Atal canteens a boon for people from lower strata
For Satish Kumar, a vegetable vendor at Karnal’s grain market, the day begins at 7am and ends in the evening around 6pm. This usually leaves him with little time to prepare lunch for the day. Till about two months ago, his only option was to eat at nearby dhabas, which cost him about ₹50 per day. Even if he chose to go home for lunch, the auto ride would cost him around ₹40.
All that changed when the Atal Canteen came up in the grain market. Costing just ₹10 per plate, the canteen provides a heart meal of four chapatis, rice, dal and seasonal vegetables for lunch. Customers can also opt for laddu, salad and lassi for an additional ₹5.
“The canteen not helps me save ₹40 a day but also helps me save time. I don’t have to go outside the mandi for lunch now, which means my business is also benefitting from this,” says Kumar.
Launched by chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on December 29, the canteen at Karnal grain market is first one to be opened in the state. Following this, five other canteens, including one more in Karnal, were opened in the state. The other canteens are in Panchkula, Bhiwani, Fatehabad and Nuh.
SOURCE OF LIVELIHOOD
Run by self-help groups under the Haryana state rural livelihood mission, the canteen at Karnal grain market employs 15 women. The government pays them ₹15 for every plate sold.
The only challenge they face is that sometimes, catering to the huge demand becomes difficult. “When we started, we used to serve about 300 people a day. Now, the number has gone up to around 600 a day. It becomes difficult for us keep up the quality and speed of service,” said a worker at the canteen, on the condition of anonymity.
The customers, however, are very pleased with the service. “The quality of food is so good, we don’t have to bring lunch from home,” said a commission agent.
The only complaint they have is that it is open only for a fixed time (11am to 3pm). “The canteen should be open all through the day as it is not possible for us to buy food in the fixed hours,” said a labourer.
At the Karnal cooperative sugar mill, the canteen has evoked is a similar response. Rajesh Rani, a worker at the canteen says, “This canteen opened on February 7. We currently serve at least 400 people a day. Following the positive response, we are planning to start providing tea, breakfast and dinner too.”
THE FLIP SIDE
While the labourers are happy they are getting quality food at a reasonable rate, the private dhaba owners say their business has been hit. “This canteen has ruined our business. Now, no one comes to us for food. We only sell tea,” said a worker at Ravi Dhaba, located opposite the sugar mill.
“We cannot provide food at ₹10. The government should also think about the poor dhaba owners,” he added.