As Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay is one of the elite academic brands of the country, so to be a part of it in any proximity for millions in the country is no less than a dream come true. Given the intellectual stature of the institute, it is fairly obvious that students, research scholars and learned faculty form the major chunk of those millions. But the significant point which seeks attention and became one of the crucial rationales behind this writing is an interview with a corn vendor in the campus who, surprisingly, was also one of those millions who strived to be a part of IITB, at least in the minimal proximity.
As we move from the electrical maintenance division building at T-point to hostel one, on the left hand side, near the third streetlight, under the tree, one can find a corn vendor. Since these vendors come under informal and unskilled labor, injustice permeates in the everydayness of their life. Hence, I tried to peep into his life and gauge one of the premier academic institutes from his view point by personally interviewing him.
Rajkumar is an unlicensed corn vendor who used to put up his stall outside the main gate of IITB before entering the institute. Troubled by the local goons and harassed by the policemen outside the campus premises, he made up his mind to put up his stall in the premises of the institute. He failed to do so, given the unaffordable and stern financial requirements in the tender for opening up an eatery in the campus. After getting in touch with one of his close associates in the campus, he was able to join the institute as a corn vendor on April 1, 2013. In the beginning, he was permitted to sell corn in the campus for three months on the humanitarian grounds; hence the institute did not charge him a monthly rent. Taking cognizance of his deprived socioeconomic condition, his permit was continued. But when gymkhana elections took place in March 2014 and new general secretary for hostel affairs joined in, his permit was discontinued for two months due to procedural complications with reference to the policies regarding tender and contract renewal.
When he ran from pillar to post in the administrative corridors of the institute to save his livelihood, his permit was renewed. It therefore was a bolt from the blue for him when he received a notice from the Estate office of IITB in the month of November 2014 which declared that he mandatorily has to pay a monthly rent of INR 1200 for the space of 4*4 feet beside the footpath under the tree which he was using for putting up his corn stall. To add to his distress, the notice issued to him was applicable from the month of August 2014, which meant that apart from paying the monthly rent for the month of November, he mandatorily had to pay an amount of INR 3600 for the last three months of August, September and October in one-go.
“In the beginning, he was permitted to sell corn in the campus for three months on the humanitarian grounds; hence the institute did not charge him a monthly rent.”
With reference to the products in his stall, he is just permitted to sell two products of corn: roasted corn and boiled corn, which he sells at INR 20 and INR 25 respectively. His absolute profit after selling roasted corn is INR 3, and INR 5 for each unit of boiled corn. Though he has repeatedly urged the administration to allow him to also sell coconut water which could facilitate him in extra earning, his repeated requests to sell coconut water have proved to be ineffective. On being asked about his family, he apprised that he stays in a 6*16 feet room which cost him approximately INR 60,000, out of which INR 50,000 was spent for purchasing the space for room and 10,000 for buying construction material, He is the only bread winner for his family and has seven mouths to feed, with an unemployed wife and six children, which includes five school going daughters and one son who is about to join school.
Now the question arises- what is at stake and where do we go from here? On one hand institute strictly adheres to the principles of quantitatiive economics and legitimate rules when it comes to outsourcing certain services of the campus to ensure not only the security and welfare of the students but also guarantee the credibility of the bidding entities that provide their services in the campus. On the other hand, adhering to same stringent framework supplants the very ethos of the humanitarian principles which could have facilitated a corn vendor in making his living. Analysing this case, one can primarily figure out four stakeholders: students of the campus, legal bidding entities as per the rules of the institute, I.I.T.B. administration and a corn vendor. Each stakeholder, irrespective of her or his socioeconomic orientation, ideally should have an equal access to justice. Given the complexity of the debate due to diverse socioeconomic orientation of the stakeholders, the very idea and access to justice to even one stakeholder would be a tradeoff with other three stakeholders.
Detailing it further, IITB administration has to mediate between the principle of price regulation to facilitate pro-student facilities on one hand and basic principles of market, which can minimally support the legal bidding entities in the market, on the other.
As mentioned above, Rajkumar was permitted to sell corn on humanitarian grounds even when he was unlicensed,without needing to pay any rent. Definitely, this position can be defended on both- the grounds of affirmative action and humanitarian principles. But the question which seeks attention is that, just like the legal entities bidding to offer their services in the campus conform to profit principles even in the highly regulated system and make up for monthly rent as decided by the IITB administration from time to time, equivalent to profit principles, Rajkumar’s corn stall is also facilitating his sustenance in the market. Hence he must also apparently need to make-up for the monthly rent. Shielding him on the grounds on poverty would be too naive, given the poverty scenario of our country. on one hand and on a personal note, I feel that everyone is relatively poor, in terms of economics in particular and several other ways in general. For example disability and gender bias can be comprehended as two forms of several other forms of poverty. Given the campus reality, as far as my knowledge is concerned, during my stay, in the last one and half year, I personally have not come across even one campus eatery where the contract have been given to women or differently abled.
With reference to this debate, the myopic notions of justice can only ensue into disagreement amongst various stakeholders. To maintain the efficiency of the system, one needs to have a synergistic attitude and broader conception of the concepts. Given the diversity in the stakeholders with reference to this case, orientation of each stakeholder regarding the idea and access to justice would be very subjective and normative. To ebb the consequences of injustice, there is a dire need to acknowledge the varied and subjective forms of justice in a legal jargon. Though adhering to subjective and varied forms of justice in a legal jargon seems to be a mirage on a prima facie note, but given our humanitarian academic orientation on one hand and institute’s potential to unravel the societal problems on the other, we can see that IITB is attributed by efficacious and prudent administrative mechanisms. When this particular case is gauged under the lens of access to justice, one can discern that the considerate and judicious demeanor of the administration has been successful enough in mapping common platforms amongst diverse stakeholders: students of the campus, legal bidding entities as per the rules of the institute, IITB administration and a corn vendor- not absolutely, but definitely in a relative manner. While the prices in the campus are strictly regulated to cater to the needs of the students, they also have enough financial margin to facilitate the survival of the bidding agencies in the campus. In the first year, the corn vendor was exempted from monthly rent; it gave him enough time to establish himself in the market. When he was issued a notice to pay the monthly rent, undoubtedly he saw it as a financial drain. But it also brought him at par with bidding entities who could have accused the system of being unjust. In this way, IITB administration streamlined the normative and subjective ideas of justice and delivered it in the form of plurality in justice.