HYDERABAD: Osmania University might be completing 100 years of its existence but when it comes to its kitchens, modern approach, labour welfare, fire safety or labour laws, nothing seems to apply. In about 10 mess kitchens in Osmania University where firewood is still being used as cooking fuel, the cooks - for a monthly salary of `9,000 - take the risk of getting grievously injured in fire accidents everyday.
A visit to one of these kitchens made it amply clear the kind of risk the cooks take everyday, as they shove wood into furnace while cooking, work in kitchens having black greasy walls with no fire extinguishers and poor ventilation.
All this is done, three times a day. Minor burn injuries are common among the cooks. Kitchens turn into furnaces in afternoons due to extreme temperatures released by burning wood.
Burning firewood as fuel is also a health hazard. As per World Health Organisation (WHO), exposure to pollution from burning wood increases risk of pneumonia, stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
Syed Ameer, who has been working as a cook since more than a decade says, “I have problem of sinusitis and have been taking treatment for that. The smoke from burning wood keeps aggravating the issue. I have problem in eyes as they burn due to exposure to smoke.”
S Lakshman, another cook says, “The utensils which get damaged are not replaced quickly. Sometimes if there is small whole in the cooking utensil, oil leaks into the furnace and suddenly a ball of fire emerges. We try to cover it by dough but it does not stick for too long. LPG is used for dosas stoves. However, flame gets out from the stove and sometimes burns our stomach. We complained many times but to no use.”
Praveen, another cook says, “There is no support from university if someone gets injured. Around a month ago, a woman cook in ladies hostel got her hand crushed in grinder while making dosa. While she received no compensation or medical support from the university, she did not even receive salary as she was home recuperating.”
Women work as support in the mess kitchens work for 11-12 hours for just around `6,000 per month. As part of their daily work they have to even peel around 4-5 kilos of red chilies everyday and grind them which leaves their hands burning. They also have to grind spices to make masala for curries. All this just because the university does not want to spend more money on buying ready made chili powder.
Principals of colleges and the wardens deal with hostels and messes. When contacted, arts college, principal, prof T Krishna Rao, principal of arts college said, “If government provides money to modernise the mess kitchens, the university will do it.” An official from Ladies Hostels, said, “The university finds it costly to use LPG for cooking. There is no mechanism for providing compensation to someone if they get injured in kitchen.”