The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not a reflection of Ping! as a whole.
The existing water crisis and the handling of it has in its wake blown open a can of worms related to the college administration in general.
This article will highlight the decisions and actions of the administration at different phases of this crisis and expose deeper problems with how it operates.
The following broad claims will be made in this piece
- There is no adequate recourse in the institution to deal with gross negligence and incompetence by the staff. The approach to disciplining student employees (like Teaching Assistants) is fundamentally different from the approach to disciplining other employees (like Hostel administration).
- It seems there exist completely different standards of drinking water sanitation between student residences and academic blocks.It is extremely convenient that the water standards are stringent in areas that correlate with professors.
- In light of the failure to guarantee hygiene, it is unjust for the Institution to continue mandating mess registration for students.
Handling the water crisis
Events leading up to the Typhoid crisis
As mentioned in the previous Ping! article on the matter, there were complaints about the quality of drinking water to the hostel administration spanning months on public WhatsApp groups and emails. The response to the complaints were typically followed by “measures” including a sampling of TDS and some sort of cleaning but as far as the student community was concerned, the measures did not reflect in the quality of drinking water available. In other words, it was clear well before the crisis that the RO system was consistently failing – leading us to the conclusion that the deeper root of the water issue was never solved.
Fast forward a couple of months: the student parliament confirms that there are 38 cases of typhoid on campus. We do not know if the matter was raised above the hostel administration when the matter was just about complaints about the quality of drinking water.
The average expectation of someone in charge of a residence which claims to provide drinking water is that, on being provided information about the corruption of said water supply, they would investigate. If the investigation turns up nothing significant, which is what they claimed at the time, but the complaints continue, then it is expected that they conduct a more intensive investigation or ask for a blanket maintenance or a replacement drive of the entire water treatment system till the dispensation system. None of this was done, and the complaints were not taken seriously enough. Furthermore, the student parliament, to their credit, had been trying to get water tests done for months with very little cooperation from the side of the hostel management.
It took at least 38 people to be afflicted with typhoid for the hostel administration to decide that perhaps they must earn their pay.
Dealing with the Typhoid crisis
This is where things got even more interesting as different layers of incompetence and anti-transparency practices unfolded as different levels of hierarchies in the college administration took their turns swiping the water crisis under the rug. This phase in the timeline was marked with an email from a prominent member of faculty “Just a request: Kindly avoid broadcasting every conversation on this issue now. Individuals may directly communicate with the committee and someone (Parliament or committee members) may update the community from time to time.” Ironically, minutes after their request a member of the student community pointed out a discrepancy in one of the reports and their interpretation as posed by the WMC, thereby setting in stone the importance of this matter being broadcast and public.
The WMC Coliform email and rebuttal
The WMC cite the following standards document (https://cpcb.nic.in/water-quality-criteria/?&page_id=water-quality-criteria) and says: “The water quality of samples tested are within the standards provided by Central Pollution Control Board, according to which the Total Coliform <50 is considered Class A and for drinking purposes.” This was in an email titled “Water and Hygiene related issues reg” as sent on 2nd February of 2023. This was immediately refuted by a student because the same website standards designate class A water as a “drinking water source conventional treatment but after disinfection” (Cite: https://cpcb.nic.in/wqm/Designated_Best_Use_Water_Quality_Criteria.pdf)
In fact, this is not the first time someone from the institution has talked about what is an “acceptable coliform content” of the water. The Student Parliament on the 20th January conceded that during the time coliform levels were 23/100ml and that the permissible levels are 10/100ml. This was followed by an appropriate rebuttal that the standards quoted say that acceptable coliform levels for two consecutive samples of drinking water should be 0/100ml and the exchange concluded with the Student Parliament conceding that wrong standards were cited.
Furthermore, there have been instances of the hostel administration subtly discouraging typhoid tests and reports. One student even claims that the hostel administration looked at their typhoid report and claimed that the readings were not enough to call it typhoid while the doctor came to the conclusion that it is typhoid. The people responsible seem to have turned the whole environment into a coverup.
To summarize, the hostel administration had ample time and information to prevent the typhoid crisis before it even happened. They were informed through multiple avenues across time-spans that there is a problem with the water supply, and yet they took no permanent measures. What is disheartening is that similar levels of incompetence by student employees like TAs would have at least resulted in a disciplinary hearing. No such actions or investigations of accountability seem to have taken place with regard to the people responsible for water sanitation. This raises some serious questions:
Who is the Hostel management accountable to?
Who was responsible for water sanitation before the WMC?
Who is responsible for an endemic that could very well have been prevented?
During the writing of this article, decisions were taken by the WMC to get municipal water supply into residences as opposed to groundwater. The promise of this overhaul is a welcome change, however the institution cannot afford to forget that it took 38 typhoid cases for this to happen. The cost of an investigation into purity of water supply is 38 typhoid cases, the cost of promising to fix it is 38 typhoid cases, we wonder what the cost of actually fixing it would be.
Double Standards: of water
Having covered the problems with the current water crisis, we zoom out a bit in time. Water problems in student residences does not seem to be a new problem either. This is not the first time water quality in student residences has been substandard. Things got so bad in the 2019 spring semester that drinking water in Bakul smelled foul and people stopped drinking it. Students resorted to buying bottled water, which is also the current status quo.
Furthermore, it is conventionally accepted amongst students that the drinking water supply in the academic block is objectively better than that of water supply in student residences; this was also shown as a side by side colour comparison of water samples in the previous Ping! article on water (note that WHO standards for drinking water also stipulate that water should not have an apparent color). However, what is more important here is that there are repeated reported instances of serious drinking water problems in the student residences while there has been no reported instance of water problems in the academic and the administration blocks. Students have continued to suffer with substandard water over the years while the water for the white collars and the professors has remained pristine.
This begs the question: Is the protocol for drinking water substantially different in the administrative and academic blocks when compared to the protocol in student residences?
From what we observe, that seems to be the case. In other words, not only are the staff entitled to laxer standards of accountability, they’re also entitled to safe drinking water.
Compulsory Hostel and Mess registration
Not only is the water quality not satisfactory, but the college mandates students to pay for hostel and mess services.
It is increasingly apparent that the institution has no standpoint to mandate hostel registration if they can’t ensure basic amenities one should expect from it. The students are mandated to pay for residence and food inside campus, and then they are forced to buy safe drinking water from outside. A restaurant would close if it didn’t follow safety standards because if the government didn’t shut it down, the people would simply not go there: the institution uses its position of power to effectively ensure that people continue paying for “services” despite their quality or the lack thereof.
The students have been failed by the institution – the administration as a whole is responsible for damages that have been caused by the failure in ensuring water sanitation. Furthermore, there is lack of transparency in the water quality protocol and other quality of life concerns.
If questions of accountability are not answered by the institution, then accountability by default falls upon the office of the director.
Given the events that have transpired, the students deserve at least the following:
- A release of drinking water protocol in the different buildings of campus
- A central enquiry in what happened with the water supply of OBH with public findings.
- Actions following assurances from the WMC on the water quality of different buildings.