The Chief Warden Interview
Late in the last semester, two reporters from the Post got the unique opportunity to interview our Chief Warden. The man responsible for everything from the hostel room you live in to the cold air leaking out of your air conditioning. After sitting us down with two cups of tea, we got down to business.
Here now, for the first time in it’s entirety, The Chief Warden Interview.
- How did you become Chief Warden of MIT? What’s the story there?
CW: There is no story as such. I was retired from the army in January of 2012. I was an administrator at a hospital, a medi-care unit of the retired army officers, which is there in Dehra Dun. Then this offer came up, so somebody asked me to take it up.
So, you’ve been Chief Warden for almost four years?
CW: I joined in June 2012, so three years. That is the background. I graduated from the Academy in 1974. I think the Academy has one of the best hostels. There is no doubt. Not quality wise, I mean they have quality and they’re all equal. The hostels didn’t have attached bathrooms. They were single rooms, but common bathrooms. It was made in 1954 and even now, the buildings that are coming up are the same. So, I do have an exposure to hostel life.
- Sir, having been chief warden for three years, what is your day like throughout the year? Obviously, the beginning of the year must be very hectic.
CW: Every five minutes there’s a crisis. A so-called crisis, a problem. It has to be sorted. There is no waiting and you can’t give it a ‘Let me think about it’ or a ‘Let me ponder over it’ attitude. The student requires a solution, immediately. So, that has to be done straightaway. So, we have to lay down some clear cut policies and clear cut decisions. I’ve tried to do that only. Right now, what I find is that your generation and the 2015 generation which will now come, they’ll be much younger but technically more proficient than you guys. The only thing is that you guys require a decision. Yes or no. Whether it is right or wrong, you require that clear cut plan of action – do this. I’ve got a decision, this is what I have to do, whether I like it or not, but there is a decision. At least he isn’t left hanging in the middle of nowhere. Right now, I’m busy planning for 2015. We’re getting a lot of changes in the payment system and the allotment system. We’ve already had a lot of meetings with the new vendors who are coming in. So that is happening behind the scene. The first scene will be the maintenance of the blocks after you guys leave. Then will be the allotment of the seniors. After that will be the freshers’ allotment, which will be online this time. It’s going to be quite interesting because they have to select their hostels, online. They just have to tick mark, confirm and press the buttons.
- Sir, in step with one of the things you mentioned, about planning out the budget and how it’s distributed for next year, how’s it done exactly?
CW: The budget planning starts from November. In November they ask us, “What do you want to do next year?” We know that in all the hostels, maintenance is required, and new constructions, additions and alterations are required. Any other thing that needs to be purchased, like this time we’re having hot water dispensers and aqua guards in all the hostels. So, health is the main issue. We then make our budget construction for addition/ alteration plus all these things which have to be purchased. Compile it and then it goes to the university through the director. Then, they pass it. So, next year’s budget has already come to us. The funds have already come and now we’ll be going ahead with the purchases.
- Sir, one of the things the students noticed this time when the hostel fee breakdown for next year came out was that now the mess deposit which we pay to the food court every year has been made compulsory. Given the fact that a lot of the students of MIT don’t necessarily eat at the food court, why is it that the deposit has been made mandatory?
CW: The hostels are being made with the aim of providing lodging, boarding and food to all the hostelites. Now you can’t at any stage say that I’ll only want a bed and hot water. I don’t want the food. The facilities have been made. Some people will say that they don’t want ION either, so they shouldn’t be charged for it. But that cannot be done. It’s a hostel, the composite facilities are there, and they have to be taken. If you say, “I don’t eat food. “, but the mess is running. If there are 2000 students who are not eating, the mess is still running for them. The electricity, the staff the AC is there. Added to this, it’s collected by the university because of the element of service tax. If Chef on Wheels collects the mess fees, they have to put 10% service tax. The university will be exempt from that. That is the main reason why the collection is being done by the university. Subsequently, they’ll give it to them.
- Sir, one of the most regular complaints most hostelites have is about the food quality in general. You see a clear disparity between the food we get at the food court and the food we get at Annapurna. They’re both run by Chef on Wheels. Why does that happen?
