Like Food Like Frugality

Like Food Like Frugality

Aug 29, 2016 | Anshuman Bebarta Sharmishtha

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Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption, which amounts to approximately 1.3 billion tonnes gets wasted annually. As stated by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, food losses and waste amounts to roughly $680 Million in industrialized countries and $310 Billion in developing countries.

As per the status quo, all students end up paying for all the meals in the myriad mess facilities, even though they don't consume it. Currently each individual pays Rs. 12,000 per semester (approx.) for the four meals he is offered in a day. So is it justified then, to charge someone for a meal he hasn’t even had? In fact, it can be understood that people who do not eat in the mess regularly, end up subsidizing the amount for caterers and other mess officials. An attendance system, however, will ease the task of keeping track of a student’s activity in his mess, ruling out the aforementioned shortcomings we face as a boarder currently.

However, this would be accompanied by the biometric attendance or a coupon system. The latter had been put into test in 2013 but it became really difficult to manage the boarders, especially during the lunch break and hence was removed. The incorporation of the Biometric attendance, which has been on the cusp of debate for a very long time, is a tedious task and would take time.  But if nothing else, this step will ensure the reduction in food wastage, as a better approximation of food to be prepared can be made, and will hence lead to a better and more economical food facility from the viewpoint of the boarders.

The underlying cause behind the wastage of food in the hostel mess is the terrible quality of food being served in the mess. The hostels' food is a nightmare to the students jokingly claiming that “We worry more about our food than our grades in the institute”.


A study was conducted by Team Monday Morning to gauge the general view of the NITR populace regarding the Mess System of NIT Rourkela Halls of Residence. More than 1000 boarders responded along with a varied number of suggestions to make the experience better.


The mess menu was termed as horrible by 58% of the boarders, while 30.4% termed it as ok. Besides this, 55.3% of the students felt that a centralized menu should exist as they pay somewhat the same money.

Nearly 75% of the boarders feel that mess system should be made optional. The boarders can pay and have their meals according to their convenience.


More challenges to the mess system:

  •  High absentee students, food misuse
  • Inflated attendance of students, staff & Visitors
  •  Bogus Bills and ghost students
  •  Inadequate food budget, delayed bill payments, inflated food bills


There has been a discussion about implementation of food coupons for a long time. They can be simplified into different ideas:

  •  Using the Biometric Attendance: Biometric identifiers are often categorized as physiological versus behavioural characteristics. Physiological characteristics are related to the shape of the body. Examples include, but are not limited to fingerprint, palm, veins, face recognition, DNA, palm print, hand geometry, iris recognition, retina and odour/scent.
  • Using a simple in and out register and availing the food coupons for each day.
  • Using the institute ID card to tap it onto the attendance machine and thereby paying the whole amount as a lump sum for a month or else pay for the day individually.


 Introduction to this system in the other Institutes:


  • IIT Bombay:

There has been an interesting news story at IIT Bombay, with a majority of IIT Bombay hostels having decided to opt for Fingerprint systems for managing their messing facilities, which means it’s not possible any more for a student of another hostel to have a grub at a specific shelter. After the recent bout of food poisoning in various IIT hostels, there were multiple administrative changes done to the hostels, and restricting the number of students allowed to have their food at the mess is one such step. This will ensure reduction in food wastage, as a better approximation of food to be prepared can be made, and will hence lead to better food facilities and lower chances of poisoning.


  • National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirappalli (NITT):

With a view to monitor the attendance of the students and guests at the Hostel Messes, HAC/ NITT proposes to install Biometrics Attendance recording system, initially in its girls hostel mess (strength 1000) on trial basis and in all the remaining five boys hostel messes (strength 4000) with a central server at the Hostel Office. The system is intended to record the roll call attendance and to find out turnout of Hostel students for brake fast, lunch and dinner. The scope of work includes providing of hardware, software, related accessories and installation and training of the system to the identified personnel of the Hotel Office. The system will have the storage capacity of recording fingerprints and smart card on required number of occasions for about 5,000 students. It would be able to accommodate additional 1000 students.


Technical Requirement: 

  • The Automated System (hereinafter referred as a system) should be sturdy and tamper proof.  The equipment should have a proper casing.
  • It should easily upload and download records of fingerprints, smart cards, data, events, time and attendance. It should be able to do this for approximately 1000 students in a period of 1.5 hours. It should have adequate power backup.  All parameters can easily be customized on the device.
  •  The system should generate – Daily and Monthly Attendance of the students at the messes.  Data should be available in Excel for further calculation.
  • The System should have adequate battery backup (up to 72 hours) and protection from physical damage.  Reliability is the most important factor.
  • The system needs to be more responsible when it is to operate in standalone mode.


