SAC and Security Tales
As we near the end of another semester here at NITR, Team MM caught up with the director to follow-up on some longstanding issues and to seek solutions for new ones that have cropped up in the last couple of weeks.
MM: Sports Equipment for this session has not yet been purchased even though it comprises a major portion of the allocated ₹11,00,000. The teams recently participated in the sports fest of IIT BHU, managing to do so without a proper stock of equipment for all the teams. The effort is to buy them from vendors at least price. But with one semester now being on the verge of completion, shouldn't the procurement be completed by now?
Director: The VPs had been making quite some efforts since the beginning of this semester to ensure that the purchase can be made in the most transparent way possible but the process has been heavily hindered by the business clout of one Italia Sports, who have, in the past, tampered with the tender process and made us compromise either on price or on quality. Efforts were also made to obtain the items from Ranchi in order to overcome the monopoly in Rourkela. However, even that plan fell through due to their business understanding. However, the process shall now be accelerated and I shall look into it that the procurement of goods at the earliest is made the top priority. We would want the Convenors of the society to show greater efforts and participation in this endeavour to clean up the process of procurement.
MM: As per the recent budget plan by MHRD, NITR has been allocated a meagre ₹5 crores for this quarter down from the usual ₹40 crores. What is the reason and what are the expected consequences?
Director: In the past couple of years, unlike the other old NITs that are allocated approx. ₹50 crores annually for their planned grant, our spending (and hence the allocation) has been close to ₹150-160 crores (i.e., approx. ₹40 crores per quarter) thanks to our robust machinery to utilise funds in development of infrastructure and procurement of laboratory equipment. However, due to certain conflicts and issues that have cropped up in the management and governance of the institute, our allocation has been lowered as a possible way of letting us know that the Ministry is not happy with the governance of the institute. However, there is nothing to be concerned about, as the funds shall be released in time and it won’t significantly affect the progress of any ongoing work.
MM: One of the biggest attractions for this Innovision was the Perpetual Motion Machine exhibition by a Canadian artist, which fell through in the final laps of the preparation. What exactly happened?
Director: The artist had, at one point, demanded that the fees be deposited in his account prior to the start of his journey. This led to some panicking in the SAC administration, causing the unnecessary and hasty cancellation of some tickets, which were anyway non-refundable. The money was not really an issue since it could have easily been transferred if the need was so urgent. However, it was subsequently discovered that the artist was of Ukrainian origin and not a Canadian citizen which would not allow him to change flights in US without a transit visa. These complications ultimately led to the program getting cancelled and us losing the travel expenses.
MM: Sponsorship has always been difficult to come by. The policies are not convenient enough. How is the institute approaching the problem?
Director: Students running around for sponsorship is a waste of time. There are 6000 students in this college and an amount of ₹6,00,000, considered big in terms of our institute, would be equivalent to a meagre ₹100 per student. Students lose time and it creates a culture that begging for money is more important than attending classes. Sometimes, the sponsorship money comes late, and there are associated problems. However, I'm not anti- sponsorship.
What I propose to do is bring out an official booklet of NIT, Rourkela in the beginning of the year, with photographs of SAC, the various festivals and other aspects of the institute which is then mailed by the dean to all the concerned people we are looking forward to as sponsors. As soon as it goes to the desk of the HR, they come to know about our institute, and a well-formed mail creates a much better impression than the ones with atrocious grammar that I am usually asked to sign on as part of the sponsorship approach process that is presently in place.
This would avoid people from different societies writing to the same company. Some companies may not respond, but there would be some coming forward, and in either case subsequent telephonic follow ups would help the cause.
MM: Over-enthusiastic guards and the lack of a written set of rules and security restrictions causes much inconvenience, which have been brought forth to light during the Innovision. For example, girls weren't allowed for the star-gazing event to be held by Astro Club at night, and they aren't allowed on the road in front of the Boys' hostels, even during the day time. There are restrictions on the use of the Mangala Mandir gate post 10PM, depending on what stage of your academic life you are in (Only PG students are allowed through it). Students don’t know which path to take and what permissions to seek for events, because there is no set security policy to let them know about the “Restricted Access” locations on campus.
