The recently concluded mess and cafeteria tendering process has resulted in a number of changes to the existing dining facilities. The closure of Tifanys, the opening of Suprabha in its place, and a proposed conversion of half the area occupied by Tifanys into a mess are just some of these changes.
The mess tendering process is centrally organized by the CCW office every year. This year’s tendering process started officially on 15th April, with the call for tenders, and concluded only towards the end of June. The institute was represented in the talks with the caterers by the Tender Committee that included the Students’ General Secretary, the Hostel Affairs Secretary and a delegation of five other student volunteers. An all-student discussion about various issues related to the mess facilities, such as the tendering process, the representation of students in MMC (Mess Monitoring Committee) and other committees, and new proposals for the mess system, was held in CLT on 15th May. The financial bids of caterers were opened on 17th, followed by price discussions on 22nd May and 3rd June. The daily price of the mess was negotiated in these meetings and was finalised at Rs. 84 (or Rs. 82, if a gas subsidy is availed of). Based on ratings and previous experience with the caterers, the final allotment was made in a Council of Wardens meeting on 18th June.
A table comparing the allotment between last year and this year follows.
The basic mess menu finalized for this year can be found in the tender document available here.
A comparison between last year’s menu and this year’s suggests that more choice has been given to caterers and the students in terms of the menu. Unlike last year, this year’s tender document does not give different basic menus for North and South Indian categories. It also does not specify a day-wise menu. The cited reason for this is that the caterers were unable to cook according to the exact day-wise specifications of the menu. In the new system, every month the MMC along with the caterers will decide the mess menu and menu for extra items** for the subsequent month, a fortnight in advance. Daily extra items have also been made compulsory. The tender document quotes, ‘At least 2 extras should be provided for breakfast and 3 each for lunch and dinner’. More mess operations will be transferred to the online space, with the registration for extra items also being made available on the students portal. Extra items would have to be booked at least a day in advance, to let the caterer know the numbers to cook for.
Overall, there seems to be more flexibility given to the caterer as well as students, in the choice of menu and extra items. But moving essential items, such as fruits, into the category of extra items will be a financial burden on the students, in addition to the increased cost per day of mess facilities.
A comparison of mess rates across different colleges, however, suggests that the increase in mess prices isn’t exclusive to IITM. IITB students currently pay Rs. 13000 per semester, revised recently from Rs.10000. IIT KGP mess fees have also been increased to Rs. 88 per day from Rs. 72. The daily rates stands at Rs. 60 for Pondicherry University, Rs. 70 for NIT Trichy and Rs. 72 for SSN College, with mess menus similar to IITM. However, IIT K and IIST mess rates are staggeringly low at Rs. 45 per day.
Looking closer home, the allotment of Vasan Tiffin Home (that used to be the caterer in Krishna Mess) to Vindhya has led to dissatisfaction among the boys. Therefore, a proposal has been made to convert Vindhya to a common mess for boys and girls. To quote the Students’ General Secretary’s mail to the girl students about this proposal:
“Considering that there is an equally strong preference for this mess among the boys (the ratings for Vasan Tiffin Home have been consistently at 18 – 19, on a 25 point scale, for the past academic year) we would like a suggestion to be placed with regard to making Vasan a mess where boys and girls can dine together (the number of boys will be limited – likely to 400). As of now, the area of Tifanys is common and boys access it in during the mess hours. The availability of this facility will make it easier for those students who want to dine from Vasan. This would also be a step in integrating the students in dining halls (at present girl students are not allowed in Krishna and Cauvery). We can push further to have common dining areas as we have when eateries are considered.”
The proposal has been met with mixed reactions- some girls opine that Vindhya might get overcrowded if this suggestion is implemented. A popular suggestion, however, is to make just the upper floor of Vindhya (one half of the area previously occupied by Tifanys) open to boys.
Also, a proposed addition to the existing Mess facilities is a student-run mess in Mandakini hostel. This mess, which was earlier a storage area for scrap material and electronic waste generated in the institute, is now being re-opened to ease the burden on the existing mess facilities. A team of student volunteers is studying the feasibility of such a facility, in which students alone will manage the mess staff, the procurement of ingredients and other related issues. Such a system does exist in a few other colleges, including IIM Lucknow. This mess, if run successfully, could bring down the cost of mess facilities as students won’t aim for a profit margin in this enterprise.
With so many changes set to take place, students can expect the mess experience to be quite different next semester, once the institute reopens.
T5E acknowledges the help and inputs of the Students’ General Secretary and the Hostel Affairs Secretary, who furnished several details about the process of mess tendering and its results.
**Extras/extra items: Extra items, that are paid for individually by the students. They are not a part of the basic mess menu.