CW: One of the two major reasons is the method of cooking. Annapurna’s method consists of more frying, whereas the food court is healthier and their method consists more of boiling. Maybe that is why it becomes bland. Yes, I have spoken to chef on wheels about this. We must get some North Indian chefs also. In the south, the cooks are used to having coconut based curries. The preparation in coconut based. Whereas North Indian food has more of onions and tomatoes. The style of preparation will change. They are working on it. There is no dispute about the quality. Ajinomoto is banned, it isn’t used at all. But the taste, yes. Even at the Academy, when I was there, the breakfast would consist of cornflakes, porridge, bacon, hot steaming bread, you name it! But after one week, we used to not like it. We would hate it. But, you’re right, we have to work on this. In fact today itself I called Chef on Wheels, and that North Indian chef. Some sort of a preparation we’ll have to do. We have to take this problem at hand. They are going to do it. These holidays, he has promised that some people will be there. In fact during exam times some changes will be there. Curry will now become green sometimes. At least the color will change. Of course, Annapurna is good. There is no issue about it. But, food court’s method of preparation consists of boiling and steam. That is why there is blandness in their food.
- Sir, Moving away from the mess part, one of the primary complaints, especially from the girls that we spoke to, was that they feel that there needs to be a better justification for the difference in curfew that’s imposed on the girls’ hostel versus the boys’ hostel, given the fact that the campus gates close at the same time. Could you give us a reason for that?
CW: The reason is simply that in a house I think it’s natural that we’re a bit more protective about our sisters and daughters. You’ll be still surprised, if one or two girls are absent or they haven’t reported as yet, we all panic. It’s a big situation for us. There are cases nowadays, girls say that they are studying with somebody, but we have to trace them out in the night. Where are they? And what if something happens? That is why we’re very careful about girls. It isn’t that we are herding them inside or something but we have to be very careful. I think it comes naturally to the Indian Society. We are more protective about the girls. Boys have their own protection, their comfort group will be there, and their friends will be there. Someone will react. What will a girl do if something happens? If she is alone? Even if other girls are there, they will panic.
Their main concern is that since the campus gates close, we can’t leave the campus, so what is the point in asking them to return to their hostels before the boys?
CW: How do we know that they’re inside the campus?
Sir, then it doesn’t make a difference, whether they have to sign by 10:30 pm or 11:00 pm?
CW: The wardens have taken it onto themselves to make sure that they are there. For boys also, what we have said is that you be inside your hostel and check in, and if you are going out with a friend you can just inform. Same thing is applicable to girls. They come, sign in and say they are going to study somewhere else. Who’s stopping them? But they have to be inside. There has to be a semblance of order. You can’t say that, “Let them also be out.” In the girls’ hostel, the parents of the first year girls start ringing up at nine o’clock, nine-thirty, asking about their daughters. So, if someone’s daughter isn’t there, the mother asks us, “Where’s my daughter?” That is why, we are very careful. Maybe it comes naturally.
7.The criterion for allotment that has been debated every year and each year it changes slightly.
CW: Last three years I know it hasn’t changed. Everyone knows that 14th, 15th block require a GPA of 7.5. Somebody may ask why we have a GPA criteria.
Yes, sir. Why do we have it?
CW: Why not? In life, these standards will be there everywhere. In the placements, they are there. Last time, placements required a GPA of 8.5. That time no one asked why. I know, this is a subjective sort of a thing. But the system is quite objective. In that there is a little bit of subjectivity in the sense that we have to lay a line somewhere.
Sir, actually the problem that most students have is that if you have a low GPA, you aren’t allowed to apply for a certain block. Let’s say my GPA is below 7.5, I’m not allowed to-
CW: This time it was opened after a certain amount of time. I opened it.
Yes, sir. You had to open it after some time. So what we’re asking is that your first step to allot is based on GPA, and the second step is preference. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? Let everybody apply wherever they want and allot it based on GPA.
CW: Will that make a difference?
Yes, sir. Because that way at least I have the assurance that I was able to apply to 15th block, and I didn’t get it because my GPA was low. And let’s say someone wanted 6th block. They applied there and they got it. Then they know they got it because of their GPA.
CW: Yeah, we’ll take it up. There’s no issue. We’re open to it.
8. Another problem that has been brought up about the GPA wise allotment was the disparity in GPA’s gained by students in different branches.
CW: In B-Tech, we cannot have any, I know, between an E&C and a CS student, the CS student will definitely score more. In the same way, this time the architecture students said that they don’t score above 6.5. For them, we’ve made it 6.5 in 13th block. But can we realistically do anything? You tell me. You make a chart for me. Let the students make a chart.