Director: The only restriction that I have requested for are to ensure that the academic area is not used as a thoroughfare. That can easily be implemented through a system of maintaining a register, thereby inconveniencing people and preventing them from the same. All other restrictions have been put in place by the Security Officer to deal with the security of the students and the institute property. I was not aware of girls not being allowed to use the Scholars’ Avenue. I shall try for a written set of rules and restrictions so that everyone is aware of where to and where not to go, but even I shall face a significant amount of trouble to have it done by the Security Officer.
MM: Only 14.28% of SAC's total budget is allotted to the Tech Society and a major chunk out of which goes to ASME and SAE chapters. A proposal came forward that these chapters be allocated funds directly, considering that they have represented the institute at national and international levels. This would also allow equitable distribution of funds to the other clubs. What's your view on this?
ASME and SAE are the only clubs doing something that is significantly technical and involves actual engineering working by students, and not the mere assembling of purchased electronic components. Hence the extra allocation for these clubs.
The PCB design system is still lying unused while students continue to purchase ready-made boards off the shelf for their so-called robotics projects and competitions. Other than the design of the cars, the other ongoing technical work is very trivial and significantly sub-par considering this is a premier institute of national importance. The convenors consider organising the Technical Festival is their sole responsibility. And even during the festival the top expense is in the Pro-Show, the DJ/Musical Band and in giving away prizes, none of which have a technical side to them.
There is a need for yearlong technical activity, in all domains, be it automotive or robotics. The cars need not be built for a single competition and if the team does not qualify in the first round, the design need not be scrapped. Similarly, students should actually learn to design and fabricate the circuits and if required have in-house competitions for the same at the end of the session. I can assure you that any such endeavour, if made, shall not go unfunded.
MM: Students are of the view that SAC proceedings should be made more transparent by providing easy access to all bills and transactions. There were also talks of setting up a SAC website for easy submission of bills for reimbursements and the like. What is the progress on that?
Director: SAC bills as such are available for anyone’s reference even in the present framework. Of course, the process could be streamlined and made more convenient. Regarding the SAC website, we are still looking for a developer. The automation cell is already over-burdened and we would be glad if students come forward for the same. They shall be paid handsomely and I would request students to take this task up as they are the best judge of what all features should and should not be a part of the website. I would like to solicit the help of MM in order to spread this request.
MM: An outlet for OTC (Over the Counter) Medicines is required in the hostel area to facilitate the students. How and when can it be implemented? The dispensary has said that it is not feasible.
Director: The requirement of medicines in the hostel area would be comparatively less and the sale volume will be very small. Hence it is difficult to procure a vendor who would be willing to set up shop in the hostel premises. Permission can be granted to one of the stores/restaurants in the vicinity of the hostels, to stock certain frequently required OTC medicines, as per a list given by the dispensary doctor.
MM: What was the result of the investigation into the unnatural death of a sophomore NITR student?
Director: Forensic and post-mortem reports concluded that the cause of death was drowning. The student was not intoxicated in any manner. This case has been closed until some new evidence props up. The injuries on his body were speculated to be caused by fishes pecking at him or collisions with the stones. The family members had alleged foul-play but nothing substantial to hint at something of that manner was found by the police during their investigation.
MM: You recently had the privilege to visit the Rashtrapati Bhawan for the conference of the heads of the all central universities and CFTIs. Tell us about your experience.
Director: The conference was attended by the heads of all the central universities as well as CFTIs like IITs, NITs, IISc and IISERs. The agenda at hand was to discuss the various drawbacks and constraints of the present educational system and find possible solutions of the same. It was a wonderful experience to interact with the President who is a man of much wisdom and knowledge. We also had the privilege of listening to Bharat Ratna CNR Rao and MS Swaminathan amongst others. I personally liked the thoughts of Mr. Nitin Gadkari the most since he proposed ideas that were simplistic and addressed issues at the grassroots level. It was a beautiful experience to be a part of such an amazing initiative by the office of the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee.