As another new academic year kick-starts with fresh action, anticipation and aspirations, Team MM caught up with the newly appointed Interim Director, Prof. Ranjit Kumar Sahoo, on a rainy Saturday evening to discuss his vision for the institute, and to follow-up on the seemingly perennial issues that have been tormenting us and seek tenable solutions to the ones that emerged recently:
MM: You have been serving as the Interim Director of the institute for over a month now. Can you elaborate upon the process of appointing an Acting Director and his/her tenure? What are the limiting duties of the Acting Director?
RKS: There are two criteria based upon which a professor is chosen to be the interim director. The first one being the HAG (Higher Academic Grade) pay scale which is higher than the pay scale of a normal professor and the second one is seniority. Almost all the directors in all of the NITs are HAGs. In our institute, around 5-6 professors have a HAG payscale. Among these normally, the senior-most professor of the Institute is nominated by the outgoing Director to serve as the Interim Director, before he leaves. However, the final decision lies with the MHRD. When it comes to administrative capabilities, a Dean is more capable to lead the institute as he is aware of the various rules and regulations and the way things function. But where financial things are concerned, such as menial things as signing of a cheque or something related to as big as the SAC accounts, an Acting Director, takes the final decision.
As for the limiting duties, I cannot appoint any new faculty or non-faculty members. An Interim Director can neither invite applications, nor interview applicants for faculty positions, since the procedure of appointing new faculty members takes about a year, and an Interim Director’s tenure has been rarely ever a year long. Fresh appointments if any are underway can only be done with the approval of the Board of Governors. Secondly, a decision taken by the outgoing Director cannot be altered by the Acting Director. Thirdly, I cannot undertake a long-term project in my tenure, for the actual Director, after taking charge of the office, might want to change it.
MM: What is the status of the selection of the new Director and when can we expect him/her to take charge?
RKS: Normally, a selection committee is appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which consists of highly qualified people, including ex-Directors of other institutions of national importance. Depending upon his/her administrative capabilities, a professor is chosen to serve as the Director of an institute by that committee.
It all depends on the Ministry. We know that a new Director has, in fact, been appointed, but we do not know when he/she will be taking charge. We can expect him/her to arrive by the month of October latest, as per my prediction.
MM: There are a lot of infrastructural developments, including the Golden Jubilee Building, LA II, Satish Dhawan Hall of Residence, Faculty Residences, Mechanical Sciences Building, taking place on the campus. Also sites for few departments have been earmarked. What is the progress?
RKS: I have not reviewed the progress, so that is something I cannot comment upon. We do have a set of priorities in place though, as far as construction of these buildings is concerned. The first being the Satish Dhawan Hall of Residence because we do not want the students to suffer under any circumstances. Second is LA-II, because we believe that your teaching space should not be compromised with. Third comes Faculty Residences; we aim to provide our faculty members with an abode where they can lead a comfortable life. After this comes the Mechanical Sciences Building. And then comes the Golden Jubilee building, which can wait for a while. For so long, we have been able to manage without it, so I believe it can wait.
Students should understand that money for the construction does not come in very large amounts. It comes slowly, in the form to 5-10 crores per quarter, and hence the pace of construction has to be planned and at times slowed down.
MM: The Ministry of Social Services had allocated a budget of 13.24 crores last year for installation of lifts to make the institute more suitable for the physically challenged. So what are the updates on infrastructure for Persons with Disability in the existing buildings?
RKS: There exists a ramp in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Biotechnology/Bio-Medical. It has been constructed specifically for older people, such as professors who are aged 60 or more, and people with disabilities. As for the rest of the Departments, especially the old Department buildings, one cannot just go and put a ramp in place without proper planning. There may not be space available for that. In the buildings that are coming up like LA-II and the Mechanical Sciences building, it is easier to make such provisions since they are under construction, and hence changes can be made in their design.
As for the Main Building, the lift has not been functional for a quite a long time because no proper technicians are available in Rourkela. We had given a contract to a technician, but his tenure is over and the new tender has to be given out now. The maintenance of just 1-2 lifts is a costly affair and hopefully once the new buildings come up, the maintenance of a large number of lifts could be handed over to a firm on permanent basis.
MM: Every year a webmail is sent to all the students asking for nominations for the post of Dean and Director Nominees. This year the process was implicitly underway and many students were unaware. What was the reason for the change in the selection procedure and when will the nominees take charge?
RKS: It was more of a transition than a change. The previous Director was here for 14 years. He knew thoroughly what all had to be done, unlike me. I’m unaware of the sequence and norms. So either a Dean has to do it, or he has to inform me. Maybe the previous Dean (SW) was busy and he could not send a Group Mail. Even if the process is late, it has to continue. We cannot change it.
MM: The student body was supposed to be up and running by August last year, but it is still not in force. What is the final timeline for that?
RKS: No document about any such committee has been brought to my notice till now. If this document is with the SAC officials, they should take the initiative and bring it to my notice.
"If the constitution and other documents have been approved by Dean (SW) and Prof. Sarangi, then it will be approved with slight modifications very soon.”
I don’t know what this committee is all about or what their constitution is, but since we reside in a democratic country, everyone should get to have a say in how things work.
“Only you students can tell what is better for you, not a Professor or a Dean or the Director.”
The constitution will definitely be approved with slight modifications, keeping in mind the goodwill of the batches to come. The constitution should not be such that it serves the current students well, but becomes a nuisance for the students who join the institute 4 years later. What we want here is a long-term policy.
MM: Starting from this semester, the institute has started collecting the HAIF under the head of mess dues instead of the establishment fees citing the deficiency of funds to be a major reason. Can you explain us in detail the exact breakdown of the same?
RKS: The decision to collect HAIF was decided in the HMC. So, it was the students who had initially decided that there should be a hike in the Establishment Fees. Their decision was passed on to the Director, who forwarded it to the Board of Governors for approval. He could not do it by himself without the Board’s approval. The board had asked for a detailed overview of the financial statements, and since Board meetings are only held once in three months, it came back to the Chief Warden. The proposed hike per head was 3000/-. It was taken to the Board twice, yet due to some setbacks, the Board could not come to a decision and hence, the decision is still pending.
In the middle of the month of June, there was a meeting of the Deans and the HODs, where the Chief Warden declared that it is impossible to run a Hostel with the same funds as before, since the wages of all the workers and security guards was increased by quite a substantial amount by the Central Government. Again, all the repair works in the Hostels are done with the same Establishment Fees, and since Chief Warden repeatedly asserted how hard it was for the Halls to function with the same funds as earlier, Prof. Sarangi suggested that we increase the fees under some other head, since the Board had not approved a hike in Establishment fees yet. Also, the proposed hike was reduced from 3,000/- to 2500/-.
What happened next was unexpected, to say the least. The Research Scholars started protesting in a very uncivilised and crass manner, doing dharnas and what not. They demanded that we collect this amount under Establishment fees, as it should be.
However, I’m only an acting Director; I cannot alter a decision taken by the Director.
Watching students indulge in such vacuous activities came as a shock to us. In all the years that I’ve served as a Professor, I’ve never seen NIT students sitting on dharnas. Such indiscipline is not expected of NITians. I would like them to know that if the Board of Governors disapproves of our decision, we shall definitely refund/adjust the money collected in the upcoming semesters.
“For the students who are saying Mess Free is not audited, it is audited. Government money cannot go unaudited.”
Now coming to the permanency of the hike. The initial breakdown amounts to INR 4.5 crores approximately, but that is not the only place where the role of Establishment Fees comes into play. Once something is installed in a Hostel, it has to be maintained by the authorities regularly. That, again, requires money, which comes from the Establishment Fees that the students pay.
MM: The minutes of the Dean's and HODs meeting is considered to be a public document. Yet, when an important decision such as the transfer of the HAIF from the head of mess dues to establishment dues was made, why was the document not made available to students?
RKS: The document must be with the secretary of the meeting. I have signed it and it must still be in the office. I’m not particularly sure whether it is a public document, but it is usually signed and preserved. Sometimes, we do hand it over to the HODs, but we cannot make the document public.
“It is a public document, but we cannot give it to all. And we cannot circulate it.”
