Monitoring a Mess


There has always been a need among the students to know who or what takes care of their mess issues and their redressals, but never so much as now, thanks to the wide range of messing complications that cropped up in the first half of the August-November semester of 2013. The Mess Monitoring Committee, or the MMC in short, came under the spotlight during these events, being at the centre of our Institute’s system of mess management and redressal.

Conceptualised in 2012 to formally and regularly address mess issues, the formation of the Committee was spurred on by various factors, the foremost of them being the need for a focussed group to tackle the ever-increasing number of mess-related problems. This function was formerly carried out by the Chairman, Council of Wardens, who would chair a meeting once in a while with the caterers and sort out caterer issues and student complaints. ‘The A-Diet fiasco also, in part, made a case for its inclusion,’ Prof Gopalakrishnan, current MMC Chairman, points out.

The Committee is largely constituted by the student body representatives, with all hostel mess secretaries and the Hostel Affairs Secretary and Students General Secretary being part of it. The HAS and SGS also propose the nomination of a few other student members, who are not mess secretaries, to the Committee. All the caterers are duly represented and the wardens of all the hostels constitute the second largest group in the MMC. This year, two wardens have been appointed Core Members and necessarily attend all MMC meetings. The Chairman, Council of Wardens, MMC Chairman, Dean of Students, and the Deputy Registrar, or his representative, make up the rest of the MMC along with a representative of the culinary expert, Eatitude. Representatives from the engineering unit are also invited for the first half-hour of the meeting to address the structural and engineering issues the caterers might be facing.

The MMC’s viewpoints are hence threefold – the students’ (and the administration’s, to an extent), the caterer’s and the expert’s, which, according to the Eatitude representative, is the best possible way to tackle mess issues in a large Institute like IIT. The students bring in their concerns, feedbacks and complaints, while the caterers have their claims of limitation, and here the expert brings in his experience in handling catering issues and knowledge of prevailing market conditions. ‘He is able to make a neutral judgment of caterer claims and student grievances, and hence provide the best possible advice. This way there is complete coverage of all factors, biased and neutral, that must be included in decision making,’ claims the Eatitude representative.

Last year, the MMC unfailingly met as frequently as twice in a month, on the 15th and the 27th of each month. Prof Gopalakrishnan comments – ’The MMC met even on the 15th of August last year, despite it being a national holiday!’ This year, the frequency has been halved and the MMC convenes on the 27th of every month. The agenda for each meeting is quite vast, and usually starts out with any catering difficulties, engineering or otherwise, that the caterers might be facing. Then, problems that have been either reported to the MMC Chairman or the Chairman himself has observed are taken up – for example, quality being bad, quality being less, unhygienic conditions, caterer defaults and so on – and directly addressed with the caterer. Further, individual mess secretaries, or the MMC student members representing a hostel, present the problems that they and their hostel residents are have faced and these problems are discussed and resolved. The minutes of each meeting are quite long and hence take time to be drawn up, but Prof Gopalakrishnan assures that they are available, and the SGS or the HAS can send out a brief of each meeting if need be.

Another very important part of the MMC’s method of functioning is the tea-time meeting, each of which is open to all. These meetings are convened during tea-time in all messes once a week and attempt to collect as wide a range of feedback as possible. The secretary for the meeting is the Eatitude representative and specific Hostel Secretaries are assigned to meetings in specific messes. The secretaries present the grievances they collect from their hostels, which are then presented to the caterer representatives, who are also present. The general student body can also present its grievances here. Prof Gopalakrishnan stresses this point repeatedly – ‘This fact has been publicised by large posters put up outside every mess which also list out the phone numbers of all MMC members attending tea-time meetings in that specific mess, which anybody can use to lodge complaints or feedback.’

In case there is a need for strict action against the caterers, the MMC proposes it to the Chairman, Council of Wardens, who has the authority to act on it. The MMC Chairman also has the power to issue showcause notices against defaulting caterers, and Prof Gopalakrishnan explicitly states that it is theoretically possible to sever a catering firm’s contract if its response is unsatisfactory, provided a specific protocol is followed.

T5E would like to thank Prof Gopalakrishnan, MMC Chairman, and Mr Vinu Shankar, Eatitude Representative, for their valuable inputs.

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