The second regular SAC meeting of the semester started off with very little representation from the General Students’ Body, as seems to have become the norm. Besides this correspondent, only four other GSB members were present initially, and this number dwindled to zero as time passed.
The SAC Speaker initiated the session by displaying the agenda and calling for additional points. The Cul-Secs took this opportunity to propose that the SAC approve their request to use some ‘contentious’ zones for Saarang. These zones were deemed out of bounds by Prakriti to protect campus wildlife, but the Cul-Secs claimed that these venues were used in previous Saarangs and would be required for only a few hours each day, during which the fauna anyway stays away, they contended. Presenting a list of requirements, which included the Mahanadi Hostel playground near SAC, the old fitness centre, some areas around the front of CLT and blocking the SAC road for a few hours on one day, the Cul Sec (Arts) sought the backing of SAC in presenting a formal request for these venues, the motion for which the SAC passed later with a high majority. A second new agenda was a proposal to change the prevailing rule of disallowing food delivery boys from entering the hostel zone when they are allowed into the residential zone, which the SAC later decided to take up with the admin.
The Speaker then presented the first topic on the list – the creation of an Institute Wiki which would hold all information relating to all offices in the Institute. The Wiki is supposed to provide easily accessible and credible information at one site, and also to make sure information relating to the current year’s functioning and decisions is available to the future bearers. The people related to the topic during a specific period would be the authors of info relating to it, while the head of the organisation would have final control. For example, the Thespian Club’s Wiki can be authored by the members and would finally be edited and approved (and usually, co-authored) by the Conveners for that year. The SAC discussed at length about who would be managing the site and how, and the main bone of contention was the creation of posts of Managers for the Wiki, which some members felt was just adding to the already burgeoning number of positions available in the Institute.
The next topic was the inclusion of the ‘reject button’ in Institute elections. Proposed by Arun Sudarsan (MA Councillor), it elicited highly polarized opinions from the members. If it is implemented, the voter will have two options – either reject all the candidates for a post, or choose a preference order for all, in keeping with the IRV (Instant Run-off Voting) system. ‘If the tally of rejects is greater than fifty percent of the tallied votes, only then would all candidates be declared as rejected,’ Arun Sudarsan said, explaining that just a majority of reject votes is not enough, and carried on, ‘The intention behind this concept is to make sure unopposed candidates still have to be approved by the majority of the electorate.’ An obvious question is – what then? What if he/she is declared rejected? Here the SAC was unsure, since there are only two slots available for elections. It was proposed that elections be held a second time and if there too there is a rejection, the candidate with most voted be declared elected. Initially it was proposed that a rejected candidate be disallowed from standing the second time, but this would throw up a range of problems, including proxy candidates standing in the first elections and hence the proposal was discarded. There also was confusion initially among some members regarding whether this works as a NOTA button, but Arun pointed out that the NOTA does not reject candidates and we already have an equivalent of that in the ‘abstain’ button in Institute polls. Although the SAC almost rejected it in the first round of voting, based on arguments of ‘vendetta politics’ and ‘non-democratic implications’, the proposal to form a committee to look into its possibilities was approved the second time.
Next was the issue of security of student possessions in the Institute. Members cited increased incidences of cycle and laptop theft. The Gen Sec said that laptop thefts are considered instances of student carelessness by the Administration, but there is an ongoing proposal to curbing cycle thefts, by using simple surveillance and tracking technology developed by CFI. The issue of a part of Krishna Hostel’s compound wall being demolished and then not being rebuilt on Prakriti’s insistence was also approved to be raised with the authorities.
It was noted at one point by Pallavi Chakravorty that all the SAC seemed to be doing was forming committees every meeting without any useful reports being submitted and she opined that the SAC only take up a fixed number of issues which can be satisfactorily resolved. The SAC decided that it would discuss issues more diligently and extensively online and hence try to keep time in the actual meetings. The Speaker then said that only one Committee, the one reviewing the functioning of Committees, had a report ready and asked Arun, the Chairman of that Committee, to present its findings.
