September 27, 2012

Another brick in the wall

An email sent by the students of a running batch of General Purpose Ratings training at a DG approved institute in Delhi has gone viral. That may be an overstatement, actually, because nothing connected with shipping- the invisible industry- is on anybody’s radar long enough to really go viral. Whatever; the email was forwarded to me by four different sources on the same day on the second weekend of this month.  

I will not name the institute, for reasons I will explain later.

Forwarded emails are often suspect and usually exaggerated. Unfortunately, although this one may well be overstated, I fear that it is genuine enough at the kernel. Sent to a dozen senior officials at the DGS, MMD, IMU and Board of Examinations for Seafarers Trust (that conducts both entrance and exit examinations for GP Ratings trainees), the letter is addressed to the DGS and begs (the words “humble request” are used) that the abysmal conditions at their academy- infrastructural, academic, faculty related, administrative and the woeful state of ‘placement’ related issues- be addressed. The subject of the email says it all-“Please Help All the GP Ratings of July 2012 Batch.”

Of the fifteen points listed in the missive, many relate to infrastructure. The allegation is that the institute has an absence of even basic facilities, and suffers from leaking roofs leading to flooded dormitories and wet bunks, worms in the swimming pool, dirty stinking toilets that are almost never cleaned (with just one bottle of Harpic being issued every month for the purpose), dangerously low ceiling fans above the upper bunks and unbearably hot and humid classrooms. These accusations would be bad enough, but worse follows- no drinking water in the dormitories and none available at night, presumably since the main building is locked. Unhygienic, insufficient and substandard quality of food is another.  

I don’t completely buy the convenient reasoning that some institutes put out in response to such complaints, which says that future seamen should be used to harsh- even hostile- living conditions. There is no excuse for keeping trainees underfed and malnourished anyway. But even I would perhaps grudgingly accept this facile argument if the training at such establishments was even remotely acceptable. It is often not. “Most of the classes are not conducted and we are always subjected to cleanship” (euphemism for cleaning or maintaining the institute) even during class hours, allege the students in Delhi. Claiming that the library and computer lab are never available to them and are in fact being used by another non-maritime institute, the accusations go on to say that faculty  is insufficient for training- which is why, perhaps, so much time is spent on cleanship.

Complaints from the students and their parents fall on deaf ears or elicit veiled threats from the administrators, says the letter. An administrator is quoted in Hindi saying that he- a rich man- will kill the students and make their bodies disappear and nobody will even know. A Director at the institute dishes out abuse and threatens expulsion and the destruction of careers, students say, adding that he has ‘mercilessly’ beaten earlier trainees. Large amounts have been taken from the students for arranging jobs - the widespread racket that is called ‘placement’ - but nothing is done. “We are frightened to know all the past facts from our instructors, teachers and the students of previous batches,” the email says. “You (DGS) are our last hope…. This training environment (is) not teaching us anything rather threatening us daily and we are living in a very poor and pathetic condition.” 

I have, after much thought, not named the MET institute, mainly because I do not know if all these allegations are true. You can decide whether it sounds like the truth, fabrication or exaggeration; I will only say that all that is actually the secondary issue here. 

The fact is that such conditions exist in more than a few maritime institutes across the country, and everybody knows that. The fact is that it is unimportant whether those appalling conditions exist in that particular institute in Delhi, because they exist elsewhere, and I will bet the last shirt off my ageing back that they are much more widespread than you or I imagine.

All maritime institutes approved by the DGS that conduct GP Ratings courses are subject to strict guidelines regarding infrastructure, course structure, hours of tuition, syllabus, equipment- and almost everything else. Each deficiency mentioned in the email, for example, concerns something that the DG s examines before initial approval, and at each annual audit thereafter- or surprise audits that it can choose to conduct anytime. The institute must keep proper records of everything. At these audits, it is common for surveyors to examine dormitories for liveability, toilets for cleanliness, general infrastructure, lesson plans and records of classes conducted by each faculty- who are not supposed to teach more than so many hours a day. I have seen DGS surveyors examining everything from classrooms, equipment, dormitories, faculty credentials, wiring, fan heights, toilets, faculty sufficiency, their appropriateness and their hours of work. I have seen them going through student feedback forms. It seems impossible that a MET establishment can run like the one in Delhi is alleged to have; it seems inconceivable that an institute can function with glaring deficiencies under almost every head of the DG guidelines. But many do.

Why? Short answer- this is India. There is not enough space out here for the long answer.

 I am beyond anger here, and well into despair.  For imagine a 17 year old youngster, little more than a child, just out of the tenth grade wanting to make a career at sea. His unschooled poor or lower middle class parents are thrilled when he gets through the common entrance examination. They take a loan to fund his training, content that the subsequent career will make the loan repayment easy. The youngster joins a DG approved institute; if this is like the one described in the email I have been talking about, he is bewildered and increasingly disheartened at the conditions and lack of training. He hears disturbing stories about joblessness in the future, but it is too late, because another loan has been taken by the time he graduates- this one for ‘placement’. His parents are now in hock for a figure that can be rounded off to half a million rupees, counting interest. 

Two years later, he is still jobless and has abandoned all hope. The interest on the loan is still being repaid, with no end in sight.

Just imagine. Imagine all that.

Now imagine if that boy were your son.



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