An email dated 21st September was sent by the Warden to the hostel residents of H-12, informing them that Kanaka would cease to operate the mess of Hostels 12,13,14 after the 30th of September, “to preclude the possibility of damage to his reputation”. The largest mess in the institute shutting down so abruptly is a major cause of concern, and will likely lead to considerable disruption to the lives of almost 1500 students. Here is a summary of the events that led up to this.
As students, we are primarily dependent on our hostel mess to provide healthy and hygienic food. It is the shared responsibility of the hostel council and the warden to ensure that the quality of food served by the messes is up to a certain standard.
Earlier this year, residents of Hostel 12, 13 and 14 started complaining to their Hostel Councils about the quality of food served in their common mess. So, to ensure that the mess was up to standard, the Councils decided to conduct surprise inspections.
The First Inspection
The first inspection conducted on the 28th of May revealed shocking violations of the mess contract. Some of the things found were stale food items kept in cold storage, poor quality of milk, and food items stored in unhygienic conditions.
Soon after the inspection, a consolidated ppt containing the findings of the inspection was shared with the hostel residents. While such information can indeed be shared with hostel residents, there are procedures to be followed to prevent unnecessary panic – such information first needs to be discussed in a mess council meeting (which includes the student mess council, the hall manager, and the wardens), where the mess caterer is allowed to explain the violations or defend against the allegations. After due discussion, a fine is imposed on the caterer, and the minutes of this meeting can be shared with the hostel residents.
In spite of the protocols not being followed, a mess council meeting was called, and the council was reprimanded for not following protocol. The infarctions to the mess contract were discussed in this meeting and after a subsequent meeting with the mess caterer, a list of fines was sent to the caterer on 8th August.
The Second Inspection
A second inspection on the 7th of August further revealed the appalling condition of the mess; large amounts of Ajinomoto (Monosodium Glutamate) were found on the mess premises. Ajinomoto is a banned substance in the mess. The tender stipulates a fine for both the possession and the proven usage of Ajinomoto in mess food. This was found in a mess worker’s personal locker, which was only opened after the council threatened to break the lock if they were not allowed to search the locker. However, the search of personal belongings was carried out in the absence of security personnel, which is not allowed.
Along with the Ajinomoto, several expired products and large amounts of caustic soda were found on the premises. All these items were confiscated by the mess council, to prevent their possible usage in the mess food.
A snippet from the ppt shared with hostel residents
The Wardens of H-12,13,14 were informed about the inspection the next day, and a mess council meeting was scheduled for 14th August. However, due to the unavailability of certain members, the meeting was postponed.
While this happened, on the 12th of August, the caterer, Kanaka, sent a letter to the Warden and the student council, expressing a desire to stop the mess service; they then requested a meeting with the Wardens, which took place on the 16th. During this meeting, Kanaka claimed that the Ajinomoto was never used in the regular mess food, and had been lying unused in the mess since the night canteen had stopped functioning. The Warden informed the caterer that an appropriate fine would be levied based on whether Ajinomoto was used in the mess food or not.
An important point to note here is that the mess contract with Kanaka had expired prior to these occurrences, and they were functioning on a verbal agreement with the council, to prevent unnecessary disruption to the mess services during the pandemic. This means that, unlike in normal circumstances (under contract), where Kanaka would be required to give a formal 3-month notice before terminating their services, they are free to leave when they wish.
Based on the interactions the Wardens had with the student council and the mess caterer, they felt that it was important to prevent unnecessary confrontations between the two parties, as it may lead to disruption of mess services. To achieve this, they put into place a temporary rule, disallowing the mess council to inspect certain areas of the mess, without the supervision of the Warden or Associate Warden. This rule was communicated to the Hostel General Secretaries in a meeting with them on the 19th of August, and to the remaining mess council members on the 21st, who strongly opposed the decision but complied, nonetheless, after even an appeal to higher authorities (Dean SA Office) confirmed the rules.
Soon after this meeting, another ppt was shared with the hostel residents (warden claims this was done by the student council), outlining the finding of the second inspection. This was in spite of being warned against doing so in a recent meeting with the Warden. This led to widespread panic and several emails from hostel residents; a small number of students even went as far as opting for a mess rebate.
A mess council meeting was called on 30th August to discuss the further course of action. A decision was made to impose a fine on Kanaka for possession of Ajinomoto, and an investigation was to be carried out to determine whether it had been used in the mess food.
With all that had occurred, and the palpable tension between the student council and the mess caterer, Kanaka made the decision to withdraw from the mess on the 30th September. The Hostel Council confirmed that Vihar Caterer, previously operating in H10 will provide temporary services at the H12/13/14 mess for three months and quotations have already been received for the same. Hostel 12/13/14 will be undergoing the tendering process along with the rest of the hostels post three months for the establishment of a permanent caterer.