As the number of COVID-19 cases are rising exponentially with no sign of respite in sight, the administration at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur has asked all the students to leave their hostels by the evening of April 26, 2021. Faculty and staff members, however, have been exempted from the order.
Earlier the decision was only taken for undergraduate students, but was subsequently extended to research scholars as well as the situation went out of control. On April 21, the dean of students’ affairs wrote to the PG students in the hostel to vacate their rooms saying that the “situation on campus is grim and healthcare support system in the city is over-stressed”. Meanwhile, as per the official information, the college’s health centre has recorded a total of over 113 cases (both on-campus and off-campus) since February this year, out of which 100 were recorded in the last two weeks alone. On the campus, there are 58 students who have tested positive till date, and they are currently staying in a separate wing, also known as the VH facility.
However, the dean said that the college won’t be able to provide help for too long. “Healthcare support to those students needing medical help is progressively becoming more and more difficult,” said the dean in the email.
According to an earlier official order – which has now been nullified – even those infected were allowed to go back home from their designated rooms on the condition that they directly leave the place without entering any other units in the campus. There was no mention of any administrative support except for the ticket booking process, but that too had its own set of “conditions” which wasn’t specified either.
After students and faculty raised objections over the decision, the infected students have now been asked to stay back. However, those who are unwell and are awaiting their RT-PCR test results are still allowed to move out of the campus.
According to a faculty member, last week, one student – who was awaiting his RT-PCR test result – was allowed to leave the campus to go back to his home state, i.e. Andhra Pradesh. So, he travelled from Kanpur to Andhra Pradesh and later on, his test results came out positive.
“Imagine how many people he would have infected on the way! And even if a student’s results come out negative, how is it still okay to let that student leave the campus ?” said the faculty member on condition of anonymity.
Last year, in September, the administration had called the students back to the hostel in batches. While the first three batches returned to the hostel smoothly, the fourth batch faced some issues because by that time the second wave of COVID-19 had spread across the country.
“How could they ask us to travel back home at a time when stepping out in itself can put our lives, and those of others’, at risk. Plus, it is a public-funded university, run by the taxpayers’ money. So why can’t we get the support we need at this time?” asked a PG student on condition of anonymity.
‘A criminal act’
According to the faculty members, none of them were consulted before the institute took the decision. During the pandemic, a member said, the administration’s approach in general has been top-down which has wreaked havoc several times.
“Asking students to leave the campus is indirectly saying that you can infect others but not anyone on the campus. This is a criminal act,” said a member on the condition of anonymity.
The faculty member said that one of his colleagues died because of the inadequacy of oxygen cylinders in a local hospital where he was admitted. His life, the faculty member says, could have been saved if the administration had stepped in and prepared themselves for the situation.
Both the faculty members and students agree that oxygen cylinders can be created in the campus as they have sufficient equipments to do the same.
“We are a technical institution and we can easily create cylinders. And even if not, the institution can atleast stockpile the cylinders. But they did none of that in the last six months when the college was reopened again,” said the faculty member.
He further added that students who have tested positive have not been provided an oxygen meter to monitor their oxygen level. The meter is not available anywhere in the medical shops inside the campus. In short, if a student’s oxygen level drops down, he/she won’t even know.
Similar orders in other colleges
It must be noted that IIT Kanpur isn’t the only institution to ask its students to vacate their hostel rooms this past month. Last week, the administration at IIT Roorkee advised its non-infected students and staff to return home within 48 hours. The order is currently on hold because students organised a sit-in protest inside the campus as soon as they received the information on evacuating their hostel, the Times of India reported.
Among those who have been asked to leave the campus are PhD students who told the national daily that their research work will get hampered if they move back their homes other besides sharing their concerns over health risks involved with traveling at this time.
Similarly, the vice chancellor of Benaras Hindu University, too, has “encouraged” hostel residents to vacate their rooms and go back home keeping in view the rising number of cases on the campus. All the offline classes have been suspended and faculty members have been advised to continue classes in the online mode.
Last year too, in the first phase of the lockdown, students at Delhi University’s Ramjas College were asked to leave their hostels as cases in Delhi were on the rise. The administration, however, had subsequently extended the stay period after students protested.
In the same vein, the South Asian University, Delhi, had also asked it students – including those who have homes across the border – to either their hostel rooms or pay rent while they stayed on the campus.
As with the current issue at IIT Kanpur, LiveWire has reached out to the administration to seek their response on the matter and will update this copy as and when there is one.
Featured image credit: IIT Kanpur official website