Nevertheless, there are pros and cons for the same

  • Pros:

Ease in billing: Providing the Mess Council with data regarding a student’s mess usage in an excel sheet format, makes the task of compiling expenses incurred by a student simple since data would no longer require being fed into computers manually.

Introducing transparency in the system: The students will have access to the details of their mess and will be able to keep a check on the expenses incurred by them.

Reduction of wastage: Food wastage is something that has been plaguing NITR, and the whole world for that matter, for a long time. Ambiguously a biometric system would provide the caterers a better estimate regarding the amount to be cooked on an individual day.

Negotiating deals with Mess Contractors: Armed with this data, the hall council members can approach a new caterer or re-negotiate contracts with a more precise estimate of an average number of people eating each meal. Hence, providing them with a better stronghold and bargaining power.

Highly economical for the boarders: A boarder, when he eats outside the mess, pays for the meal he didn’t have. This makes it unfair for their side.


  • Cons:

 When food runs out: The one downside that could occur is if food runs out on certain days when everyone exercises their right to eat in the mess, the contractor would not be to blame.

 Installation costs: A rough idea of the cost analysis says that the devices that are needed for it such as finger scanners or a time attendance system costs around 8000. And installing it in 8 messes (13 units), would cost around INR 1,04,000. And they need to be maintained after a frequent interval. Plus there is a risk that some of the miscreant boarders may just dismantle it as a pleasure seeking epitome. So to some extent it does possess a risk to the management. Nevertheless, it’s not a wild goose chase, which can be drawn from it.


Other Options:

DeviceApproximate Cost per Unit (INR)
Fingerprint Scanner8000
Iris Scanner8000
Voice Scanner18000
Facial and Fingerprint Scanner19000



·The Views:

Upon taking this issue up to the authorities, Prof. Monalisa Mishra, Warden, KMS Hall of residence, expressed that the mess bill can be lessened by initially making the evening snacks and breakfast optional for the boarders. Quoting her words,

We can implement this for a month on a trial basis and if the mess workers are able to maintain tabs for the same, this could very well be done. However, even if we want to maintain the coupon system we will have to inform the caterer the previous day. Even then, the caterer will not be able to make a legit estimation on the quantity of food he needs for that day and on some days, situations may so arise that in our quest to reduce food wastage, we may have to leave a few boarders hungry”

Prof. V. Shivakumar, Warden, HB Hall of residence, trashed the idea saying that it will be a very difficult process and even if we are able to install a biometric machine or a coupon-based database, it will still be very cumbersome process eventually leading the caterer losing money from his own pocket. He said,

“I understand that this system will be very economical for the boarders, but if we adopt such a system, not only will the food wastage will skyrocket but will also put the caterers at loss. When I was a warden at a hostel in NIT Calicut, we had adopted a similar measure. It eventually led to a lot of mishaps and hence was removed there.”

Prof. Sunil Kumar Sarangi, the ex-director of NIT-R, said,

"Of course it is possible; but is it desirable? Earlier, the institute followed a system in which students only paid for what they ate provided they beforehand informed the caterers, beforehand whether they will be eating or not. However, I abolished that system. Students hailing from places close to Rourkela used to go home on weekends to cut down on their mess bills. So, the campus used to be empty on weekends. I believe learning from blackboards is highly insufficient and it needs to be supplemented by self-study. Thus presence of students in their hostels, on weekends, is quite important and the pay-for-what-you-eat system got in the way of that. For maintaining a scholastic environment, a fixed semester mess bill is far more convenient as opposed to counting pennies and keeping track of a student’s activity in the mess every other day. Also, if you do the mathematics, you will see that your overall expenses will add up to be higher than the existing cost. So, not only will it make the campus environment socially and academically poorer, but also shoot up your monthly expenditure."

There are certain benefits of Biometric Systems that cannot be ignored; the cost for implementation too is not prohibitive. In the near future, one could be allowed to exit the messing facility completely and/or join another hostel’s mess if he so desires which is not possible without a biometric system. It is up to the respective Mess Councils to negotiate with mess contractors to get the best rates for both schemes and provide this option as a right to the students.

Transformation requires painstaking effort; populism is a short cut that leads astray.



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