The Committee recommended that Committees be classified as Ad-Hoc or Standing, and proposed rules for both. Standing Committees were proposed to have GSB members as well, with their total vote weight equaling the total weight of the SAC members in the Committee. They would have to submit a report at the end of the year, while the Ad-Hoc Committees would have to submit reports within a month of formation, failing which there would be penalties imposed. Members of the Standing Committees would lose their SAC membership while the Ad-Hoc Committee member would be fined one attendance (two of those implies a forfeiture of SAC membership). There was a large wave of protest at this proposition from the SAC, who claimed that working in Committees is not in their job description. Also, the Speaker pointed out that SAC members cannot be forced to volunteer for Committees, so most Committees might then go memberless. At this point, someone proposed there be a Committee to review the work that this Committee reviewing Committees did. Finally, the SAC decided to reconstitute the Committee to review only the ‘penalties proposal’ of the Committee but otherwise adopt their proposals.
The 5-hour meeting also featured Secretary Reviews, with all Secretaries presenting how many of their manifesto points they were able to cover, and all except the HAS, who had had a lot of workload otherwise as well, had been able to keep to a sizeable chunk of their promises. Both the Cul Secs, Abhiram Reddy (Arts) and Amruthkumar Hegde (Literary), could not elaborate much on their Saarang work, since MoUs were still being worked out, but pointed out some highlights, for example in the World Culture Show and the increased activity of the Institute Clubs, as their achievements. The SGS, Deepak Johnson, presented, among other points, the restructuring of the Students’ General Secretary’s Committee, which is a portfolio of all teams that works with the SGS on various issues. The Academic Affairs Secretary, Damini Gandham, was unavailable and her review was presented by Bindu Upadhyay. The newest of the Institute Secretaries, International & Alumni Relations Secretary Jithin Varghese, highlighted, among others, the Alumni Telethon as his achievement. A detailed review of all Secretary Manifestos will be carried by T5E at the end of the academic year.
By the end of the marathon session, all SAC members had lost interest in reviewing the manifestos and looked fatigued, which adds to a plethora of questions this SAC session threw up. Even without getting into five (out of eleven) points on the agenda, the SAC only just about managed to do enough justice to the other six. Is it not possible to find a more efficient method of conducting SAC sessions wherein all topics that are raised can be dealt with satisfactorily? Are two sessions enough for the SAC to efficiently tackle all the issues that need its attention in a semester? How accountable does the SAC see itself with respect to the efficacy of its functioning? The SAC believes these questions can be tackled by discussing some issues online and putting them to online voting. While this is a plausible solution, its actual implementation may be problematic.
Inception jokes aside, the SAC’s readiness to form a Committee to review the Committee that reviewed Committees is alarming. It does show that the SAC wants to be doubly sure about implementing new measures, but it is also symptomatic of its inefficiency and proclivity towards procrastination. As the Speaker confessed, no Committee, save for one, has managed to meet even once, let alone submit a report. Given that SAC members are this busy, can the formation of multiple Committees in each session be justified? Will the SAC members’ job description need to be altered to make it compulsory for them to work in Committees, since otherwise Committees don’t seem to be functioning properly, or will we need special SAC members to work only on Committees?
The SAC is, by far, the most important student group in the Institute currently. While it seems to be trying its best to fulfil its responsibilities, it could spare some thought and attention towards itself for the betterment of its functioning and improving the GSB’s perception of its elected executives.
The agenda for the meeting was as follows (with the points that were not covered in bold) :
Creation of Institute Wiki
Security of student property
Reject button in elections
Difficulties in implementing IRV
Irregularities in bus operations
Problems in food court operations
Workload of HAS, SGS
Ratification of guidelines and appointments made to SGS committee
Discussion about townhall meeting
Report on Committees
Report on work of EW