Security crunch ruins varsity's plans for 24x7 lab access

Without adequate security, the university vice-chancellor’s dream of providing round-the-clock lab access to research students has become unfeasible; only a few departments keep labs open till 10 pm

It was possibly with fond recollections of his own days as a scientist, that Dr W N Gade, vice-chancellor of Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU) announced early this year, that the varsity would keep its 80 science laboratories open round the clock to promote research culture and uninterrupted work. But the truth is, with half its security force missing, the university is hardly up to the task of ensuring safety for the students who choose to work late.

Savitribai Phule Pune University
The university had announced in January that it would keep its science labs open round the clock, but has so far failed to live up to its promise. File pic

On January 6, mid-day had reported the VC’s popular decision to provide round-the-clock access to the science labs on campus (24x7 science labs at UoP to give research a boost?), to motivate doctorate and post doctorate students to concentrate on their projects without the hurdle of an official closing time. Even then, it was anticipated that the university would have to increase its security four-fold to be able to provide such a facility.

mid-day's report on January 6
mid-day's report on January 6

The university has about 80 research labs across all its scientific departments, and ideally, an equal number of guards is required to ensure adequate protection to the students and the equipment as well. However, for the past six months, the university has had only half of the 250 security guards its needs across the campus.

In fact, according to the SPPU security officer, M S Kedari, there are barely 50 guards available to patrol all of the 411 acres of the campus at night. Understandably, the security force is overwhelmed, and hardly capable of paying special attention towards labs that operate through the night.

Kedari said, “I don’t have the exact data on how many labs operate during late hours, as till date, I have not received any such proposal of providing security during night. But in the current situation, we cannot provide separate security guards for each and every department anyway. However, I can ensure one guard for a group of three to four laboratories.”

Most departments decide individually, whether or not to keep their labs open at night. The Microbiology department was amongst the first to start keeping labs open till 10 pm. The department made the decision as far back as 2013, allowing students more time to work at the science lab or use the computer lab.

The department’s students have been running the initiative on their own, with the help of biometric technology synchronised with the lab’s main door. This ensures that the door can only be opened by an authorised thumb impression, and, at any point of time, there is always a record of who is in the room.

Other departments have also realised that they need similar plans to keep labs open till late hours, if not through the night. Dr D D Dhavale, HoD of Chemistry department of SPPU said many research students in the department prefer to continue their research long after official timings, and are allowed to work in the labs till 10 pm.

“For several months, I have been requesting the varsity administration to provide security guards, as well as to close down multiple entrances to the department, to ensure the safety of students who continue their research till late evening. I know the financial constraints that limit round-the-clock security for the department. But, the university should at least ensure that there is a single entrance to the Chemistry department, along with biometric thumb impression verification, to ensure adequate safety,” he added.

“To ensure the safety of students, we have made it mandatory to work in groups, and we strictly do not allow individuals to carry out research on their own. It is also the responsibility of the concerned PhD guides to take care of their students,” Dhavale said.

SPPU registrar Dr Narendra Kadu said, “After the contract with the earlier security agency ended in March 2014, the varsity has been short of 125 guards. Due to some technical reasons, we were able to fill these vacancies earlier. But now we have again floated a fresh e-tender, and within a month all these vacancies will be filled.” Meanwhile, Kadu recently sent out a circular intimating all research students that they would need prior permission from the concerned department authorities, before they could conduct research activities after official timings. “Collecting data from students is a routine procedure to ensure their safety during night hours,” he said.

And how do the students feel about all of this? A doctorate student from a pure science department said on the condition of anonymity, “As we have specific deadlines to complete particular projects, it is really necessary that we have access of labs 24x7. But we also want assurance of our safety. I have never seen any security guard outside our department when we continue our work till late evening. In such circumstances, how can we stay through the night?”

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