“Food for the hungry, water for the thirsty, blankets for the cold and bed for the weak is the meaning of freedom,” Finance Minister Thomas Isaac quoted the words of Malayalam poet Balachandran Chullikkad to introduce the state government’s new proposed project for public welfare — Hunger-free Kerala.
Presenting the annual state budget on Friday, Issac said that the Kerala government has allocated Rs 20 crore towards this scheme.
Under this scheme, the government proposes to supply free food to bedridden patients at their residence and to set up 1,000 Kudumbashree-operated hotels to provide meals at Rs 25. Additionally, 10 percent of the meals will be provided for free in these outlets with the help of sponsors, and for this purpose, the Civil Supplies Corporation will provide rice and other food materials at a subsidised rate.
“At a time when India is dropping in the Global Hunger Index, in order to make Kerala a hunger-free state, the government had proposed this scheme in the last budget. The Department of Food and Civil Supplies finalised the scheme necessary to realise this initiative,” Finance Minister said.
Volunteers from various non-profit organisations, too, have been roped in to execute the scheme.
As a pilot project, the Hunger-Free Kerala scheme will be implemented in two taluks of Alappuzha district — Ambalappuzha and Cherthala. The government is working towards declaring the two taluks hunger-free by April. “By 2020-21, the scheme will be extended to other parts of the state,” the Minister added.
Kerala's hunger-free initiatives
Interestingly, at the heart of this proposed scheme is another on-going project called ‘Hunger-free Mararikulam’ in Alappuzha. P Krishna Pillai Memorial Pain and Palliative Care Society has been running the project since December 2017, with the help of Alappuzha MLA and Finance Minister Thomas Issac as well as voluntary organisations.
Under this project — which started as an extension to its palliative care work — bedridden patients and poor people in and around Mararikulam are being served free food, delivered to their houses by volunteers. The project is implemented in 80 wards of four panchayats in the district. The expenditure is met through sponsors.
“It was after seeing the success and quality of Hunger-free Mararikulam that the Finance Minister proposed something along these lines, the Hunger-Free Kerala in the 2018-2019 budget,” Vineethan, the general convenor of P Krishnapillai Smaraka Charitable Trust, told TNM.
“This is, in fact, Thomas Isaac’s model, which we are implementing,” he added.
Explaining how the Trust’s project is different from the current proposal, Vineethan said, “In addition to the idea of giving food for all, the government also proposes to create centers for those who don’t have access to food and give them food at a subsidised rate.”
Incidentally, according to the NITI Aayog's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) India Index 2019 report, Kerala was among five states to be ahead on the 'zero hunger' parameters.
In 2009, the Kerala government launched a similar initiative called the Hunger-Free City scheme, which provides highly subsidised meals to the public at designated centres in a city, once a day. “It is aimed at ensuring that no person in the city goes without at least one square meal a day,” reads the website of Kerala Social Security Mission, which implements the scheme. The pilot project began at the Kozhikode Medical College, where 2,500 people, including patients and bystanders, are provided free lunch. It is now being implemented in Malappuram, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram.