Amma canteens a boon for underprivileged

On an average, 10 lakh people eat in these eateries in different parts of Tamil Nadu

Amma canteens a boon for underprivileged

At 7 in the morning, a large number of people wait outside a building for its door to open. The moment it opens, people stand in a queue to buy tokens for the breakfast. They have breakfast and walk out with a contented face and with the satisfaction of saving money also. The scene in front of canteens, called “Amma Unavagam” across Chennai and many other cities is the same on all days.

Why people queue up outside the canteen run by the Tamil Nadu government? The prices are dirt cheap and almost a fraction of what other hotels charge. Unbelievable it may sound. Each idli is priced at just Re 1 while hotels charge anywhere between Rs 5 to Rs 10 an idli.

Initially, only lower middle class and labourers visited the canteens and now even the high-heeled and students frequent the place for breakfast served for four hours from 7 am. After a two-hour break, they open again to serve sambar rice (rice and
sambar mixed) or some other rice for Rs 5 a plate and curd rice a plate between 12 noon and 3 pm.

Pandiyan, a 30-year-old auto driver, is happy that he saves nearly Rs 55 a day on breakfast and lunch. “I would spend Rs 70 on breakfast and lunch and they were not filling. Now, in less than Rs 15 I have my breakfast and lunch.” 

His views are shared by thousands of people in Chennai and other cities in Tamil Nadu. The canteen, popularly known as Amma canteen, was recently launched by Chief Minister J Jayalalitha. These eateries are meant for the poor like slum dwellers, daily-wage labourers and migrant workers.

“Idli and sambar rice are very good and the quality is on par with other high-class hotels,” K Lakshma­nan, who is working in a multi-national company, said. He claimed that he is not only saving money but also need not carry lunch box regularly.

“For a daily wage labourer, spending a mere Rs 18 a day on hygienic breakfast and lunch of 5 idlis, two plates of sambar or other variety rice and a plate of curd rice is probably a better option than buying PDS grain, vegetables, pulses, oil and fuel and cooking food at home which involves a higher outlay of money and time,” B Kumarasamy, a painter, who came to Chennai for a better life, said.

S Lakshman, who works as a security guard in a commercial complex in Chennai, is a regular at the “Amma” eatery from the beginning of the launch.

“I earn around Rs 11,000 a month and I can have two affordable meals daily. Now, I am able to send about Rs 6,000 to my family staying in a village at Ramanathapuram district,” he said.

Each idli weighs about 100 gm while the variety rice is around 350 gm. Many feel disappointed as canteen is not allowing “take away” for now.

An official claims that on an average 10 lakh people eat in these eateries. The canteens have been opened in Coimbatore, Madurai, Trichy, Tirunelvelli, Tuticorin, Salem, Erode, Vellore and Tirupur.

With prices soaring, the canteen project has given a boost to the image of the AIADMK government. Even opposition DMK, which utilises every opportunity to take a dig at the government, has been silent on the issue.

Kumarappa, a manager of a popular Udupi hotel in Chennai, said that Amma canteens have revealed that restaurants have been fleecing customers. “Most of the hotels make more than 100 per cent profit on each plate. With Amma canteens offering food at such low prices, the hotels would have to sacrifice on profits, if they have to compete,” he said. Hotels are also now trying different varieties of food to attract crowds.

“We have spent about Rs 6 lakh per canteen. The revenue in the last seven months has crossed more than Rs 15 crore. It is a no-profit venture,” says a senior official from Corporation, who is in charge of the canteens in the city.

He told Deccan Herald that when these canteens start offering dinner from next month and with an expanded menu, including chapatis, they will become even better.

“At present, there are about 200 canteens in Chennai and 100 in various districts. Officials from their respective regions have been asked to identify space for an additional four canteens in each ward to achieve the target of 1,000 “Amma” food outlets in Chennai alone by year-end,” he added.

According to him, mobile “Amma” canteens are also expected to be rolled out in the city soon.

However, the corporation, which is the nodal agency to monitor, procure raw materials and manage the canteens, incurs a loss of 86 paise on an idli. Sambar is given free of cost with the idlis. The

Corporation procures cooking gas at commercial rates of Rs 1,780 per cylinder. The task of purchasing vegetables and getting ingredients for sambar are the most challenging aspect of the operation, the official said.

“Now that the canteen is up and running successfully, it is important to look at its long-term challenges,” noted political analyst S Kesavan.

He said the scheme should not get shelved by the new government. “In Tamil Nadu, various welfare schemes being withdrawn after new dispensation takes charge is not new,” he added.

Another innovative move by the government has been to ensure these joints are managed by women self-help groups with about 12 of them managing each canteen. The civic body already employs 2,400 women in the 200 existing canteens.

At a time when food inflation is going northward, the “Amma” vegetable outlets have also become a hit in the state. The shops are set up as a market intervention measure by the government to control the rising vegetable prices.

More than 30 farm fresh vegetable outlets in Chennai have chipped in to support the government’s “no-loss” venture. Vegetable is sourced directly from farmers and sold at prices up to 40 per cent lesser than market prices. “Soon “Amma” (Jayalalitha) will announce further enhancement of this scheme,” said a senior government official

Recently, Jayalalitha also took her “Amma” brand a step further by launching a scheme to provide one litre of drinking water at Rs 10 as a way to provide clean water to the poor. She also unveiled a state-run water plant that can bottle 3,00,000 litres of water daily, near Chennai.

As per the scheme, the purified water in one litre bottles would be made available in buses on long distance routes, at local bus terminus and bus terminals here. Accordingly, the transport corporations would sell a litre of bottled water at Rs 10 as against Rs 15 by the Railways and Rs 20 by private players.

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