Aline Treesa is a post-graduate student in commerce at the Government College at Munnar in Kerala's Idukki district. But for the last one year, she has been attending classes at an engineering college, in the same town.
Aline is one of the 410 students who depend on Munnar Engineering College for their studies, after a series of landslides destroyed the Government College buildings in 2018.
"Our college was destroyed in last year's landslides. Now classes are being held at Munnar Engineering College's mechanical engineering workshop. Hence we are going there everyday," said Aline.
The Government College at Munnar was destroyed when a portion of the hill behind it caved in on August 16, 2018. Mud, rocks and water enveloped the newly-built academic block, students' hostel, staff quarters and the pump house. Later, the government declared that the landslides rendered the buildings unsafe and classes should not be conducted there.
A year has passed since the landslides, but the education department has not initiated any plans to re-build the college. The department's inaction has left students and teachers high and dry.
"We lack a proper academic environment," said Dr Manesh, Principal-in-charge.
The college was set up in 1995 mainly to cater to the socially and economically backward students - children of tea plantation workers - in Munnar.
Munnar is a town in the Western Ghats, and is famous for sprawling tea plantations.
The college, affiliated to the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, has been offering undergraduate courses in mathematics, economics, Tamil and commerce, apart from post graduate courses in commerce and economics.
After the landslides, classes resumed at the Munnar Engineering College, which lies 3km from the landslide-hit college. But the temporary strucure lacks many basic facilities.
Class rooms in this asbestos-roofed building are partitioned with plywood boards. "Lecture from one class can be heard at least three classes afar," said Amal, the chairman of the college students' union.
Ann Maria, a third year economics student, said rain always plays spoilsport during the classes. "Asbestos roof makes heavy noise during the rain forcing the teachers to suspend the classes," she said, and added, "We are living like refugees in the engineering college."
The college's administration wing, computer lab and store room are functioning in the nearby hostel run by the Scheduled Tribe Development Department.
No library, no restroom, no hostel
The college had a library with a huge collection of invaluable books. After the landslides, the books lie unattended at the abandoned building and the college authorities could not move the books to a new place due to unavailability of a building.
Little wonder, then, that many students have not seen the college library. Some of them, however, hope to see it before finishing their courses. "I have not seen the library yet. I am referring textbooks given by the teachers," Aline said.
The workshop does not have restrooms and students have to walk for 15 minutes to access the facility in the engineering college building.
In the absence of hostel accommodation, students from economically weaker sections have to shell out huge amount of money for daily commute from their homes to college and back.
Selvarani, a physically challenged student, pays Rs 150 every day for autorickshaw. "I cannot walk up the hill, so I am hiring autorikshaw everyday. I hope the college will get a hostel soon," she said.
Teachers too expressed their anguish about the fate of the college. "Everybody knows how bad the situation is, but no one is trying to resolve the issue," said Dr Preetha, Assistant Professor of Tamil.
College at a landslide-prone area
The college was hit by two major landslides since its inception.
The first landslide occurred in 2005 - exactly 10 years after its inauguration – following which the college was shifted to a hostel of the Scheduled Tribes Development Department. The college continued in the temporary facility for five years. With the government ignoring pleas for a new campus, the college authorities decided to go back to the landslide-hit location in 2010. In the next eight years, many new buildings – class rooms, seminar hall, administrative block, ladies hostel and Principal's quarters - came up the landslide-hit site.
However, all the buildings were destroyed in the landslides on August 16, 2018, a few days before inauguration.
"The college did not function on August 16 (the day of the landslide) as a huge boulder blocked the entry to the campus. It saved the lives of students and teachers," principal-in-charge Manesh had written on Facebook.
Despite being in a landslide-prone area, no one seems to know how the authorities allowed building construction inside the campus.
"I heard that the is not safe. It is not clear why the college was built there," said Munnar gram panchayat president Karuppuswamy. "I think it is futile to talk about it now. What we need now is a new college," he said.
Experts said entire Munnar region is prone to landslides.
"A Geological Society of India study found that Munnar is an unstable place," said Rex, a Public Works Department engineer, who is involved in the construction of Kochi-Dhanushkodi road, which passes in front of the Government College in Munnar. "I think authorities have not conducted studies before sanctioning the construction," he said.
A study by Sajinkumar K S, Assistant Professor at Kerala University, and Thomas Oommen, Professor at Michigan Technical University in September 2018 found that recurrent landslides in Munnar were man-made.
A few others wondered why landslides were not reported from the 24,000 hectares of plantations owned by Tata Tea Limited.
Abraham Mathew, a consultant at the Tata Tea Museum said the tea plants bind the soil together preventing erosion. "To top it trees are planted in between them in plantations. These trees not only help cut down the intensity of wind and water hitting the land, but also help build humus (the organic component of soil, formed by decomposition of leaves and other plant material) in the soil," he said.
Land and fund availability
Even as the students and teachers of the college wait for a new campus, a debate is going on about the availability of land and funds.
"The government is willing to sanction funds for a new college, but the difficulty is to find a revenue land in Munnar. We need a minimum of 12 rooms apart from an auditorium and a playground," Manesh said.
But Karuppuswamy said there is plenty of land in Munnar. "Fund crunch hinders the college reconstruction," he said.