The Last Supper: Hunger Strike at Himalaya
On Thursday, 17th May, a hunger strike was called by several students protesting against the bad quality of food served in the mess, and expressed their dissatisfaction with the action taken against the caterer, A-Diet Express.
At around 6:30 PM, 30-40 students gathered at the Himalaya mess and put up a poster with ‘Hunger Strike’ written on it. The agenda of the strike (as written on the poster), was, “to improve the quality of food, bring the caterer under the control of CCW, to run the mess on all floors of Himalaya and to separate the menu into North and South Indian.”
“Yesterday morning, we came for lunch and found the top floor closed, only the lower floors were open. When we asked, they claimed that CCW had given them permission to close the top floor. There was a huge line and the food was of pathetic quality. We tried to talk to the manager, but he refused to speak to us. We had to pull him out and take him to the CCW office. At the CCW office, the chairman said that he would look into it and take suitable action. We argued for around an hour and a half, and no resolution was reached. So we told him that we would organize a hunger strike that night and no student would dine in the mess”, explained one of the protesters.
People started gathering by evening and the crowd grew. “We requested students not to dine in the mess tonight. From the past 10 months or so, we have been hearing nothing but sugar-coated words. We want action to be taken”, remarked someone in the crowd. At around 9:15 pm, the students decided to march to the director’s house to speak to him, but the director himself arrived at Himalaya mess to speak to them.
The director, Prof. Bhaskar Ramamurthi, addressed all their concerns and explained to them the whole situation. The students claimed that no action had been taken against the caterer despite all their complaints to which he replied, “You have to understand that we are bound by a legal contract. The only action that can be taken against them is whatever falls within that contract.”
He said that he could not solve the problem immediately. It was then decided that the contract would be reviewed the very next day, and a meeting would be called to announce the proposed solution.
The Proposed Solution :
At the next meeting held on Friday, the director presented to the students a solution as such :
An additional caterer, operating at a slightly higher rate, would be hired to serve at the Cauvery mess within the next 3-4 days.
In this regard, the students would have the following options :
Option1 : They can dine in the A-Diet up to 22nd night and start dining in Cauvery mess from 23rdMay.
Option2 : They can de-register from A-Diet tomorrow (19th May) onwards and start dining in Cauvery mess from 23rd May.
Option3 : They can continue dining in A-Diet.
This arrangement will continue till the month of July, by which time, new caterers would be hired (for the next academic year).
The director explained, “The institute and the CCW has been aware of the problem. Our tender process works as such, that the lowest bidder and all those who bid at the same rate will be considered for the tender. The current caterer bid for an extremely low rate, which eliminated all other caterers. Hence, we were forced to hire only him. When he wasn’t able to provide good food for whatever reason, our ability to correct him became limited to advising him and levying fines according to details of the contract. During the vacation, the situation got much worse. He also started optimizing for the low cost. If there were more caterers serving here, he could have easily been removed and I could have asked some of the others to serve in his absence. We have arranged for another caterer to serve in Cauvery mess at a slightly higher cost, but since it is at short notice, he can only take 500 people right now. If the demand is more, we can think of bringing in more caterers. If the demand is less, he will have to optimize his cost accordingly. From July, we will have a new tender in place, and new caterers will join. For the new tender, we will also quote a ‘lower amount’ that can be bid for to avoid this kind of a situation”.
On being asked about the hunger strike, he added “I’m perfectly fine with students expressing their problems in this manner. They did not cause any damage at all. But I heard that some students were prevented from entering the mess during the protest, which I felt was wrong.”
While some students were satisfied with the director’s proposal, others were still skeptical, saying that the allowed duration given to them to register for the new caterer was too short.