From Amma Canteens to Annapurna Rasois: Low price kitchens mushroom across India
Economists deride them as populist measures that burn a big hole in the budget, but more and more states across the country are rolling out soup kitchens for the poor. First popularised by the late J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister, the canteens selling hot wholesome meals at subsidised rates are an instant hit.india Updated: Dec 20, 2016 07:55 IST
Economists deride them as populist measures that burn a big hole in the budget, but more and more states across the country are rolling out soup kitchens for the poor.
First popularised by the late J Jayalalithaa, Tamil Nadu’s former chief minister, the canteens selling hot wholesome meals at subsidised rates are an instant hit.
Besides the food, the kitchens also have proven to be a great recipe for accruing political goodwill for those in power.
Last week, Rajasthan became the latest state to launch its own scheme.
HT reporters visited the kitchens across several states, to taste the meals and the mood.
“This is as good as one can get,” said Surendra Soni from Alwar, as he gorged on Gehu ka Mitha Khichda (porridge made of wheat) being served hot at a mobile kiosk outside Jaipur’s SMS Hospital.
“I come to the hospital regularly for health checkups and this new scheme has turned out to be boon for us. The food available here is way cheaper than that of SMS Hospital canteen. Add to that, the food is tasty and hygienic,” Soni explained.
Part of a government-initiative just a week old, the word has spread and long queues are already beginning to form in front of mobile kiosks at various spots of the state capital. Named Annapurna Rasois, the scheme offers breakfasts at 5 rupees and meals at 8 rupees a plate.
The menu offered is simple and the staple includes Besan Gatta Pulao, among other items. The kiosks parked at different locations will offer ready to eat food in 12 cities of the state.
But the rush has also meant some disappointment. “I wanted to have the meal but couldn’t get it as the van ran out of food,” lamented Ramnarain Bairwa. He has to wait his turn.
Amma Canteens – or Amma Unavugam in Tamil – are the best known symbols of former chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s largesse. “But for them, we would have all starved,” said Prem Ravishankar, a labourer.
Much of Chennai and the state were crippled by Cyclone Vardah last week, but the 400-odd canteens meant the poor did not go hungry. “Here, you can eat like a king for five bucks,” grinned Ravishankar, referring to the average cost of a lunch.
The menu is uncomplicated: idli and pongal for breakfast, three varieties of pre-mixed rice dishes for lunch, and chapattis served with daal for dinner. The chapattis come for 3 rupees each with free daal.
The canteens launched in 2013, and costing around Rs 300 crores every year, are hugely popular.“I walk 3 km every day to have my meals here. They are a lifesaver for people like us,” said Priya S, a daily wage earner.
A pioneering welfare scheme, many states are now trying to emulate the Amma Canteens. A delegation from Egypt visited the state in 2014 to study the model.
Odias love their ‘dalma’ – a watery mixture of lentil and boiled vegetables — and the ‘Ahaar’ centres serving them piping hot with rice at just 5 rupees a plate have proven to be a big draw.
Though meant for the poor, the 111 centres serving lunch in all 30 districts of the state have even white-collar employees lining up before them. “The rice may be a bit coarse, but the food is tasty,” said Biswajit Sahoo, a corporate executive in the town of Bhadrak, who takes off his tie each time he goes to buy a token for a meal.
From Balasore in the north to Malkangiri in the south, the Ahaar centres are also fodder for renewed political mudslinging. The opposition calls them a cheap gimmick, a charge rejected by the BJD of chief minister Naveen Patnaik. “It’s our most popular scheme,” said Priyadarshi Mishra, a ruling party MLA.
NTR Anna Canteens are to Andhra Pradesh what Amma Canteens are to Tamil Nadu.
Launched in June, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu christened the scheme after ex-chief minister and his father-in-law, N T Rama Rao. But the presence of ‘Anna’ (big brother in Telugu) in the name suggests he too is eyeing an Amma-like status for himself.
NTR Anna Canteens are already feeding hundreds of government employees who have recently relocated from Hyderabad to the state’s new capital Amaravati. “The quality is good, though the taste could have been better,” said Krishnaveni, a secretariat employee.
Meals for 5 rupees are available at 50 kiosks in Hyderabad since 2014. “At present, they feed to 15,000 people daily and the subsidy per plate works out to 15 rupees,” said Hyderabad Mayor Bonthu Rammohan Rao.
The meal of rice, sambar and pickle is frugal, but the dividend, apparently, rich. The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s convincing victory in the municipal polls earlier this year, when it won 100 of the 150 seats, is credited to the subsidised meal scheme. It is, therefore, not surprising that the government is planning to start 100 more canteens in the next year.
But government staff is not exactly complaining. Yet to be built, Amaravati is still a cluster of villages and the canteens offer them a change of taste and cheap food. Breakfasts cost five rupees while lunch prices vary from 6.50 to 7.50 rupees.
Government subsidy per plate comes to 40 rupees. It is , however, going ahead with plans to set up 35 such canteens in Guntur, Visakhapatnam, Tirupati and Anantapur.
Though not as well known as Tamil Nadu’s Amma Canteens, Jharkhand’s ‘Mukhyamantri Dal Bhat Yojana (chief minister’s dal rice scheme) has by far been the oldest of soup kitchens run in the country.
Former chief minister Arjun Munda started 370 centres in 2011 to feed the poor in the drought-hit state. They mostly closed down some years later for want of money, but the government relaunched them in January this year.
“The food is cheap plus less oily,” said Sunita Kumari, a middle-aged woman savouring a meal at the centre near a prominent Ranchi hospital. Around 22.5 lakh people are being fed and the government spends Rs 25 crore annually.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is planning to launch his own version of subsidised canteens next year. Chouhan said healthy meals would be sold for Rs 5 under what is to be called ‘Deendayal Kitchens’.