Students belonging to the backward classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Visakhapatnam will soon have hostels of their own, a team of district officials assured protesting students at a rally conducted by the Student Federation of India (SFI) on the 6th Decemeber.
Thirty-eight activists of the SFI, who were on fast for the last five days in front of the Collectorate here demanding that the government solve the problems relating to hostels and other issues, called off their protest following an assurance from district officials that the issues that could be solved at the district level would be addressed to immediately.
The officials, including additional joint collector Narasinga Rao and deputy director BC welfare department Srinivasa Rao, said the DRO had been asked to identify land for the construction of the buildings. About 5,000 students from over 31 hostels have been agitating over issues pertaining to the upkeep and running of the hostels for the last couple of days.
L Satyavathi, an inmate of BC Hostel at Isukathota and SFI activist, said that inmates have been suffering over the past one year due to the indifference of the authorities. "Out of about 31 hostels spread across the city, 19 are set up in rented buildings. The welfare department has not paid the rent for the past one year and the owners, instead of dealing with the authorities concerned, have been threatening to evict us. At times they also cut power and water supply to harass us," she said.
Member of Legislative Council from the Graduate Constituency, North Coastal AP, MVS Sarma, alleged that the government was aware of the situation but was deliberately not doing anything to resolve it. "In reality they want to phase out the hostels and hand them over to the private sector. To get the attention of the government, the students had to take up an agitation," said Sarma. Apart from the building issue, the students said they have been facing scores of other problems. Most of the hostels are supposed to be managed by students. Earlier each of the student was being paid a paltry sum of Rs 520 per month to cover their expenses for breakfast, lunch, dinner and other things like laundry and stationary. Due to the meager amount doled out, students said over the last six months they were often forced to skip their breakfast and cut down on eggs and plantains, which were supposed to be provided at least three days a week. "There were days when we did not even have sufficient rice to cook and had to depend on starch," said Ganga Rao of SFI.
The authorities have now enhanced the amount to Rs 1050, but no one knows from when it will be implemented, said Satyavathi. "Even Rs 1050 is very low compared to the rising prices," said Sarma.
The hostels, be it for girls or boys, do not have adequate bathrooms. One bathroom has to be shared by at least 25 inmates. The windows and doors are broken and the security aspect has been completely ignored. There is also no running water and facility for safe drinking water is missing in most of the hostels. It may be recalled that a year ago there were two deaths due to water borne diseases.
However, the additional joint collector said on Wednesday that the concerned departments such as BC welfare and SC and ST welfare would take up the pending issues on a war footing. "We would not only focus on constructing our own new buildings but also take up repairs and maintenance and provide filtered and treated water facility to all hostels," said the additional joint collector.n While the authorities have agreed to almost all the demands, we will have to wait and watch to see whether it will translate into action or if it is just a ploy to quell the agitation, said CPM district secretary Ch. Narasinga Rao.
Among the students who went on fast were SFI State vice-president Jagan and city secretary Chinnari.
CPI(M) city secretary B. Ganga Rao, district secretary of UTF Y.A.R.K. Prasad, and DYFI leader B.A. Naidu expressed their solidarity with the students.