Express press service
KOCHI: Among the rising cost of living in the city, the only section that is suffering helplessly is the student community, which depends on hostels and doesn’t have much to spend. They are left with few options other than choosing a hostel or paid accommodation.
While boys have better choices for staying in rented houses or apartments, many girls don’t have that option from their parents, who are worried about their safety. Indeed, they end up in places that serve expired food or food prepared in unsanitary conditions, compromising quality.
The owners of these installations are left free for lack of regular control. Food safety authorities have expressed helplessness over the lack of staff, but have promised to take immediate action if complaints arise. Besides the classic hostels, many paying accommodation establishments also operate in the district, especially around the educational institutions.
Prarthana (name changed), a management student at a Kochi institute from Idukki, suffered food poisoning at a fee-paying facility near Kakkanad. She complained to the owner of the house, who lives with her family in the same complex. “Over the next few days, the quality of the food improved, but it didn’t last long. When I informed my parents they advised me to move to a nearby hostel as there was no solution to fight on my own so I moved to another hostel where some of my friends had been staying “, she said.
The same was true for Najma, a journalism student. In previous accommodation they only served a very small amount of food and were very expensive. “They will only serve two chapatis for dinner, and there was no option to get food outside every day. So, I moved to this hostel. Although there is no shortage of food, the kitchen is unhygienic and every time we enter the kitchen at night there are a lot of rodents and other creatures. Food poisoning was reported but no action was taken afterwards,” she said.
The boys in his classes have chosen to rent an independent house and bet on nearby hotels. “They have the freedom to stay alone or in groups, without security personnel, which is not applicable for most female students and we are forced to depend on these hostels. Some are ready to hire a cook or a housekeeper, which is not affordable for all of us,” Najma added.
Local bodies, including the company, have no solid record of how many of these facilities are operating in Kochi. According to the officials of the food safety department, those who register online with the food and catering establishment are authorized to operate paid inns/lodging establishments and their license is similar to that of hotels.
However, when checked, they are normally exempted and only hotels and restaurants are subject to regular checks. Dr Rani Chacko, nodal food safety officer in the district, said all complaints are treated equally and will never discriminate between small and large establishments.
“Anyone can file a complaint online by spending 100 rupees. Establishments need to register only if the annual turnover is more than Rs 12 lakh. There is no separate listing for hostels. All of them, including hotels, fall under one section – catering. Some prepare their own food or contract it out to some catering staff.
In the district, including the deputy food safety commissioner, there are only 15 officers. Among them, in a circle (an assembly constituency) there will be only one food security officer, who will be responsible for all catering establishments in it. Thus, regular monitoring of each of these establishments would be a difficult task. The nodal officer said they are raising awareness with the help of Kudumbashree members to identify black sheep.