Students of the Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology (MANIT) and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) here are protesting against their institutions’ hostels being converted into quarantine centres during the COVID-19 pandemic, fearing the loss of belongings and a blow to academics and placements.
The Bhopal district administration towards May end acquired seven of the nine hostels at MANIT and two of the seven hostels at IISER, using powers conferred by COVID-19 regulations under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1857. Both the Central institutions had to break padlocks, empty rooms and move belongings of hundreds of students elsewhere, even as they remained away at home across the country with the academic session stalled in view of the lockdown.
‘Left in a hurry’
“When the lockdown was declared, we left in a hurry carrying with us only a few items,” said a third-year engineering student at MANIT, requesting anonymity. “So our laptops, certificates and bike keys were all left behind. The institute hasn’t given us an assurance that they will keep them safe.”
Further, the student feared academics and job placements would be affected too. “We don’t know for how long the pandemic will last and our institute will continue to be a quarantine centre,” he said. Hundreds of students have taken to Twitter to demand the suspension of the takeover.
MANIT Dean, Students Welfare, J. L. Bhagoria said the institute had appealed to the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development to exempt it from being made into a quarantine centre. “We can’t deny any order of the government, but moving belongings of around 5,000 students is a task. Hostel wardens have kept belongings safe inside almirahs,” he said.
Before converting hostels into quarantine centres at the IISER no intimation was given to students, said Shreeja Das, a third-year Ph.D. scholar. “As research scholars, our certificates, lab and project notes are our assets. Our whole lifetime of work and future depends on them. As an individual, the safety of my belongings deeply concerns me. No written assurance has been provided to us regarding our belongings,” she said.
A few students were in the critical stages of their Ph.D., Pavitra Ramdas, in the third year of her research, pointed out. “Some have got revisions in their papers and are unable to do anything about it now. If the institute doesn’t reopen because our hostels are occupied by quarantined people, it will invariably affect us.”
The institute’s Director Siva Umapathy said it had sought permission from the Ministry to reopen the institute. “We have blocked the hostels which have been taken over using 8-ft. steel barricades. They have separate access roads. The rest of the hostels are isolated,” he said.
‘Belongings are safe’
As for belongings, Mr. Umapathy said, “We have asked our students to be assured their belongings are safe. They have been packed by caretakers of hostels, who know every room and its occupant. Packets have been labelled with owners’ details and placed in another room. We have all the records.”
Stating the institutes had been directed to ensure no belongings were misplaced, District Collector Tarun Kumar Pithode, a MANIT alumnus, said, “These students don’t care for the country, but only for themselves. They may go for candle marches for a photo-op but when the country needs their support, they are behaving in this way. Youngsters should think about serving the country.”
On the demand of students’ to instead take over halls and libraries if required, Satish Kumar S., Bhopal Upper Collector said hostels had been acquired as they had single rooms with attached toilets.