If you pass by Presidency College and take a close look at its lawns, you would notice, on most days, plastic cups, papers, broken test tubes, rotting food packets and an assortment of rubbish. And the college is not unique in presenting this sight.
Dirty lawns, stinking toilets and unclean classrooms have become a prominent feature of city colleges and the reason for this lack of maintenance is the same everywhere. College officials are unanimous in blaming the situation on the lack of appointment of class-IV workers that include cleaners, sweepers, gardeners, helpers, conservancy workers, peons, library and laboratory assistants, in the last fifteen years.
The cleaning of lawns in most colleges takes place only when there are important visits, say staff members. The government has not appointed conservancy workers, and the colleges have a tough time hiring help, says a lecturer at Queen Mary’s College. “No one wants to clean toilets in colleges for Rs. 2,500. They can definitely earn much more as domestic workers,” she says.
In co-educational institutions, the shortage of female sanitary workers leads to poor maintenance of women’s toilets.
“Sometimes, the students do not know much about hygiene and we cannot impose stricter rules or penalise them,” says a lecturer at Bharti Women’s College.
Teaching in poorly-maintained classrooms amidst the pervasive stench from unclean toilets is difficult but they are getting used to it, says a lecturer at Presidency College. “We have written to the government several times but have been asked to outsource the work,” she says. Most government colleges outsource the cleaning work and route money from the PTA fund.
Data with the Tamil Nadu Association of Non-Teaching Staff of Aided Colleges reveals there are at least 1,738 vacancies for class-IV workers in nearly 164 colleges across the State.
The Pachaiyappa Trust, for instance, say sources, has not filled up 116 vacancies for cleaners, sweepers and helpers, in five of its colleges, in the past ten years.
“Though the management tries to employ contract workers by offering extra remuneration, it is very difficult to retain them unless the government standardises their work and salaries,” say a non-teaching staff member of Kandaswamy Naidu College.
There are also many vacancies for the post of museum keepers (helpers in zoology labs).
“In the absence of government recruiment, we are forced to hire people with minimum qualifications. This often leads to theft or damage of equipment, says,” says G. Mohan, a helper from Thiagarajar College.
Also, colleges often prefer to spend money on hiring sanitary workers rather than employing assistant librarians and laboratory technicians. “Those who work in schools can hope to educate themselves and get promoted as teachers after many years but there is no incentive like that in colleges,” says a lab assistant at Women’s Christian College.
Members of the Tamil Nadu Association of Non-Teaching Staff of Aided Colleges point out that due to these unfilled vacancies, every staff has to do the work of at least four others. “Last year, the government promised that it would fill up the vacancies, but only the clerical positions have been filled so far,” says P. Kanakarajan, secretary of the Association.