SC, ST hostels in Karnataka plagued by food poisoning cases, unhygienic washrooms and more

Several students highlighted unsafe and unhygienic cooking conditions in the hostel, leading to cockroaches and worms in the food
Image for representation purpose only | (Pic: Express)
Image for representation purpose only | (Pic: Express)

Every year, cases of poor-quality food being distributed to children are reported in several government-run educational institutions. This remains the case, especially so with hostels housing minority students.

With the recent incident in Ballari, where students were evicted after they protested against bad quality food, the issue was criticised by experts and political leaders. Recently, as reported by The New Indian Express, students from the Backward Class and Minority (BCM) hostel in Ramanagara district complained of insects in their food. Several students highlighted unsafe and unhygienic cooking conditions in the hostel, leading to cockroaches and worms in the food.

This is the case in many hostels in Karnataka. According to the Social Welfare Department, which manages the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) hostels, there are 634 post-matric hostels and 1,236 pre-matric hostels functioning across the state. They cater to as many as 1.64 lakh minority students. The Backward Classes Welfare department currently runs 1,068 post-matric and 1,301 pre-matric hostels, where a total of 1.87 lakh students reside. This is in addition to students in government and residential schools, who are provided daily meals by the government.

While officials say that care was taken to ensure the students are served proper food, this has not been reflected in reports given by students.

Poor quality food

Hundreds of children studying in residential schools and BCM hostels in Chitradurga, routinely report food poisoning. Sumana, a student at the post-matric hostel run by the BCM department at Challakere, said the food quality earlier was pathetic, and not fit for consumption.

Obalappa, a student at Rampura, Chitradurga, said, “I had frequent health issues due to the consumption of sub-standard food. This affected my studies and I was forced to drop out of college.” PU students Yuvaraj and Spoorti, residents of a BCM hostel in Kalaburagi, said the food is of poor quality, and there is no proper security at the hostel.

Pramod (name changed), an engineering student at the SC-ST hostel in Shivamogga, said quality food has not been given to students and alleged that food is not cooked as per the menu. “They cook as per their convenience. There is a lack of cleanliness. Regular cleaning is not done, and if students force them, they clean the hostel once in 15 days or a month. There is no proper security. Anyone can enter the hostel. Recently, a student was robbed of a mobile phone at the entrance of the hostel. Though there are CCTV cameras, they cover only inside the hostel, and no one checks who enters the hostel,” he alleged.

Post-matric students of SC/ST Boys Hostel, Hassan, said the students had found small insects in the boiled rice twice, and alleged that the hostel was using rotting rice. Another said that students from various hostels barged into the hostel premises and quarrelled over silly reasons, and it would be wise to bring in security for the hostels.

Chandu L, a Dalit leader from Belthangady, says many hostels need repairs, while the newly sanctioned hostels are run in rented buildings. "During the Siddaramaiah-led government, students were given quality food including eggs, chicken, milk etc, but now substandard food is provided. Earlier, we found worms in essential items used in hostels. Even the kitchen is unhygienic. Despite many issues, the students live there as they cannot quit due to high costs in private hostels/PGs or daily travel."

Lack of facilities

This year, more than 5,000 students applied for admission in hostels in Kalaburagi, but only 500 to 600 students were accommodated, All India Democratic Students Organisation (AIDSO) State Secretariat Member, Sneha Kattimani, said.

There are 132 BCM hostels and 104 SC/ST hotels in Shivamogga district. Students have complained about the quality of food, security and lack of hygiene at the hostel. A few girls of the BCM hostel complained that sanitary napkins and toiletry accessories like brushes, toothpaste, soap and others provided free-of-cost, are not of good quality.

Shweta (name changed), a second-year BSc student, said while hygiene is maintained, the quality of products is poor. “The sanitary pads given to girls are not of good quality and most students don't use them. Even soap, paste, brush and other things are of bad quality,” she said.

Hassan district has 116 BCM and 98 SC/ST and minority pre and post matric boys' and girls' hostels, and accommodates 19,000 students. While 169 hostels have their own buildings, 38 function out of rented buildings.

Most students have complained about unhygienic toilets and washrooms, bad stench in toilets and washrooms due to lack of maintenance at SC/ST and OBC hostels, causing health hazards. On condition of anonymity, a student of post-matric OBC near Akashavani hostel alleged that the department failed to provide quality beds and dustbins. Many students sleep without beds, he added.

