperson of SEC and SECC, he said that stationery shops can be put up in MSB (which received the approval of the HoD provided that there would be no food related items), Campus Café, and a few more after the completion of the new academic complex 1; and reading halls can be established in the basement of the library and in CRC as a contingency plan (after 6pm).
In response to outgoing Cultural Secretary (Lit) Srikanth Musti’s question on how the admin would allow 24*7 access to reading halls when even SAC isn’t made available that way, and how it wouldn’t be misused, Sriram said that no one would object to studies, and that the Dean of Students welcomed the initiative, provided all the groundwork was in place. He also added that security guards would be there to ensure that there would be no misuse or vandalism of the hall, when questioned on how he would ensure that they would be used solely for studying. Responding to a follow up that staying up late isn’t desired by the admin, he replied that it’s a matter of perspective and strong representation from the students’ side.
To improve the Hostel Disciplinary Committee, in response to Sai Kiran’s question, he replied that he would improve the follow up mechanism, stand up for the students with proper justification, ensure more transparency and maintain the privacy of the stakeholders under proper justification. He added that he would be willing to push for transparency with the Dean of Students, provided he had a strong plan of action and groundwork.
When quizzed by Venkataraman Ganesh about his familiarity with the guidelines, Sriram answered in the positive but also said that such a one-size fit-all solution wasn’t ideal. Venkataraman then informed him that there are a wide range of discretionary powers available to the admin and it’s not a one-size fit-all as he thought it was. Sriram mentioned that he has never been a part of a HDC meeting earlier, and was open to suggestions but that he believed in a human angle being associated with the HDC.
He stressed that students must be sensitized about the rules and regulations and that he will stand up for what is right.
When posed a scenario by Venkataraman, about a boy and a girl indulging in non-academic activities in the hostel room and what he as an SGS would do about it, Sriram replied that the parents must be notified. When further enquired about why the parents must be involved in a matter between two adults, he replied that he likes the Indian system where the decisions of the family are upheld. Venkataraman then asked him if he would stop contesting for the post of SGS if his father asked him to, but he answered that there’s a difference between following something blindly, and quickly, he was asked to elaborate upon what he just said. He said that the SLC must come up with rules associated with such cases. He also asked the executive wing to not look at ‘informing the parents’ as a wrong thing, and that it wouldn’t be done if the student accepts his mistakes and is ready to pay the price for it by being more responsible. When asked about what mistakes mandate informing the parents, he said that he isn’t the right person to respond on that. Sriram then began by saying that if the institute mandates that non-academic activities are prohibited within hostel rooms, especially when a girl and boy are involved, and soon got cut off in the middle by Venkataraman asking him why it’s especially for a girl and boy, and why he was being discriminatory. He finally answered that both students must be asked what they plan on doing, and based on that, further measures must be taken. As his stance on the matter wasn’t too clear; we recommend watching the SECC video from 26:00 onwards for clarification on the same.
Srikanth Musti questioned him on how he would tackle the major crunch of resources in insti in terms of venues, budget, and so on, and how he would work with the rest of the executive wing to counter that, citing a scenario of two secretaries overbooking the same venue by two different executive wing members. Talks between the secretaries was the proposed solution, which didn’t seem to be a very convincing answer to the former, as he suggested that the primary focus seemed to be on EML and infrastructure in terms of the amount of effort the SGS puts in rather than helping their fellow EW members in their duties. Sriram replied that he would change the current scenario.
The outgoing HAS asked him what he would do about the Kaveri mess which is unused. Reading halls, came his reply, in the event that Nirman did not utilise the space as planned. But the HAS, unimpressed, suggested allotting it for Shaastra and Saarang usage citing lack of space for events during these fests. Sriram said that that could also be done.
Regarding the cycle sharing system, Sriram said that Pedl seems to be staying while the others aren’t so strong as without smart locks, people are vandalizing them. After further questioning, he agreed that even smart locks are being misused and that sensitizing is the only option. He also said that KV students must also be sensitized on this.
Another scenario given by Srikanth Musti was that of a molestation of a girl by a drunk guy which occurs during one of the cultural fests in IIT- Madras. When asked whether he would bring to light the issue or if he would try to keep it under the cover to avoid tainting the name of the college and fest, Sriram replied confidently that keeping such issues under cover is what will shame our fest and college. Such issues must be looked into immediately and the victim must be provided with justice, even if the perpetrator was a student of IIT Madras.
Venkataraman Ganesh then questioned Sriram on the ethics of his idea of introducing hot water showers as they would cause water wastage. His answer was that it’s just a facility that can be used by the students when they want to, and that any such facility comes with a trade-off, this being something he’s willing to take. Though taking hot water in a bucket was a better idea according to Venkataraman, Sriram stood by his point.
When asked by Venkataraman what the relation between the SLC standing committee and SGS, and whether it was ok to use the relationship for personal gains, the answer was that the SLC provides a means of checks and balances, and makes sure the SGS is moving and working in the right direction.
Regarding sensitization about CCASH, he said that it can be achieved only year by year, and that a lot of on ground activities are needed to make that happen.
A question from the GSB was regarding the feasibility of separate PG applications, where he said that PG students wouldn’t be interested in such activities as they sell their souls to research. Slammed by Musti for making such baseless remarks, the student rephrased his question by saying that such posts wouldn’t be desired by many PG students. Musti then told him about how whatever he just said were false and baseless, questioning him whether he was a PG student or whether he has loads of PG friends. YVV Aditya then enlightened him on the fact that many PG students are interested in various other activities too, that there are a wide range of PG students in insti. Then Sriram was posed a question from the executive wing whether such separate applications and selection procedures would set different standards for selections, to which he replied saying that it is upto the discretion of every club core, and that he believes such mechanism would increase PG participation in more events,
Venkataraman then raised the point about colloquiums, and how they could be revived, citing the example of S-NET and IIT for Society as SGS bodies which were no more functional. Sriram pointed out that there are not enough people ready to work on it without finishing their existing projects, and that he wouldn’t revive S-NET without necessity and active volunteering as there are other committees like the Environmental Standing Committee working on making IIT-Madras more sustainable. As long as the goals are being achieved through other clubs, it’s fine.
When an audience member posed a question about why new LTAP courses on fitness should be started when more importance can be given to the existing fitness activities and improvements can be made, he tried to justify his point by saying that there’s nothing wrong in having a new body, as NSO is only for freshies and to avoid clashing of gym timings, amicable timings will be decided upon.
Sai Kiran asked him if it would be possible to bring in more gyms in hostels and he responded saying that if the hostel wished to, then we can push for it. He also said that he would collaborate with the women sports secretaries to improve gym facilities for girls.
Highlighting the possibility of a future hike in the college fee due to loan system replacing funding grants provided to the IITs, Venkataraman Ganesh asked Sriram what he would do about it, if he becomes the student representative, and how he would reduce the burden of the hike off the students. He was also asked to give his perspective on what he thought would be the reason behind this. According to Sriram, the intention wouldn’t be to burden the students but may possibly be to make the IITs more self-sustaining and autonomous. He replied that though the fee can be hiked initially, it must be stabilized later, a contingency plan would be helpful. Students can take up part-time jobs to manage the situation. But to actually stop fee hike would mean approaching the MHRD. Sai Kiran suggested taking help from the money collected during fests like Shaastra and Saarang.
With that, the soapbox for the post of SGS came to an end.