Monday, 23 May 2011


Now this thread was started off by an extremely friendly mess server at lunch today. While his friendliness was only surpassed by his garrulity, he did raise some very interesting points, on the economics of that lifeblood of engineering colleges everywhere, the mess. See, running a mess, on a day to day basis, is now fast becoming, economically unfeasible.

Now it may come as a surprise to you, but most mess workers are poor. Not in the BPL, <2200 kcal a day poor, but seriously, money wise, destitute. This is because the scope of earning any real money as a mess worker is severely limited. But, what is even more interesting is how the government now, is making a mess The calculation is a simple one. Now, the average mess charge for each student comes out to be around 1700 a month, for my mess. Which means, for an average of 100 people eating in that mess daily, the folks running the mess would be able to earn 170000 rupees a month. Now I think around 30% of that would be overhead and salary, and 2% profit, with the remaining 68% going into sourcing food, dishes, taxes(maybe), etc. So it's the 30% that we are concerned with anyhow.

30% works out to be around 51000 a month. And while mess workers are paid differently, according to a very complex hierarchy, we can assume two salary bands, one for the people who actually cook the food, and the other for the servers/cleaners etc. Lets assume that the people in the lower band earn 40% less than those in the higher band. That would leave 31,875 rupees for the higher paid workers, and 19,125 for the lower paid workers. Now there are about 5 workers responsible for cooking the food, and around 6 responsible for the cleaning and serving.

And this means, that while the maharajs or those cooking the food earn a fairly decent salary of 6,500 rupees a month, those responsible for the cleaning and menial chores, earn only 3,175. This would have been okay, except for the MNREGA, which gurantees employment to every individual, at Rs 120 a day, for 100 days. This works out to be 12000 for the entire period, or 3600 a month. Following this, many states have decided to increase their minimum salary requirements, and in those states the price of manual labour may reach 200 for a day's work. Which is an astronomical 6000 a month.

This means, that although the effort required is much less, there is a significant decrease in interest in mess labour. Most workers look at the money first, and work later, and as such, feel there is much more reward to be had in hard core manual labour. This results in a considerable shortage in mess labour, which, paradoxically reduces the profits of the mess, as it results in an increase in the diet charge, which in turn results in a reduction in consumers.

Another factor which has a direct impact on the mess is inflation. And while the diet charge cannot be increased beyond a particular limit, there is no such boundary for the price of vegetables. And although potatoes are the staple for all such messes, the ravages of untrammeled inflation have not left this vegetable untouched either.

This in turn results in the messes of our hostels turning unprofitable, which means there is now a real danger of a famine ripping across academia, which also means that students might suffer from debilitating hunger soon, with no solution in sight.

Not from a lack of food, food is still being produced, stored improperly in silos, and rotting away. Not from lack of food.

But from the lack of people to cook it for us.

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