If it’s possible, there could be a way to average GPAs within a branch and then branch wise GPA cutoffs.
CW: But, who will do it? Director? You?
Sir, the departments.
CW: How can the departments say that I give more marks and this department doesn’t?
No sir. The average GPA of all the students in one branch.
CW: The moment I say okay, EnC is into 1.25, give more to EnC. The others will jump at me and ask why.
Say that E&C has an average GPA of 7.2 and Civil has an average of 8.1. So, now the normalization should be 1.1 or 1.2 for EnC and 0.8 for Civil. So, after normalization, the average GPA will be similar.
CW: If it can be worked out, then I am all for it. I have no favorites that I have to give it to some branch. How do we improve it? You tell me. If we can make a chart or some multiplication factor, if we can do it, let’s do it.
Can we expect some change where the preference is taken first and then the GPA?
CW: Yes, yes, point taken.
9. Another point you made about your hostels was the fact that there was a lot of equality. So, why is there such a huge disparity in the sort of accommodation a student can get in Manipal? D block, the quality of living there and the quality of living in the 19th block is very different. And we understand that there is the factor of how much someone can pay for a room.
CW: Some blocks were made earlier. 50 year old blocks are still carrying on. Finally, now K block is going. I still prefer that it would have remained, it is a pretty good block. These blocks are there, they’ve outlived their lives.
But, there are plans to renovate?
CW: Yeah, yeah there are plans. But till that time this disparity will be there. It isn’t intentional. But we are evolving. Better stuff is coming. I think that the rates of these old ones are very reasonable. They aren’t very expensive.
10. The population of students keeps increasing each year. Even at the beginning of this year we saw a disparity where students were not given blocks in time, or students were allotted blocks near KMC. So, why take more students when we do not have enough accommodation?
CW: I would also like to ask the same question. There was a bit of a surprise last year.
Obviously the chief Warden’s office says that we can accommodate this many people, and a larger number shouldn’t be taken in.
CW: It was a bit of a surprise, but more people are now opting because of Nadella and all these factors. Now there is a huge rush wanting to come here. A lot of people feel that this campus is too good. I think that’s why there is heavy subscription.
Is the college doing anything to put a maximum number?
CW: I don’t know. But we have plans for increased hostels. This year, to overcome the shortage we are getting C block. The international block has now been handed over to us. So the first and second year ICAS students are going away, they will stay there in the international block. It has a food court below and 17 storeys.
Won’t that be far from the campus?
CW: No, they are quite happy with that. Very happy, rather. They don’t want to come here. So, the foreign guys are taken care of there. Then we are comfortable out here. The post graduate and M Tech people might not get enough seats, because our first primary aim is that the B-Tech seniors get 100 percent allotment. So that is the first thing we are doing this year. On first on June the list will be out.
11. Sir, you mentioned NRI allotment. As far as we know, there is a one GPA relaxation for NRIs during allotment?
CW: Their GPAs are generally low. Why is it so? I think their math base is slightly, maybe, [weak]. So, we like to assure them a seat because first year they are assured. Second year also a little bit of assurance is given, because a lot of people are sponsored. They have to prepare that money. They have to get their sponsor ready. The money has to be ready in time to pay. Now that the seats are there, that won’t be much of an issue. NRIs would prefer AC, and their GPAs are low. So just to help them out. And they want early assurance. I think a fourteenth block NRI 6.5 will be very good in studies. So that is why, just to help out every section…
12. When the hostel fee payments are handed out, a lot of the rooms that are in 14th and 15th blocks that have been converted from single to double accommodation blocks, they have the same fees as a double room while being small.
CW: That is a difference of ten inches or one foot. A little bit of a difference is there, but I don’t think if you go to any contemporary hostel in the country, they are much bigger than those rooms available there. I have initiated a case of making fifteenth block fully AC, in which case these single converted doubles will become single. In any case, the fifteenth block we have removed those ACs. We were in the process, like in 16th block all the rooms are now single. That is the ultimate plan. This is just to help out the people, more guys can take AC.
13. Sixth block is being converted into a juniors block from next year. It is economically an easier block. So wouldn’t that affect a lot of seniors who want to continue with the same fee structure?
