Midway into the semester Team MM caught up with the interim director, Prof. R.K. Sahoo for an interview revisiting persisting issues and enquiring about the most recent concerns that are plaguing the NITR populace. In this frank interaction, he shed light on several controversial issues and gave the students a heads-up with regard to various administrative activities that are in the pipeline.
MM: You have been the interim director for over two months now. Last time you had said that the new Director will be here by October. How far has the selection process reached?
RKS: We do not have any concrete news, yet but it is most likely that the new director will be joining the institute by mid-September or October, at the earliest. During my recent interactions with the MHRD officials, they intimated me about the appointment status. We can expect some sort of announcement from them with regard to this matter around the 15th of September, 2016.
MM: The 6th NIT Conclave was hosted by our institute, this year. The problem of malfunctioning air conditioners that had caused difficulties during the Institute Freshers continued to cause inconvenience to the organizing committee and many of the events had to be conducted in the Seminar Hall of the Department of CSE. Was it not possible to avoid such a situation?
RKS: It was not possible to avoid such a situation because up till now we haven’t been able to root out the exact cause of the malfunctioning of the Central Air-Conditioning System. The contractors who have been appointed to repair it have been predicting a burst in the pipeline but even after digging and inspecting the pipelines in various different places, they haven’t been able to find any damage or leakage. The process is still on-going and we are doing whatever we can to see that the issue is resolved soon. Even though we have considered closing down certain areas of the pipeline instead of searching for the faulty section, it is not a cost effective solution since the cost per metre, of every pipeline is INR 125 and thus it would amount to an unreasonably large sum of money.
MM: The theme of the conclave was “Research: A Special Focus on Undergraduate Research” but undergraduate research in the B. Tech career of a student primarily involves the Final Year Project which is fairly common in other institutes. However, we also have a unique course called Product Development Laboratory – which unfortunately does not have a similar rate of success. What could be the possible causes for this?
RKS: Product Development is basically an introduction to Research. Students are trained about how a product is developed, the theory behind its making and design, the material it is made up of, its performance and tolerance level and several other aspects. For improving the Product Development Laboratory and producing fruitful results the students should learn to repair the equipment that has gone out of order. Students should come up with own innovative ideas to find faults in the defective equipment in order to inculcate a more practical approach.
We have not been able to succeed much in this area because we cannot spend much money on Product Development. The cost of the equipment is much less than the individual components. So if a student wants to come up with a product, the expenses in buying the individual components would be too high for the institute to afford.
MM: Speaking about fund shortages, similar to foreign universities can there not be an industry-institute partnership so that industries can fund such projects?
RKS: In the current Indian context, industries do not invest in technical institutes because of the lack of expertise which results in poor quality product outputs. Since the industries import most of their equipment from foreign countries, they do not find it a profitable measure to invest in institute-partnership projects. However, the situation is gradually changing and I hope that industries will definitely give a helping hand in the future and we will be able to provide technologically sound innovations, by students, without having to worry about the expenses.
MM: The T&P centre which was supposed to shift to the TIIR building still isn’t completely functional and this is causing inconvenience to students as well as recruiters. Also, what is the status of the Outreach Centre that was being built at Bhubaneshwar?
RKS: Some part of the T&P centre has already been shifted but since the rooms are not air-conditioned, there has been a delay. As of now, we have ordered 20 air-conditioners. We are also looking for some of the alumni who are interested in contributing money for developing the TIIR building. The provision for a centralized Air-Conditioning system is also in the pipeline.
As far as the Outreach Centre in Bhubaneswar is concerned, currently the boundary wall is being made. So we can be sure there won’t be encroachment from outsiders. The construction of the building will be made only after the approval of the government and after the money has been sanctioned by them. Since the flow of funds is currently restricted, NITR cannot undertake such large-scale constructions on its own and we might have to wait for another two or three years before construction begins on the site.
MM: The infrastructural developments in the campus have seen progress. The water treatment plant has been completed, but has it been made fully functional so that hostels like DBA, MSS do not have to further rely on the municipally treated water which was murky and not pure?
RKS: The water treatment plant started operating around one month back and since it was just the trial period, we were testing the quality of water by using it in various laboratories. However, now a few of the Halls of Residence have been connected to the plant, and certainly, the others will be too. However, setting up pipelines from the water treatment plant to the various halls is an expensive business, and will definitely take some time to complete.
MM: A technical college like NITR needs a much more dynamic website than the current one and even a website for SAC. Even though updates have been made to the content, the interface still remains outdated. Can there be any provision where students who are interested and capable can work on the design part only, to take pressure off the automation cell so that we have a more dynamic website?
Yes, students can provide extra manpower if needed. However, trusting them with this responsibility is difficult because they are still at a learning stage, and the people hired for this are experienced, professionals. It will also become difficult to keep a tab on the content that will be uploaded then.
I Previously too during Prof. Sunil K. Sarangi’s tenure, about three years ago, some student were allowed to work for the automation cell but the results proved to be counterproductive. Currently, the automation cell is under the charge of Dean (Academics), Prof. B. Majhi, who handles all the updating of content and other tasks. If at all there is a such severe lack of manpower and students show genuine interest, they can work for it after approval from the Dean.
MM: Prof Sunil K Sarangi had talked about initiating an Official Institute Handbook which would feature photographs of the SAC and would aid students in their quest for sponsorships. Has there been any further progress on that front?
