Is the situation turning messy?

Not so savoury: Rising mess expenditure is another problem area that defies a solution.

Not so savoury: Rising mess expenditure is another problem area that defies a solution.   | Photo Credit: – Photo: K. Ananthan

K.V. Prasad

The monthly food bill for students in hostels is set to get fatter

Signs of mess charges rising at the start of the academic year seek to prove that inflation has come at the worst possible time. Students staying in hostels and their parents are watching with anxiety the unfolding situation.

They point out that no compromise can be made on the educational needs, even if the costs rise steeply. And that includes fee and study materials. But, what puts them in a tougher situation is the possibility of rising mess expenses.

Most of the hostels follow a system of the students sharing an entire month’s expenditure. A mess committee, comprising representatives of hostellers, prepares a list of monthly or weekly requirements. The frequency of purchase is more in the case of perishables such as vegetables. This way, the institutions do not have the burden of running the mess or fixing the fee. At the same time, it leaves to the students the option of having what they want.

But, the current situation is likely to make things difficult because of the rise in the cost of the items needed in the mess. Their attention will be split between academics and managing the mess in the face of inflation.

Hostellers of GRD College of Science are faced with an increase of Rs.200 in the mess bill this year. From Rs.1,300 a student a month, it will be Rs.500. The total food expenses every month is shared by 900 students.

Coimbatore Medical College Dean (in-charge) V. Kumaran says the inflation will have an impact on this part of the education budget for families of students staying in hostels. Students in the Coimbatore Medical College hostel also follow the cost-sharing system. “In 2006-07, the monthly mess expense was Rs.1,000. It rose to Rs.1,200 the following year. It may go up by Rs.300 to Rs.400, depending on the price situation,” he says.

Hostellers at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University also are faced with the task of making changes to their monthly budget. The monthly contribution for food will have to be reworked, with focus on the cost of rice, oil and vegetables. The students may also face the additional burden of increasing the salary of the cooks, if they are not appointed on a permanent basis for the canteens of the institutions.

“We do not know how much more this expense will cost us this time,” says S. Tamil Selvi, mother of S. Abhinaya who is moving from first B.Tech to second year in a private engineering college in Erode district. The first year itself saw costs rising, she says.

“It was Rs. 800 initially and then rose to Rs.1,000. Towards the end of the last academic year, the mess expense was Rs.1,300 as prices began to climb.”

Ms. Abhinaya indicates that students or their parents do not want any compromise on nutrition. Parents want their children to have the best food and not miss the nutrition that is easily got from home-made food.

“Barring eggs on three nights a week, the rest is mostly vegetarian food,” she says. Sometimes breakfast comes with omelette. Otherwise, its idlis, dosa and noodles. It is rice, sambar and one vegetable side dish. Though a regular meal, the prevailing cost of the ingredients only points to the inevitable possibility of the mess bill getting heftier.

The prices of all essential commodities have increased. With students sharing the expenses and managing the mess, the stress is on good and healthy food. And this comes at a very heavy price. For instance, with refined oil costing upwards of Rs. 75, it is only indicative of the tough times ahead, parents and hostellers say.

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