The Panjab University authorities have closed down the only functional mess on campus and have sent letters to the parents of the students currently residing there, asking them to call their wards home, as the university is not ‘liable’ for the students’ health.
The letters, issued by the wardens of respective hostels in the last week of September to the families of the students currently residing on the Panjab University campus, state, “The number of Covid cases is increasing day by day on PU campus, including hostels, and your ward is a resident of this hostel and is still residing here during the pandemic. The situation is already alarming and it is very difficult to cope with the situation. Those currently staying in hostels are also not outside the pandemic situation. There is also the problem of safety, arranging food et al. In case of any mishap, the university authority will not be responsible.”
Reacting to the letters, a student said, “At a time of widespread distress, the university which is supposed to be a safe haven for students is plotting to oust them. They could have directly told us to vacate, but that would be wrong. So they closed down our mess and threatened our parents citing a situation.”
The letters were reportedly posted to the parents of the students staying on the campus after Dean Student Welfare (DSW) S K Tomar wrote to the wardens of all hostels directing them to “inform the parents… that they should call their wards back home till situation becomes normal”.
The decision to send the letters was followed by the closure of the only functional mess at boys’ hostel no. 6 on September 28, which was serving roughly 100 students who had stayed back or remained stranded when the lockdown was imposed.
Dheeru Yadav, a visually impaired research scholar at the Centre for Human Rights, has been left in the lurch. “It has been almost a week since our meals were stopped. We try to order from outside but it is problematic too. The fear of contracting the virus along with added expenses are taking a toll. The Centre has permitted the research labs to begin work from October 15 onwards. It is only 10 days away. Then why was this arbitrary decision taken? Only to get the hostels vacated?” he asked.
Citing the university responsibility towards him, Dheeru said, “The UGC in a letter issued in late March had directed all universities to provide accommodation and safety to students in hostels while ensuring healthcare, safety, accommodation, food and hygiene. Being a visually impaired student, as per several circulars and guidelines by Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, the university holds a responsibility to ensure my necessities are looked after. The PM has promised food to 80 crore people but university does not want to feed 100 of us.”
Dheeru along with other current residents have approached the PU administration several times but to no avail. They state the mails sent by them to the Vice-Chancellor have yielded no response.
The DSW, when contacted, said, “Yes, we have closed down all messes of the university. The exams are over and very few students are currently residing in the hostel. It was no more feasible to tend to them. Several of them are not even paying for the food being taken. It is a regular phenomenon that after the end of exams, the mess is closed down and there is a reallocation of the tenders. We are going through that process.”
He added, “Four of our hostels are quarantine centres and we are trying to get them vacated by the administration so we may be able to slowly make the university functional to gear up to become fully functional.”
On the letters being sent to the families of students residing in hostels, he said, “Those who are in exit classes should vacate the hostels even without notices since their course is over. They cannot say it is Covid so we will not go out since all students are anyway wandering here and there without taking care of anything. They can go to the markets but do not want to go home.”
“As for PhD scholars, all institutions had been closed. The research scholars were not called by their departments. They were only held up at a time when there were no transportational means. It was a kind of help (permitting them to stay at hostels and providing them food) but now things have opened up. Shouldn’t they go home now? As and when university opens, we will let them know,” the DSW said.
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