CW: Economically I think, it is not, but practically I think it was a very convenient block. K and are suddenly going away. Now that is a policy of the management that the first years have to be together, their administration should be better, they should not be spread out much. That is the main idea. Don’t worry. 9, 10, 14, 15, 19 and 20 will be there for the seniors.
14. Public transport isn’t allowed inside the campus, which causes a lot of problems, especially when we live in blocks like 19 and 20. Autos aren’t allowed past fourteenth.
CW: You give me a suggestion, what do you want to do? If you want to do it, we’ll do it. There is no issue.
Basically autos being allowed. Why aren’t autos allowed?
CW: Just send me an email. That is more than enough. I will take it up. There should not be any issue in that. In any case, the students are using the autos, they come from down below. They’ll find a way, so might as well make it easy. I’m all for it.
15. Sir, since next year onward we are increasing the hostel intake, the capacity. That means we are expecting more people to join.
CW: Not really. You see it’ll have the implication that the faculty should be more, classrooms should be more, that many sections should be more. One place which will be likely to increase is ICAS. But ICAS has been safely put into international block. We don’t know about B-Tech.
So, we aren’t expecting a larger intake in B-Tech?
CW: It has reached a peak already.
Around 9000 right now, right?
CW: Yeah, but take a batch.
A batch is around 3000 right now.
CW: No, 2000.So, we aren’t expecting an increase in the number of students?
CW: It will be marginal.
Sir, that’s one of the main concerns. People are worried that if there will be more people in for the next years batch, where will we go?
CW: No, next year, see, 500 seats will be added for the girls at K block. So 11 and 12 we may think of, that much of adjustment will be there. So, 11 and 12 B-Com, BAJC, and all these-
Yes sir, we wanted to get to that part. If you could tell us the future plans, what you were telling us earlier. What are the various plans that we have to change?
CW: The de-congestion of the KC block is the main issue. They have a very nice plan for the KC gate. A shopping area and a meeting area, amphitheater and other things coming in. For decongestion, D block will be expanded. That whole ground comes into play for sports, meeting place, and cultural activities, student activity area. Thereafter, one food court is next to the 18th block.
One new food court will be made, and that will be under Chef on Wheels. So those will be the central areas of activity.
16. How many hostels are we expecting next year?
CW: That has still not been decided. Maybe two or three, they are saying. That is what the future plan is. One new girls block is definitely starting. On 20th I’m removing all the cooler, etc. and taking it into store. They’ll start demolishing after the 21st.
K block is being removed for a new girls block. And the new boys hostels?
CW: They’ll come down below, next to 17th, 18th, 19th blocks. So that area, later on maybe a route right from behind 13th block, that will be a sensible route for walking.
Sir because right now it’s a long walk for people who go there.
17. As you mentioned in the beginning, the next generation will be more proficient than this one. What are the kind of problems you face that most of us probably don’t know about?
CW: The 2012 batch, which is now in the fourth year, they are comparatively more into physical activities, there are more sporty guys. They’re more outdoor and slightly tougher. Now the 2014 batch which has come, the world is in their palm. You leave a guy free, he goes straight to his room. It’s a good thing they don’t go into town, but I think they’re just going too much inwards. Their life revolves around the internet. They aren’t spending too much time in sports or other activities. This will have an impact later on in cultural and other things. They may not be so forthcoming. Sports, physical culture, that will reduce. Already guys are having migraine, blood pressure, couple of them had high blood pressure. All these things. And the latest batch, they have asthma. And they are genuine. I’m talking about genuine asthma cases. So this generation is changing.
18. Sir, you mentioned that their lives revolve around internet. Which means that there is a very consistent complaint about ION services in the blocks. A lot of the complaints are registered, but never acted upon. A lot of the routers don’t provide enough of a bandwidth for all the students on all the floors. There have been packages offered by Ion for higher speeds and higher data limits. Which doesn’t make sense when the basic package provided is not sufficient.
CW: Correct. The only solution I think is to do what has been done in the new blocks. They have independent routers in each room.
What about blocks like 9 and 10?
CW: Ninth is okay. 9th is linear. But 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th the design is circular and that has really, uh. Either now we’ll have to go in for external like 16, 17 from the front. But there is no line of sight. They are S-shaped.
Sir, is there a plan for improving the connectivity?
CW: [He] says he’s upgrading. I have spoken to Mr. Satish Kamath. Earlier they had given an improved package but the students had refused it. This was last year.
