Private hostels have become a lucrative industry. Sadly, the hostel owners, in a quest to maximise profits, often compromise on basic services
Every year, hundreds of people from different parts of the country come to Lahore for various purposes including job hunt and higher studies. Very few are able to get governmental or institutional accommodation and other facilities; most of them are left to the mercy of private hostels.
No wonder, private hostels have become a lucrative industry. The sad part is that the hostel owners, in a quest to maximise profits, compromise on the basic services at their facilities. Very few of them understand the connection between quality services and profit.
The boarders, having no other choice, are condemned to live in poor conditions which sometimes cost them a huge personal price.
Most residents of hostels attribute problems such as bad food and hygiene quality to the lack of a regulatory body and a lack of interest on the part of the government.
Sohail Wazir, a student from Bannu, tells TNS that last year he got sick with hepatitis. “My doctor told me that it was due to unhygienic food that I had eaten.
“Hepatitis can be fatal. It could have killed me. The hostel administration refused to accept the blame for my condition,” he says.
“Clean drinking water is a basic human right,” says Amjad Mehdi, a student activist from south Punjab. “Come to think of it, the water filters weren’t replaced for years at our accommodation.”
Waqar Alam, a school teacher, is of the view that most hostels are “run by very young people who lack any administrative experience. Hence, the myriad issues. What’s more, the owners don’t know how to resolve these issues.”
Most of the boarders are students whose main issue is rents. Due to lack of regulation, the owners charge at will. Qaiser Javed, a hosteller at a facility in Barkat Market, urges on the government to “establish a regulatory authority that will deal with the owners and restrain their greed.”
A majority of hostellers come from middle-class and lower-middle-class backgrounds, they cannot afford luxury flats. Hostel owners take advantage of this fact and conveniently overlook the issues at their facilities. Some are ‘glad’ to charge more from the students.
At most facilities, the inmates are bound to pay for the food whether or not they consume the meals. This is often tricky business. Because of poor food quality, some hostellers choose to eat outside, but still they are forced to pay for (hostel) food. As such, they end up spending twice on food alone.
The hostel owners claim that they take complete care of all the needs and requirements of their customers, and make sure their stay is peaceful and comfortable. “I too live at this hostel. I make sure the food quality is good, because at the end of the day I am also consuming the same food,” says Ali Haider, a young hostel owner. “I have kept all the receipts to show where I buy the food from.”
According to Haider, his hostel has a cleaner who keeps the place tidy and clean. “Our residents are very happy with the kind of services being provided to them.”
At most facilities, the inmates are required to pay for the food whether or not they consume the meals. This is often tricky business. Because of poor food quality, some hostellers choose to eat outside. They are still forced to pay for (hostel) food. As such, they end up spending twice on food.
“Everyone has their preferences and taste palettes; it is not feasible to offer everything that is made under the sun,” says Ahsan, a hostel warden. “We try to keep the spice level around medium so that everyone enjoys the food.
“We also change our water filter every fortnight during the winters and once a week in the summers,” he says.
A common complaint is regarding the room AC bills. Every room has a separate meter which counts the number of electricity units consumed by the air-conditioner in that very room. Students often complain that they are charged more than twice per unit by the administration. Currently, most hostels are charging Rs 30 per unit. A student, not wanting to be named, says the official price is “almost Rs 15 per unit, which is half of what we are being charged.”
Due to financial mismanagement, most hostel employees are not paid their salaries at the beginning of the month. Gul Zaman, a 60-year-old cook at a private hostel, says, “I haven’t been paid [the salary] for the past three months now. I’m a poor man, and I’ve a family to look after; we cannot make both ends meet if I am not paid for my work.”
In the final analysis, despite all their issues, private hostels are the only refuge for thousands of students and job seekers. Also, it’s a business that provides employment opportunities to hundreds of people. If solid steps are taken for their regulation, they can prove safe and healthy places to stay at.
The writer is a freelance graphic designer. He tweets @Ehteysham1