Every afternoon, Shabina and her ten friends walk up to Spencer Plaza during the break between classes at Quaid E Millath College for Women. Their destination is not one of the many food outlets at the city’s oldest mall but the bathrooms there.

“We have just ten bathrooms for 4,000 students, and none of them have water connection. They are rarely cleaned. The stench is overwhelming. We have not been there in months,” she said.

Shabina’s college is one of the many government colleges in the city where students have to endure appalling facilities and infrastructure. Nearly 70,000 students, many of them from poor economic backgrounds, study in various government colleges in the State.

At Quaid E Millath College, many teachers contribute Rs. 20 every month to make sure water is available in at least one of the bathrooms. “We wrote to the Public Works Department (PWD) and Metrowater at least fifteen times, but no action was taken. Many of the senior staff members too find the situation especially difficult,” said a faculty member.

The bathrooms are only the tip of the iceberg. Last week, a teacher and a student were bitten by insects and taken to Government Royapettah Hospital. “The ceilings are leaking and there is garbage everywhere,” said a student. Students said that recently, a portion of the ceiling collapsed on a student in the zoology lab. The student sustained severe injuries.

The students of the college however seem much better off when compared to those in Ambedkar Arts College in Vyasarpadi. There is not a single toilet for the 800-odd female students and the over 2,000 male students have the privilege of sharing one bathroom. Many prefer not to use the facility though, as here too, water connections are non-existent. As for the girl students, the only option is go back home. “Thankfully, the teachers are aware of our plight and let us leave after three-four hours of classes,” said Sunitha, a female student.

The oldest college in the city, Presidency College, does no better. Female students here walk to the University of Madras campus to access the bathrooms there. There is a bathroom for men but again, no water. Also, due to the absence of a proper drainage system, open pipes drain sewage into the college campus, leading to a foul stench.

Last year, the State government sanctioned Rs. 100 crores to improve the infrastructure in government colleges, but only about Rs. 20 crores has been spent till now.

“The government is focussing on getting new furniture, which is a good thing,” said a professor in Presidency, gesturing towards the new desks and benches that arrived last week. “However, more important issues such as the bad conditions of walls, the absence of fans and tubelights and the lack of water in bathrooms have not been addressed,” he added.

“PWD officials took a look at the facilities some months ago. However, nothing was done. The government has also stopped the recruitment of class IV employees – sweepers mainly and so, there is no maintenance,” said another professor.

Faculty members said the portion of the funds allotted by UGC or the State government that is to be spent on electrical or civic work is never scientifically allotted.

“If they allotted Rs. 30 lakh last year, they would mechanically allot Rs. 32 lakh this year. Also, they do not look at the different needs of colleges. Some colleges, such as Presidency, which is a heritage structure, need more than just financial intervention; others such as Ambedkar College, which need a complete revamp, need to be viewed in a different light,” said a professor.