Students of an OBC boys' hostel in Hassan, too, complained about unhygienic toilets and washrooms. No warden was present when the TNIE correspondent visited the OBC and SC/ST boys' hostel. D Group employees allegedly do not clean the toilets and washrooms, despite cleaning materials being supplied, the students said.

The condition of backward classes and minority hostels in the Udupi district is comparatively better. Inmates of a few BCM hostels said there is, however, a need for more infrastructure as some hostels are run in rented buildings. ‘‘Though most of the inmates are from outside the district, students from interior areas also stay in BCM hostels due to transport problems. Students from Byndoor and Kundapur stay in hostels in Udupi city,’’ an official said.

However, one incident in November last year drew the attention of the district administration. Four students of Class IV and V had sustained injuries in a fire mishap in a government hostel in Hebri taluk of Udupi district. They had gone to burn trash that had accumulated behind their hostel building, and a sanitiser bottle in the garbage had exploded, injuring four students.

Many hostels function in rented buildings, and the government does not pay rent on time to the building owners, said AIDSO State Secretariat Member Sneha Kattimani. Just a month ago, the owner of a building where a girls' hostel is run, evicted the girls, locking them out of the hostel. The girls staged a demonstration in front of the DC's Office, and the department made alternative arrangements.

Manjunath RK, a Dalit activist from Dakshina Kannada, said hostels for Scheduled Castes and Tribes are run in rented buildings and lack basic infrastructure. "Many hostels do not have sufficient space to accommodate all those who apply for hostel facilities. A few children of daily wage labourers from Kalaburagi had sought help to get hostel facility but were turned down as the BCM hostel was full. Many community students get hostel facilities outside their taluk or far away, which forces them to quit. There are sufficient funds to ensure better hostel facilities, but they are diverted elsewhere. In many hostels, wardens are rude and don't keep an eye on teenagers."

Fear of protesting

Samaja Jagrurtha Vedike President H Beeresh said that BCM hostels in Mysuru are in a pathetic condition and negligence by the authorities is to blame. Recently, students of Devaraja Urs BCM Post Graduate Hostel for Boys at Gangotri Layout held protests, alleging poor quality food.

“Though the government allots lakhs of rupees for students, officials' apathy has led to poor maintenance. There are various incidents where students have complained about problems with food and drinking water. In BCM hostels, students come from rural areas with poor financial backgrounds, and don't protest against officials and lack of facilities," he said.

A girl staying at an SC/ST hostel in Urwa, Mangaluru, says the hostel does not have sufficient water. "For seven years, there has been water scarcity. Girls struggle during menstruation due to water scarcity and use limited water to bathe and wash clothes. Students were targeted when they shared their problems with wardens," she said.

Investigation and checks by officials

Ever since incidents of food poisoning were repeated in hostels in the Chitradurga district, the district administration took the initiative to check the food quality supplied here.

Zilla Panchayat CEO MS Diwakar formed a team of officials and directed them to check the quality of food by consuming it with the students, videographing and posting them so that quality is maintained. The checks by officials, including the deputy commissioner, are so frequent that evasive replies cannot be given by hostel wardens or cooks. Since the checks, the quality of food has improved drastically, say students.

Shivamogga ZP CEO ND Prakash told TNIE that a meeting was conducted last month on improving hostel conditions. "We instructed wardens to provide facilities without fail. The condition of hostels has improved," he said. Wardens have been instructed to ensure that food provided to students is of the best quality, said Belagavi DC Nitesh Patil.

Patil told TNIE that social welfare officers have been asked to check food quality in all hostels, and if found to be of bad quality, to send it back. He said that in all ways, food quality is not compromised. Patil also said that wardens were instructed to maintain cleanliness in hostels.

Manjunath, Hassan SWD Deputy Director, maintained that there was no fund crunch for providing food and basic amenities. Students are provided with quality food as per the menu and senior officials often supervise this. Hakkappa Lamani, Hassan BCM officer, said steps will be taken to provide security for boys' hostels and their complaints will be addressed soon.

(Inputs from Donna Eva, G Subhash Chandra, Ramkrishna Badseshi, Arpitha I, Tushar A Majukar, BR Udaya Kumar, BK Lakshmikantha, Divya Cutinho and Prakash Samaga)

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