MM: In his last interview Prof. Sarangi had cited lack of proper record in maintenance in SAC and the need for an official website. Are there any plans down the pipeline for this?
RKS: I am completely unaware about any such plans. A lot of procedures in NITR have become automated nowadays. Step by step, most of the procedures are being automated. If it has already been approved, then the website will be available. If all the necessary conditions are intact and the procedure is being automated and monitored from the SAC, the website will definitely come up.
MM: The academic schedule, academic syllabi, the communication handbook and the overall website have not been updated for a quite a long time now. When will they be updated?
RKS: I, as a Director, cannot handle every issue personally. It is the responsibility of the concerned Dean to apprise me regarding the updates. If not a direct meeting, a phone call will do as I cannot follow up on every minor issue. All the academic columns should be updated by the Dean (Academics). I am equally displeased to know that the communication handbook has not been updated. I too have received information from the professors about the ex-faculty still being linked to the website. It has been dealt with by the Assistant Registrar, so we can expect an updated handbook only if he updates the information which is done usually once in two years.
MM: Recently the time bracket for biometric attendance of the PhD and M.Tech scholars has been reduced to 1.5 hours in the morning and 5 hours in the evening. Coupled with one of the two devices being non-functional this has led to overcrowding in the recent times and hampers the work of the scholars too, as they have to leave their work just to make sure they are not marked absent. What was the reason behind the decision?
RKS: The PhD scholars themselves had agreed upon the time bracket with 9:30 am being highly comfortable. They in fact demanded it to be 9:30 in the morning as it gets too hot in the summer by 9:30 itself. The reason it is limited to 10 pm in the night is so that they can go to mess as it closes by 10 pm If there is a jam then they should come a little early and complete it.
“If they are complaining that they are not able to leave the experiment and go, they should inform the concerned supervisor. The supervisor will then make a note of it and get it signed from the HOD and the attendance will be considered.”
The reason for fixing a time bracket is that many of the scholars are not in the premises itself lest the completion of their experiment. With an assigned time bracket, they are restricted to an entry time and an exit time.
MM: What is the proposed SAC budget this year? What is the role of the director in the expenditure of the allocated budget?
RKS: I do not know much about the budget as I did not allocate it. It is usually done in the month of April or May and I did not play any direct role. There is Directors’ Fund, which is given out in the last quarter managing all the expenditures. In the final quarter, there is a check of bills and they are audited in the expenditure, and then the Directors’ Funds are released to compensate for the shortages.
MM: In a recent interview with the placement committee, they told MM that they are currently functioning out of a single room since PPA is being used for ANKTCEL lectures. They've officially been shifted to TIIR, but the facilities are not adequate, there. With a more stringent placement policy this time, don't you think students will suffer to a large extent, unless something is done to solve this issue? What is being done, currently in this regard?
RKS: The building present now cannot be completed in one day. The central air-conditioning will take two years to be set up properly. To provide air-conditioning, six split ACs have already been purchased and will be installed in the conference rooms. For now, the existing machines shall be used and the later ones will be put up in the conference room to make it comfortable for both the students and the company. There are quite a few petty jobs that are yet to be done in the TIIR building, like electrical and network connections. Although network connection is now available, few electrical works are still pending and are expected to be completed soon.
The shifting will be completed soon as I am stressing the concerned faculty to move out immediately. With so many hurdles being thrown in our way, we are trying to do our best and provide all the necessary facilities to ease out the process.
“I have been hearing for the last two weeks that it will be shifted within a week’s time. But the fact is it will take at least a month”
MM: The water quality in MSS, DBA, HB and KMS has been questionable. In an interview to Monday morning the chief warden stated that we plan to set up a filtration plant for the same. What are the exact plans and how is institute trying to resolve for the time being?
RKS: There are two sources from which the institute receives water. One is the institute source and the other is the groundwater. The halls connected to the later are receiving water of reasonably good quality, however the remaining halls are receiving turbid water. Not only the students, but even some of the faculty residences have been affected. There is already a water treatment plant in the institute premises, but the turbidity in recent times is way too high and the plant is unable to filter it. Also, we cannot depend completely on ground water because it is limited. Hence, at present we are planning to set up a charcoal bed to treat the turbid water, but it will take over a month.