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When Structures Become Shackles

April 16, 2015

Our institute, in some moments of acute apophenia of an overly enthusiastic Mechanical Engineering undergrad, can be visualized as a machine with innumerable gears running in mysterious synchronization. It is indeed commendable, for those men in the white building who have managed to disentangle the channel and jurisdiction of work despite its bizarre oddities. The issue however, gets raised over the efficiency and accuracy of the existing channels. Bureaucratic barriers, induced by the lethargy of employees and combined with a stereotypical atmosphere of the infamous government office, creates a painful experience for a student trying to pave his way through the process. At many points, the pedantic nature of the administration make the accomplishment of even the rudimentary tasks tedious and time-consuming.

Watch Out! News Agency hence tries to point out the flaw in this existing machinery and explore the ways in which the splices can be removed to make the campus a better place to live. In the due process we mainly encounter the three frontiers of student community who have been fighting a constant, yet meaningless battle with the shenanigans of the administration: the technical groups (comprising of FSAE, Robocon and KNox), the Cultural Council and the Students’ Affairs Council.

Extreme Trajectory Hazard: FSAE, Robocon, KNOx

Feels good that all those creative minds who, as toddlers were fascinated with the game of Mechanix made their way to this premiere institute where they now have spanners and grease on their hands. This campus is the home ground to various technical groups where students transform their ideas and innovations into reality. SAE is the umbrella organisation, under which functions: Team Robocon, FSAE and Team KNOx. These groups participate in the competitions where they are pitted against innumerable colleges across the country. Time over time these groups have done groundbreaking work and held their ground even in the worst circumstances but the last academic year did prove to be a disappointment for all the three groups. These groups function on the money received from sponsorship from various companies as well as the funds provided by the Alumni of the college. Roughly at the beginning of the autumn semester of 2014, the administration passed a decree to shut down all the Alumni funding of these groups and make the Institute the lone benefactor of these projects. At that time this came as relief to the groups and they submitted a budget, waiting for approval. However, after much deliberation this decision was overruled and the norms were restored to the older ones. “A lot of time was lost due to this deadlock and we were far behind our schedules”, said Aman Gupta, finance secretary of Team KNOx; the team had to skip a year of competition at BAJA SAE India. Similar was the fate of Team Robocon and FSAE as well. The imposition of the ban on alumni funding has been the result of complains from the alumni regarding the inability to maintain the account of the money being invested by them for the benefit of the students. Although the confrontation is legit, it is outright atrocity on the part of the institute to address it by withholding all the technical groups responsible for it. Somewhere there is a lack of trust between the students and the administrations and that prevents the students from triumphing to their potential. “If funds can be allotted to the Hobbies Club, they can be provided to the technical groups like us as well”, said Prakhar Agrawal, secretary of Team Robocon, who asserted that strategizing the entire process of procurement of funds is the solution to the problem and not these point-blank prohibitions.

The Cult Conundrum

Each member of the cult knows enough sorcery to be able to cast a spell on the muggles of the R-land when life gets terribly mundane by the excellent show of their skills. The cultural society does constitute a major chunk of the student activity in the college and these aficionados of art play a pivotal role in making life interesting in IITR. Be it dance, music, drama and many others; the final demonstration in front of the audience, needs back-breaking practice hours. However there is more to it. These guys have to do a lot more to run the errands around this place. Things pertaining to permissions and approvals, which are tedious and can be comfortably termed as redundant.

The major issue is regarding the permission to use the department, or the LHC for any activity. The lecture rooms of any department can be used only till 8 o’clock in the evening and not more. Since, the classes are extended till six; it leaves just an hour to sum up the entire thing. This comes as a great displeasure to many. “The administration does not let us use the rooms and the auditorium beyond 8 pm which is very inconvenient, most of the events start at 6.30 pm. Now that the in time for girls has been extended to 11 pm, it would be ideal if they could start trusting us with the keys thereby letting us conduct our events between 8 pm and 11 pm. This would also encourage students who are a part of NSO to attend our events”, said Dhanush Hangal, the secretary of the Literary Section. Similar is the discontent of all the groups who have to use the department facility for conducting intro talks and the interview tests.

The time constraint is primarily due to the fact that the caretakers, who need to attend to the activities in the department, are officially employed till six. There isn’t a mechanism which can mandate them to stay beyond the working hours. This often leads to ___ payments which are out of the student’s pockets to make them stay till the undertakings are over. The amount is meagre but unjustified, nonetheless. Even to get this 90 minutes window, one has to go up a directorial ladder, obtaining permissions at each level. After checking for availability with the OC maintenance, the permission to use a classroom has to go through two stages of approvals from the faculty advisors; only to land on the HOD’s desk, who has the final discretion over the matter.

