When the new Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adityanath began the controversial “anti-Romeo” drive, many --- fearing vigilantism --- remarked that the CM should instead spend his energies on devising an ‘anti-hunger’ drive. It seems the CM has heard them: According to media reports, the UP government is planning to start cut-price canteens for the poor. Under the ‘Anapurna Bhojnalya’, the government will provide breakfast and afternoon meals priced at Rs 3 and Rs 5 respectively. The idea is not new: Former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav launched a pilot project for providing subsidised meals to labourers at construction sites. However, the scheme did not take off. In Punjab, the government will charge Rs 13 for a meal to be made available in its state canteens on the lines of the original cheap canteens, the Amma Canteens, started by late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa.
While the UP government has not come out with the final plan for cheap canteens, logistically speaking, the outlets would probably be in the urban areas, at least in the initial phase. In fact, targeting the urban poor is critical since the overwhelming focus in India seems to be on the rural poor.
But increasingly urban poverty is becoming a serious problem as the world urbanising at a rapid scale.
In 2014, the global urban population was almost 3.9 billion, and it’s expected to reach 6.3 billion by 2050. This trend is especially pronounced in India, where the World Bank estimates that up to 55% of people lived in urban settings in 2010, far more than the official rate of 31%.
The problem is that while people come to cities hoping for employment and a better quality of life, most end up with low-wage jobs in the unorganised sector, and live in slums, which have little or no access to basic services such as water, sanitation, power and waste management.
It is not surprising then that one in six urban citizens in India live below the poverty line. According to a recent Global Food Policy Report released by the Washington-headquartered think-tank International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), due to rising migration to cities, rates of poverty are shrinking faster in rural than urban areas.
“A higher proportion of rural residents are covered by social safety nets than urban ones,” the report added. For the urban poor, expenses on food comprise a large share of their total expenditure, but they are mostly dependent on the vagaries of informal employment.
In such a scenario, putting a safety net in place for the urban poor, as the UP government is planning is a positive move, which, if implemented properly, can work wonders to alleviate poverty.