Amid fears of Indira Canteen being shut down, Siddaramaiah warns of backlash
The fate of former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah’s flagship Indira Canteen hangs in the balance, the outgoing head of Bengaluru’s civic body warned on Tuesday, sparking a sharp reaction from Siddaramaiah on Wednesday.
The scheme, launched in 2017 by then Congress president Rahul Gandhi, aimed to provide cheap meals for people across the state, with a major presence across the state capital, where there are 191 canteens.
On Tuesday, N Manjunath Prasad, the outgoing commissioner of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, said there were no funds to run the scheme as neither the state government nor the civic body had allocated funds for it.
“A decision should be taken to either run this with the money of the BBMP or the state government, else this scheme cannot be run,” Prasad said. The canteens serve breakfast for Rs 5, lunch and dinner for Rs 10 and is estimated to have dished out around 15 crore meals in the two years since the launch.
Prasad indicated that even the previous Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) coalition had not provided ample funds for the scheme. “I wrote three letters from January to June asking the state government to earmark Rs 210 crore for the scheme, but to no avail,” he said.
The latest controversy over the scheme has erupted just days after chief minister BS Yediyurappa ordered an investigation into alleged irregularities in the scheme, saying this decision was based on “complaints that subsidies meant for the scheme were misappropriated to a large extent”.
On Wednesday, Siddaramaiah said the Congress would be forced to protest if this continued. “Indira Canteen was launched to benefit the poor,” he told reporters in Belagavi, where he is on tour visiting flood-affected areas.
“In total, this scheme might require Rs 200 crore in Bengaluru and another Rs 200 crore across the state,” Siddaramaiah said. “The state Budget is Rs 2.34 lakh crore. What concern do they have for the poor if they can’t even spare Rs 400 crore from this amount? The government must immediately give the money,” Siddaramaiah said.
He added that he had been informed that the government had stopped the funds and the BBMP had decided to run the scheme. “The grants for this scheme should come from the state government,” he added.
Later, he took to Twitter to criticize the state government. “Is your tummy so full that you are ignorant about the poor man’s hunger? Or does your party cater to only elites’ appetite? We shall never tolerate any attempt to axe down Indira Canteen,” he said.
“Karnataka [government’s] budget is more than Rs 2.3 lakh crore and is [Yediyurappa] finding it so difficult to accommodate Indira Canteen program by providing just Rs 300-400 crore? If the needy are not entitled to subsidized food, even the privileged representatives should be denied subsidies,” Siddaramaiah tweeted.