New Delhi: Days after IIT-Madras had to shut down its campus after 60 people, including students and staff members, tested positive for Covid-19, prominent universities across the country are still struggling to keep their campuses free of the deadly virus.
Some campuses have resumed physical functioning and started calling in students, but others are waiting for state/central government directives to do so.
While the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) has decided to reopen with 300 students in two shifts of 150 each from January next year, JNU is yet to come up with a comprehensive plan of opening up. The university has only called in students from the science stream so far.
Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), meanwhile, hasn’t opened up the campus for students officially yet as its medical college has been turned into a Covid-19 facility.
JNU has 700 students currently staying on campus
Dean of Students, JNU, Professor Sudheer Pratap Singh, said they are trying their best to ensure that there are no Covid breakouts in the campus.
“We are struggling to meet the demands of the students and follow the government orders at the same time. Not only do we have to take care of the students coming back, we also have to ensure safety of the faculty and their families living on the campus. The task at hand is daunting because we all know it is difficult to control the spread in hostels because of shared toilets and eating areas,” he said.
Singh further said they are “following government directives”. “We have only opened the science labs where a limited number of students are permitted. The labs are sanitised every week and whenever a case is detected, we make sure that the rooms are sanitised,” he added.
Singh said they have been organising monthly Covid check-up camps on campus and have kept the district administration in the loop. “We will open the campus only when the health ministry issues directives and protocols to do so,” he added.
Aishe Ghosh, the president of the JNU students’ union, told ThePrint science students have been coming to college since June because they need to use the lab in order to finish their courses.
“While the hostel was shut during the lockdown, students took to PGs and rented accommodations near the campus,” she said.
“Since September, science and PhD students have been called back to the campus, but they have not been asked to quarantine or no testing has been carried out. We have sent several notices, requesting the administration to call back the students in a phased manner, but they are not paying heed to our suggestions,” she said.
The students’ union has demanded to call back students in batches at a gap of 15 days so that each batch has the time to quarantine.
Regarding the logistics, Ghosh said: “Since classes are being taught online, the college buildings are lying vacant and can be used as quarantine facilities.”
As of now, JNU has 700 of its nearly 7,000 students currently living and studying on the premises.
Singh said students are being served food in the common canteen, which they are supposed to take to their rooms and eat. This was, however, contradicted by Ghosh. “We’re not getting any food on the campus. None of the dhabas on the campus are open either,” she said.
AMU catering to Covid patients
In AMU, its medical college has been converted into a Covid treatment and isolation facility that has been serving people of eight villages nearby, said Faizul Hassan, former student union president.
“As of now, there has been no official notice to open the campus due to the medical facilities that the students of AMU have been providing,” he said.
“Out of a total of 22,000 students, about 8,000 are currently living on the campus. These are those students who couldn’t go back during the lockdown. Some students have also come back in the last few months,” he added.
Hassan said that since the university has not opened up officially, the mess hasn’t opened up yet either. “All the students who are living on the campus are cooking their own food and eating,” he added.
“… the university will issue a formal notice (of opening up) only once the UP government and the health ministry issue guidelines for opening,” he said.
The university authorities have not yet taken any steps to ensure physical distance between those living in the hostel. Students said whatever precautions are being followed are self-imposed.
ThePrint reached AMU Vice-Chancellor Tariq Mansoor through calls and messages for a comment, but there was no response till the publication of this report.
BHU hostels to open after 15 January
BHU students, meanwhile, told ThePrint their hostels are likely to open after 15 January. They are expecting that rooms with double occupancy will now have single occupancy.
Regarding food arrangements, a first-year Masters student, who didn’t want to be named, said: “During the lockdown, for students who stayed back, the cafeteria was closed but dry ration was provided to them. Ration like dal (pulses), chawal (rice) and atta (flour) was provided in our rooms and we were expected to cook in our rooms.”
However, some students said the quality of dry ration was not good and they hope that the arrangement is better this time when they return to their campus.
The university, in its notification issued on 10 December, stated: “We have taken the Centre’s Covid guidelines into consideration and will open our college after the semester-end examinations are over. The exams are to commence on 5 January, 2021. In order to maintain distance, 300 students, in 2 shifts of 150 each, will attend college daily.”
ThePrint reached BHU Vice-Chancellor Rakesh Bhatnagar through calls and messages, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
With Inputs from Kritika Sharma.