KOCHI: Among the rising cost of living in the city, the one section that suffers helplessly is the student community, who are dependent on the hostels and do not have much to spend. They are left with not many options other than choosing a hostel or a paying guest accommodation.
While boys have better choices to stay in rented houses or flats, many girls are not given that option from their parents, who are concerned about their safety. In effect, they end up in places that serve stale food or food prepared in unhygienic conditions, compromising on quality.
The owners of such facilities are left free due to the lack of regular checking on them. The food safety authorities expressed their helplessness due to staff shortage, but they promised to take immediate action if a complaint is received. Apart from the regular hostels, a lot of paying guest accommodation facilities are also functioning in the district, especially around the educational institutes.
Prarthana (name changed), a management student in an institute in Kochi who hails from Idukki, suffered food poisoning at a paying guest facility near Kakkanad. She complained to the house owner, who lives family in the same compound. “For the next few days, the quality of food improved, but it did not last long. When I informed my parents, they advised me to shift to a nearby hostel since there was no solution to fight alone and hence I moved to another hostel where some of my friends had been staying,” she said.
The same was the case for Najma, a journalism student. In an earlier accommodation, they served only very less quantity of food and charged high. “They will serve only two chapatis for dinner, and there was no option to get outside food everyday. So, I moved to this hostel. Though there is no shortage of food, the kitchen is not hygienic, and every time we enter the kitchen during night, there are a lot of rodents and other creatures. Food poisoning was reported, but no measures were taken after that,” she said.
The boys from her classes opted to take an independent house on rent and bank on the nearby hotels. “They have the liberty to stay alone or in groups, without security personnel, which is not applicable for most of the girl students and we are forced to depend on these hostels. Some are ready to hire a cook or house help, which is not affordable for all of us,” Najma added.
The local bodies, including the corporation, do not have any solid records of the number of such facilities functioning in Kochi. According to the officials at the food safety department, those who register online under the food and catering establishment are authorised to run the hostels/paying guest accommodation facilities and their licence is similar to that of the hotels.
However, during checking, they are normally exempted and only hotels and restaurants face regular checking. Dr Rani Chacko, nodal officer for food safety in the district, said all complaints are dealt with in the same manner and will never discriminate between small and big establishments.
“Anyone can register a complaint online by spending Rs 100. The establishments need to register only if the annual turnover is above Rs 12 lakh, There is no separate registration for hostels. All of them including the hotels come under one section -- food service. Some prepare their own food or outsource it from some catering agents.
In the district, including the food safety assistant commissioner, there are only 15 officers. Of them, in one circle (one assembly constituency), there will be only one food safety officer, who will be responsible for all food services establishments there. So, a regular check on each of these establishments would be a tough job. The nodal officer said that they create awareness with the help of Kudumbashree members to identify the bad apples.