This article details a story about the water supply in hostels, specifically the Old Boys’ Hostel. The water situation has recently come into public knowledge because of a slew of typhoid cases affecting residents of the Old Boys Hostel. The hostel authorities have been repeatedly alerted with regards to the strange taste and appearance of water from the coolers, and regarding the sudden outbreaks of throat infection and other ailments in the hostels. Complaints about the water supply were met with incompetence and half-hearted resolutions across months until the typhoid cases forced action.
The account of events raises questions about accountability: Who should be held accountable for failing to provide clean water to hostel residents? And what kind of commitment should the student body expect from the institution on this matter? We explore the current situation, along with details of the exact occurrences across the entire timeline so far, along with responses and measures taken till now.
The Situation at Hand
The coolers at OBH used to dispense normal drinking water from both taps, one cold and one room temperature, just like any other cooler on campus. However, a few months ago a lot of residents started noticing that the water had taken on a murky appearance, with a decidedly funny taste. While many people may swear by the fact that the water from the Kohli Research Block and Admin block taste noticeably better than most other places, this was definitely not different in that sense. The taste was almost acidic, and the colloidal complexion of the water was not helping its case.
This was accompanied by a lot of people falling ill, developing throat and general digestive tract problems. Thus far, however, most of the illnesses cannot be directly attributed to the coolers, as it might have been any cooler, or it could have been something else entirely unrelated to the water from the coolers. As the situation did not change much, suspicions arose regarding the standards of the water from OBH coolers, and complaints were raised to the Hostel authorities. Problems regarding water coolers are quite common in OBH, which can very clearly be seen from the group chats for the various blocks in the hostel.
The standard response from hostel authorities was that a cleaning of the coolers would be scheduled soon. A few days after said cleaning, the situation would recur. It is worrisome enough that it takes multiple complaints for the authorities to schedule a cleaning of the coolers instead of it being on a regular weekly basis, but the main problem here is the fact that the issues kept recurring regardless of the measures that were supposedly being taken. At this point, memes spread galore about the multiple flavours of water one could experience with the coolers at OBH, if one did not care about their health. On further investigation, the problems were attributed to residuals that were in the pipes. Residues from what exactly, we may never know, but that residue is apparently what was causing the smell in the water and the aforementioned funky taste.
Following this, the water coolers at one point just decided to entirely stop functioning. From dispensing impure water to dispensing no water at all, it was hard to say the situation had improved. Residents of OBH had to voyage all the way to Admin Block or Vindhya in search of drinking water, or had to resort to making trips with multiple bottles to said blocks to bring back a decent stock of real potable water
Fast forward a few more weeks, and we have the water impurity issues again. The water from the coolers left deposits in the kettles in which it was boiled, and this indicates a serious issue with respect to the contaminants. The hostel residents had reached their limits, with massive messages being sent to the hostel authorities describing how bad the situation is and demanding action. These pleas were met with a response that does not instil confidence, and one we had all grown accustomed to, that the water shall be checked and that the coolers shall be cleaned.
… we can’t simply shrug off the constantly deteriorating quality of the water in several of the water coolers here. People pass along advice on which coolers are presently relatively better, and which ones are to be avoided.
This is more than just a minor inconvenience. Upon receiving a flood of complaints from the students, the coolers and/or the tanks are cleaned or serviced and the water doesn’t taste awful for a week or two after that, only to slide right back to its previous taste of extra hard water.
Over the last 3 weeks, during the time there was a flood of complaints regarding the water tasting foul, a large number of the residents of OBH fell sick with cold/cough, sore throat, and fever, including me. While it is not possible for me to ascertain the true culprit of this infection, it is certainly possible that it was due to the water.
The indifference towards the complaints by the residents of OBH is clearly highlighted when one tastes the water in Himalaya and Vindhya, which of course tastes just fine, seeing as the more important professors drink from there …
This is one of many such messages on a group, and it represents a view that is gaining traction among the residents of OBH. The hostel authorities had previously stated that the TDS values were regularly being monitored, but the water seems to indicate otherwise. At this point, people mostly started to give up, and some had resorted to buying packaged drinking water from canteens just to remain safe. It is not the job of the students to constantly haggle with the higher-ups regarding issues that they face with something as vital as this
Finally, conclusive evidence was obtained (apart from subjective taste issues) regarding the difference in water qualities, in the form of the image shown below.
The water on the left is water from the Kohli Research Block, and the water on the right is from OBH. The water looks very muddy, and it is clear that whatever TDS measurements were being taken, they were not being used to rectify anything.
More recently, around the night of January 15th, Keshav Bajaj, a resident of the Old Boys’ Hostel fell ill. Upon being admitted to the hospital, he was diagnosed with typhoid. Keshav has been on campus since December 28th, 2022. He confirms that outside the campus he has mostly restricted himself to drinking bottled water. One must note that typhoid is a water-borne disease. Soon after Keshav, a lot of the students residing in hostels have fallen prey to the disease. Quite a few students have now been infected with typhoid and are down with high fevers. Typhoid tests are constantly being taken, and people are on high alert with regards to the situation at hand.
The image shown is an image from a cooler at Parijaat. The water problems seem to be afflicting other hostels as well now, and it seems like the research blocks are the only places where water quality can be trusted.
An official confirmation of the impure water was received by the student body on January 20th, 2023, with a mail from the hostel administration stating that the coliform levels in the water coolers was at 23/100ml while the permissible limits are at around 10/100ml. For the uninformed, coliform bacteria concentration can be taken as an acceptable measure of the faecal pollution levels in the water. To the credit of the hostel administration, water from cans was sourced right after the mail was sent, and the coolers were cleaned.The impurities were being attributed to the taps, and the contaminants that collected over the course of time.
The fact of the matter is that hostel authorities have been informed time and again that there is something wrong with the water. It took a string of complaints, spanning the duration of a few months, and a number of people falling ill or getting infected for the authorities to take notice and work towards solving it. The only solution that seems viable as a long term plan with the current situation involves regular checks and scheduled cleaning of the coolers, along with the chemical tests to confirm that the water is potable. It should not require the student to fall sick and complain over and over again about these basic practices, but this is what we have been seeing so far.
The Conclusion (as of now)
For now, the coolers seem to be fine and clean, filled with canned water, although a lot of people (rightly so) would probably advise one to stay away from them for the time being. At this point, quite a few people have given up on a permanent solution and have resorted to a risk-free alternative, which is going to the academic blocks on research street and filling up our bottles, which is a slightly more tiring but sustainable solution. The fact that the water in research blocks is considerably better and reliable in quality does not help the case of the coolers at the hostels, but we must note that if it is possible to keep identical coolers perfectly functional in some blocks of the institution, why do all coolers not receive the same treatment?
Filling water from OBH has become a gamble that most residents now refrain from taking. With no permanent solution in sight, most will continue relying on alternatives. The crux of the matter is that the student body should not have to complain on a near-weekly basis for something as vital as drinking water, because safe drinking water in residences is a right the residents should not have to ask for. So far the efforts that have been made have not led to any progress towards that goal. The institution should hold a more central inquiry into the water situation, and try their best to establish a more reliable and sustainable solution.