19. Any renovation of the gym equipment in KC, sir?
CW: KC is unfortunately not under hostel jurisdiction, it comes under the department of physical welfare. There is a sort of an embargo to not put money into that – which the University has ordered as they are promoting Marena. Also, at a certain stage, this is going to be demolished. This is what they have told. Otherwise what I am doing is, 13th block, this time we are making an aerobics gym, and a weights gym, and another one. So that there will be three total for the girls. Boys’ hostel we have tried to put a little bit of equipment in those new ones, so we’re gradually hoping they become self-sufficient. Largely they just require weights and not costly equipment, as such. They don’t need those walking treadmills.
We will be putting in some new equipment. New Ladies’ Block has got a lovely gym. In 19th and 20th, we’ll also put in. In 14th and 15th, we’re thinking we’ll put it in the common room.
The idea is that we take the gym to them, rather than people going to the gym. Going to Marena is a big bother. So rather, take a small gym to the blocks. 10th block is, in fact very popular. It is also popular with the guards; they are using it more than the students.
20. Sir, since you mentioned that a new food court will be coming up, can we see it operational by next year?
CW: I don’t think so.
Any day there is “good food” in the food court; say Sunday morning dosas, there is a very long line where people have to wait for them to make the dosas!
CW: The way out is to have more distribution points. For the time being you will get a mess. Now, this Adithya Mess will be going to the first years. So we won’t push them into the food court.
Wouldn’t a solution be that if a boy is allowed to one boys’ mess, he should be allowed to go to another one in case of congestion? It would be better if we could get a universal “food card” which is applicable in all messes.
CW: The rates are different.
Sir, that’s the problem. The deposit for the mess is already there. If the system is made electronic, then the rates aren’t a problem.
CW: Then the only problem is preparation, right? Can they be preparing so much extra food at Adithya? It’ll run short for the guys who are regular there.
We are aware of the problem. See, the thing is, this Chef on Wheels has a little bit of independence. It is outsourced. Their hierarchy is different. Of course, we are in constant touch with them and they do listen, but now the funds have come in and I can assure you that more distribution points will be there.
In the 9th block, people don’t go to the top. Maybe because they don’t serve also, properly there. We’ll put more emphasis to serve on top.
21. Moving away from this, sir, one of the most crucial aspects that most first years are worried about when they join college would be ragging. I have personally witnessed a monumental decrease in ragging. Credit to you for that. What sort of measures has MIT taken to curb this, considering MIT has one of the largest most diverse student populations? Ragging usually becomes a problem in large student populations.
CW: When the semester starts, the odd semester, there will be a committee made. An anti-ragging committee. These professors, about eight of them, will be out in the daytime. Still, a little bit of “etiquette training” does take place, which is okay. “Etiquette training” should be a healthy interaction between the seniors and juniors. What actually we’ve been able to make out is that certain state-wise, like the Telugu group, will have its own method of ragging or interaction. I don’t think any other group is very active.
Nowadays the seniors themselves are really not interested, it is a headache. Now this new batch which will become seniors, they don’t have time to look beyond their internet. They are really not interested. The interaction is going down. We were always taught that it was a healthy interaction. After a time, the seniors and juniors become very good friends.
We have these committees, and anyone is free to send a missed call to these numbers and helplines, and by and large the seniors are also very wary of getting involved.
What about the affidavits that are signed?
CW: Out here it’s more so because the people don’t want to get into any unnecessary hassles.
Some people will go outside [of campus], they have a nice time, and “etiquette training” takes place. I don’t call it ragging. People don’t get up, address as “sir”. Juniors should address their seniors with respect; they should generally get up. That is all because we’re evolving. With all these new buildings coming up, these new methods, new capacities, we are involved in more… a food court will come up. MIT is really mighty, I would say. It is really mighty.
Someone told me when you take this job, the college guys and girls, they’ll keep you young. Now I have my doubts.
- Is there something you would like to tell the students?
CW: Enjoy yourself. Have a nice time. This is a great place, I’m telling you. This is one of the best colleges in the country. See, it’s a place where people are making satellites, mobile cars, and all-weather all-terrain vehicles. Everything is being done. At the same time, some guys are not doing anything. There is a place and space for everything out here. I think it’s one of the best happenings in your life. Enjoy.