Many of the other facilities which should ideally be at the disposal of the students are made chargeable. For instance, a sum of money, which amounts to around Rs. 1500-2000 is meant to be paid to the maintenance facility for using the OP Jain Auditorium. The money needs to be pooled in by the students first and is reimbursed later by the cultural council. If the money is to be transferred between two departments of the institute itself, the need for the students to manually intermediate the process is dispensable. “A huge amount is to be paid for booking the auditorium, which I think is unnecessary for the students of the institute, to the least. These facilities are open for the students in IITD, as and when they need it and not after running the application through three signing faculties, which takes a couple of days”, said Akshay Agrawal, the secretary of Dramatics Section.

The Music Section has its own set of woes. They are allotted a room in the administrative block next to the control rooms. Their predicament lies in the fact that they need permission to issue the instruments for every show and there is no way around it. “We are the Music Section, the instruments should be available as per our convenience. The instruments are locked up in the inventories right besides; it is not even locked but we can’t enter”, says Manush Gupta, secretary of the Music Section. The section also feels deprived of the authority to use the Music room apart from the scheduled timings of six to eight in the evening, even when a show is due for the coming weekend. The members of the section believe that they would give get longer practising hours if the section was opened at other timings too. “Handing us keys to the section would solve innumerable problems”, further adds the Secretary.

A lot of problems are believed to be solved by the opening of the new Multi Activity Centre in the vicinity of RKB. But it doesn’t end here. An underlying fact that needs to be understood by the relevant authorities is that the system needs to be freed from the current bureaucratic entanglements. Students need to be trusted with the property of the institutes so that its resources can be utilised efficiently. Power to the students, just enough, such that they have the liberty to make decisions like when and where to practice, is necessary to increase the quality of the output. The current levels of hierarchy in the white-colored house, contribute more to increasing the perplexity of the process then systematizing it.

The Myth of Student Representation

It is matter of great concern and sincere introspection for IITR administration when one of the student representatives openly admits the following statement: “There is no such thing as Student Representation in IITR”. The candid frankness combined with the weight of the position from where the aforementioned statement originates, effectively suspends all hopes of a positive change that an average IITR student dreams of in his campus. “The administration encourage students to give ideas but it’s up to them whether they choose to welcome it or not”, remarks Rajveer Jaat, Treasurer (SAC 2014-15). In an extended conversation with the Treasurer, we also got a chance to ponder upon the attitude of the administration towards the student activities that are organized in IITR. “Macroscopically, if you’ll see then you would observe that students are doing the work and professors are guiding them. Reality is that anything that is happening around you is being done with the permission of a professor. For instance, if Cultural Society decides to do something then it is doing it their advisor’s way, not on their own. Independence is missing everywhere. Even the Professors among themselves praise each other after a successful event instead of praising the students for the efforts they’ve put in”, adds Rajveer.

The attitude of the administration is evident from looking at the long bureaucratic procedures involved in getting a simple permission any random activity on the campus. The elected student representative in question, attributes this to the lack of trust displayed by the IITR administration on the students. “Our institute does not believe in the students. Not at all. Administration doesn’t think that we are responsible adults. There is a trust issue. Unless you have a signature or forward from a faculty, the Dean office would reject your application”, says the Treasurer, when asked about what would it take for an ordinary student to get approval for a student activity. “If at all you approach them with some idea of event or initiative, they would ask you to come via a certain student body. This means that your idea shall pass through a faculty advisor. If it survives, even then there’s a big possibility that your event or idea might be scrapped citing some reason that they think is correct. This de-motivates the student”.

Breaking Free

The Multi-Activity Centre, even after a rather unorthodox architecture (we acknowledge the fact that any random Archi guy would use a better adjective) emerges as a boon to the plight of Quizzing and Music section. It is also believed that even Choreography and Dance section would get a proper room to practise for their performances and, without a doubt, for their farewell function. On a serious note, the emergence of MAC is one of the most important things that have been achieved in this academic year and is set to have a defining impact on the quality of student activities we see today.

The future of technical groups like FSAE and Robocon also hangs at a delicate point. The faculty members serving as the guardians of these section should accept the tenacity of the enthusiasm that binds the members together. The students on the other hand need to be sensible enough when it comes to the size of the funding they demand. It becomes crucial that the encouragement and appreciation they are expecting from the administration would take its time and hence measures for availing the funds from them should be made in small steps.

It is evident from the frustration of students occupying the central position in the SAC that the day when the administration would openly admit the faults in the system and take concrete steps in revamping it, are far far away. We might not exactly be living in a dystopian, almost-Orwellian universe as much as many vocal students might choose write on public forums, but indeed the sense of an abstract lethargy can be experienced when one heckles with the system for a small favor. Speculations suggest that the next semester would see the appointment of a technical secretary in the SAC, who would represent these technical groups in the assembly. Only time will tell whether this would actually help the engineers or this would impede the already sluggish administrative machinery of IITR.