RKS: Yes we have had several meeting to discuss the various nuances of the Handbook. The cost will be nearly 15 lakhs and that will be paid by TEQIP II since the institute doesn’t have the funds to bear the cost, currently. Since the deadline for TEQIP II is October, we hope to finish work on the Handbook by then as well.
MM: The expenditures of SAC are now being maintained in an excel sheet but the expenditures of clubs are still not maintained properly. What further steps can be taken to ensure transparency of funds at SAC?
RKS: If they are not being maintained, it cannot be passed by the audit. Unless the records are maintained either in SAC or in the accounts section, the bill cannot be passed. So someone has to be maintaining it even if the public cannot see it. For annual expenditure, the director’s approval is taken and a budget is allocated by a committee. The accounts section is often inconvenienced because SAC does not normally document its expenditures. However, since the accounts section has to maintain the accounts for every department within the institute they find it difficult to distinguish between SAC and Non-SAC expenses. In the previous session, the SAC office had already been told by the accounts section to maintain proper documents so that such problems would not persist.
MM: The Chief Warden has taken the responsibility of patrolling the campus at late hours so that students are not found loitering. Even security guards are confiscating the ID cards of girls in KMS who have come past their in-time, parents of students are being called up without any formal notice or warning being issued to the latecomers, and it is being said that after the fourth late entry, a boarder will be asked to leave her Hall of Residence. Such stringent rules have never been implemented before. Please comment.
Earlier the students were very decent and were returning within the 10:00PM to their hostels. Therefore, imposing such a rule wasn’t a necessity. Slowly things got out of hand and girls started coming at midnight resulting in many untoward incidents. Informing parents is not wrong as parents ask us to make us aware of their children’s whereabouts. What is wrong in it? The Chief Warden is patrolling the campus area because ragging is mostly done during this time and if any information comes to light about it, the institute would be defamed. One need not always look whether every rule is written in the rule book.
On asking that students who have got permissions for club activities late night, their parents were being called unjustly, the Director replied,
We are planning to stop late night club activities from Monday-Friday and allow it only on weekends as the academics of students is being hampered by it. The failure rate has increased and club activities are a major contributing factor since students don’t get time to study. The case of having branch toppers in different clubs and students failing despite not being engaged in clubs is a limited one and does not speak of the majority.
MM: NITR has got a closed campus. Shouldn’t our focus be on making a safer campus rather than moral policing students? Wouldn’t hiring more security guards help?
RKS: If you want a safer campus, you need more security and money which students are hesitating to pay. The establishment (HAIF) money has already been utilized for hiring additional security personnel. Now the price has increased and to hire more security guards, students need to pay the extra amount. Keeping more security officers is also a problem since accommodation facilities have to be created. As far as moral policing is concerned, the rules have to be more stringent for girls. Can parents write down that whatever their children do, it is going to be only their responsibility? No, it is the institute’s responsibility. So if someone has violated the rule, there is no harm in informing her parent. Every rule cannot be a written rule. If someone has been caught, other students should be very careful when the news gets propagated to them. It is for the students to choose to be conscious and this consciousness will lead to a safer campus.
MM: After a thorough discussion in the 2nd HMC Meeting of the session, it has been decided that the night canteen timings should be extended from 12:00am to 2:00am, and requires your approval for being sanctioned. What is your opinion on the matter?
RKS: There is nothing wrong in it. However, there are certain restrictions which Rourkela faces in terms of food availability. The number of contractors is much less than in any major city. It is not possible to do away with one contractor and hire another one the following. This proposal has still not reached my desk and once it does, I will certainly take a decision on the matter.
MM: The NITRAA Mumbai Meet took place recently. As quoted by former Director Prof. Sunil K. Sarangi, “NITRAA has always appeared to be as a body that is constantly fishing for perks and benefits but today it has undergone a radical transformation”. What measures is the institute taking in this regard to ensure an active and robust alumni network?
RKS: After Mr. V. N. Peri has taken over, things have improved drastically. The relationship between the alumni and the institute was not strenuous but due to arguments and counter arguments, the institute did not want to interact with them. Earlier the alumni were controlled by the employees of RSP, so they weren’t aware of the outside world and how an alumni network actually helps the students. Mr. Peri has now brought in a vision which is different and widespread, somewhat along the lines of what the IITs presently follow that alumni should help the institute and not help only themselves. Mr. Peri understands that the institute is a part of the alumni and the alumni, in turn, are a part of the institute – making us one single entity. Our system is transparent and to remove further suspicion, we have asked the alumni to come and see how a building is constructed with proper planning. Being a Government Institute, we cannot take money simply from the alumni without a pre-determined purpose. Under Mr. Peri, the relationships are smoothening out now and the institute is greatly benefiting from his networking and contacts with various alumni in foreign countries.
MM: NITR does not have any notable student exchange programs or collaborations with foreign universities that allow the transferring of credits like NIT Durgapur does with CERN. Recently, NITRAA President, Shri V. N. Peri also expressed his desire to fund not only students but faculty members to participate in such programs. What is the institute’s outlook on this matter?
RKS: NITR has collaborated with many foreign universities under the TEQIP program which has signed MOU’s with different universities. A number of faculties have been benefitted by the same however, we haven’t been part of any student exchange programme, yet. However, students can certainly go to such universities if there is a provision for a Student Exchange Program under the agreement.