Insist on safe hostel accommodation

GETTING accommodation in a hostel attached to a college is as difficult as getting admission to an educational institution of your choice. However, that should not make you overlook the poor and unsafe conditions that exist in many hostels around the country. After all, you are paying for the accommodation and it has to be safe in all respects. In the absence of stringent safety and quality standards and their enforcement, you, as the consumer, need to demand and ensure that the place is safe in all respects. This applies to paying guest accommodation for students and working people, too.

First and foremost, the building has to be safe. The staircase, if any, has to have proper railing. The windows and balconies should be secure and safe. The electrical wiring should be of good quality and safe. In fact, the quality of electrical wiring is of paramount importance and there should be no compromise here. It is equally important to have proper maintenance staff to correct any problems that may arise in respect of power supply lines and their installation.

Similarly, the bathrooms should be equipped with geysers. In their absence, in many hostels students use immersion rods that are not very safe, particularly in the absence of proper electrical wiring. It is equally important to provide a proper fire escape route in case of a fire. There should be an adequate number of fire extinguishers. In fact, the building should comply with all the requirements that render it fire safe. 

Action can be taken under the CPA against the hostel authorities that do not comply with minimum safety standards
Action can be taken under the CPA against the hostel authorities that do not comply with minimum safety standards

To hostels that do not comply with these minimum safety standards, I would suggest that you quote the Consumer Protection Act and underscore the fact that under the Act, you can haul up those who provide hostel facilities for deficient service, and in case of any accident caused as a result of the negligence by those providing the service, you could well demand huge compensation.

Let me quote an order of the Delhi state consumer disputes redressal commission to highlight the grave consequences of unsafe accommodation. The order should also act as an eye-opener for hostels that pay no attention to safety.

The case goes back to February 7, 1994, when T.Manimala, a research scholar doing her PHD in agricultural economics, met an untimely and tragic end at the Mandakini hostel situated on the campus of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in Delhi. On that fateful day, all she did was to touch the geyser to switch it on.

What was most tragic was that for over a year, the students had been complaining about the poor electrical wiring installed in the hostel, but the hostel authorities had not bothered to rectify it.

The victim of this callous indifference to safety was Manimala, the only child of her parents. Following her death, when Manimala’s parents took the matter to the court, the institute argued that it was the CPWD which was responsible for the construction and maintenance of the hostel and even though they had complained about the electrical wiring and installation, the CPWD had not bothered and, therefore, the institute cannot be held responsible.

Dismissing this contention, the state commission pointed out that there was no denying the fact that it was the duty of the CPWD to maintain the premises, electrical fixtures and fittings and the institute was paying them a large sum of money for the purpose. However, that cannot absolve the institute of`A0contributory negligence as it was incumbent on the institute to see and inspect the services provided by the CPWD and ensure that they were safe and without any shortcoming.

The commission here also pointed out that the safety of all the wards in the residential hostel was inherent in the contract of service between the students and the hostel authorities. Since any shortcoming in the electrical wiring or gadgets put the life of the user in danger, it was the duty of the hostel authorities to ensure that they were absolutely safe. By failing to ensure this, the institute was guilty of negligence.

The commission, therefore, directed the institute to pay the parents Rs 10 lakh as compensation, in addition to Rs 5000 as litigation costs. The institute shall be entitled to recover 50 per cent of the compensation money (Rs 5 lakh) from the CPWD, which was responsible for the maintenance of the electrical fittings, the commission held (Shri Trimulaswamy vs Director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute).