Will meals at cheaper rates solve the problem of hunger in the country?

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Nearly a year after the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NMC) launched its first Rs 10 per thali kiosks in north Delhi on a pilot basis, it now plans to develop 500 more such kiosks across parts of the city that come under their jurisdiction. Nothing would bring more cheers to the poor people of Delhi than this that they would get meals at cheap rate very easily.  A similar project was undertaken by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation as well and it is expected that it will be implemented in other municipal zones of Delhi also. Whenever such initiative is undertaken, it is perceived as a populist measure having political undertones and more so when 2019 elections are not far away.

However, Delhi’s cheap meal scheme is not a first of its kind. The NMC’s thali project, is just an extension of the Jan Aahar scheme launched by former CM Sheila Dikshit. The pilot thali project, meanwhile, was launched on December 25 (former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birthday) last year under the Centre’s Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Antyodaya Yojana. By December 2018, NDMC believes that these 500 kiosks would serve the poor across 104 municipal wards.

For a place like Delhi, the scheme to provide cheap meal is just the need of the hour. Not only significant number of people in Delhi are below the poverty line, many migrant daily wage workers come from far flung areas of the country in search of work but do not have the capacity to buy meal for themselves from the restaurant.

The scheme of providing meal at a cheap rate is not something that is known only to Delhi. It has been launched in many parts of the country and is successfully running. To be fair, the scheme first had its beginning in Tamil Nadu in 2013. The state’s former Chief Minister Jayalalitha’s scheme of starting Amma Canteen where poor people are served sambhar and rice only for Rs 5 was had become talk of the country. Amma Canteen still serves food to more than 3.5 lakh poor people daily at the lowest possible cost and is a major contributor to the overall cost of living in the city.

The success of Tamil Nadu’s Amma canteen led its neighbouring state Andhra Pradesh to replicate the scheme and implement its ‘Annapurna Scheme’.

Odisha’s ‘Ahar Yojana’ is also similar to these schemes under which cheap lunch are provided to the urban poor at five rupees. It was inaugurated on April 1, 2015 by the Chief Minister of Odisha Navin Patnaik on Utkal Divas. The scheme has been applauded at various forums.

Rajasthan also has a scheme that provides breakfast for Rs 5 and lunch and dinner for Rs 8.

A similar scheme has been launched in Uttarakhand. Uttar Pradesh too is trying to emulate the successful ‘Amma canteen’ model of Tamil Nadu to provide heavily subsidised nutritious breakfast, lunch and dinner to the economically weak people.

These scheme on the one hand provides a cheaper and a good option to poor people to fill their stomach and on the other, it provides a support to migrant labourers and workers making them food available within their means to sustain themselves.

But, the success of such schemes will be ensured only when there is no compromise on the quality of food that is served and most importantly that it does not get embroiled in the bureaucratic red tapism and corruption.

It is encouraging that the scheme that started in south India is gaining acceptance and being widely replicated in north India too. It is a litmus test for these states as to how well it can manage the scheme.

There are many charitable and religious institutions in the country that provide food to the needy and poor, but they can do so to only limited extent and to limited number of people. But, if we see the other side, this situation should not arise at all. It is the government who should shoulder the responsibility to ensure to provide cheap meal to the needy and poor.  But, any such scheme should only be a temporary arrangement. The endeavour should be take our economy to a level where each and every citizen of the country could procure food for himself.