Following in the footsteps of Amma Canteens in Tamil Nadu and Indira Canteens in Karnataka, Thrissur is on a mission to provide its citizens subsidised meals at Rs 20 under the state governmentâ€™s Hunger-Free Kerala programme. Alappuzha and Thiruvananthapuram have also launched versions of the programme, which is set to launch in earnest next month.
Intriguingly, while the programme is a state government initiative under the 13th Five-Year Plan and in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, different districts in Kerala follow different methods of enacting the project. Some districts, like Thrissur, will provide meals at subsidised rates and deliver meals to the elderly, as in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, while others, like Alappuzha, operate on a largely charity based model, with customers being allowed to pay whatever they can, or nothing at all, for a meal a day, in addition to delivering meals to certain identified beneficiaries.
When the project launches in Thrissur in a month, citizens will be able to purchase a hot and nutritious noon meal for Rs 20.
The subsidised canteen service aims to begin by serving lunch at a subsidised rate Rs 20. It currently aims to provide 1,000 meals a day, but the number will be reassessed according to demand once the project kicks off. Menus are still in the process of being decided, although it will serve home-style food.
Minister of Agriculture VS Sunil Kumar told TNM, â€śSpace for a kitchen will be allocated to the project by the Corporation, and the kitchen will be large enough and equipped to cook for 1,000 people per day. So far, Rs 1.5 crore has been earmarked for the project.â€ť
The minister also detailed how they hoped to keep costs down in the project, â€śAs the land will be given by the Corporation, cost will be saved there. Moreover, the Ministry of Agriculture through Horti Corp will provide vegetables at highly discounted rates, the civil supply services will provide subsidised rice and spices, and Milma will provide subsidised milk as well.â€ť
The project will also cater to bedridden senior citizens living around the city of Thrissur. It has identified 46 such houses, where hot meals will be delivered in thermal containers. Citizens can also purchase coupons that will be sold in prominent areas to purchase a number of these subsidised meals for those who cannot afford to pay Rs 20.
As in other districts that have rolled out this programme, in Thrissur too Kudumbashree workers will be involved in the project. A Kudumbashree official told TNM, â€śThe project was launched to make sure that no one in Thrissur would go hungry, and is scheduled to be set up in Thrissur Corporation limits. Kudumbashree workers will handle the preparation of the food, which will be homely and nutritious. As of now, we have designated a team of 20 who will work in shifts for this project.â€ť
The Hunger-Free Kerala project was first launched successfully in Alappuzha on 1 January, 2018. Alappuzha District Collector S Suhas told TNM that in Alappuzha, the project runs a little differently than the planned scheme in Thrissur, and from the governmentâ€™s side, is aimed entirely at those too old or unwell to cook or get their own food.
â€śThere are two kinds of schemes. Firstly, we have kitchens in different locations, like a new one to be opened in the Alleppey Municipality building, and kitchens in Mararikulam South, Cherthala, Mannancherry, Aryad, Muhamma and other areas. Here, they prepare food and pack them in casseroles. We have a list of beneficiaries from the Social Justice Department â€“ old people who donâ€™t have children to look after them â€“ and they deliver it to the listed beneficiaries. The afternoon meal is prepared and taken directly to them,â€ť the Collector said. The quantity of food provided by noon is enough to last for dinner as well, and the meal tends to consist of rice, thoran, aviyal, sambar and pickle.
Given the terrain of Alappuzha, full of backwaters and water bodies, itâ€™s possible that this model of delivering food directly was adopted because it would be easier for the government to deliver the food to various beneficiaries, as opposed to people travelling through the watery district to a central location.
Suhas continued, â€śThe second part is restaurants that work on the hunger-free concept. People can come and purchase a prescribed type of meal as decided by the restaurant for this scheme and they can pay Rs 20 or Rs 15 or even less if thatâ€™s all they can pay. Itâ€™s commonly known that there are a few restaurants that work on this scheme, so people come there.â€ť
Suhas added that the restaurants under the scheme â€śreceive materials from the government, like rice and other things,â€ť which allow them to provide meals to the hungry without incurring high costs themselves. He also mentioned that local politicians, like current Kerala Finance Minister Dr Thomas Isaac, contribute to this effort through charitable donations to participating NGOs and restaurants.
â€śMainly the money the government gives is for the kitchens that prepare the food to be delivered to the beneficiaries,â€ť said Suhas, â€śAnd at the same time some NGOs are running restaurants under the same banner.â€ť
Contrasting Alappuzhaâ€™s scheme with the way the programme works in Thrissur as a subsidised canteen, Suhas explained that in Alappuzha, â€śunder our model, we are not selling anything. Itâ€™s not a business-model, itâ€™s more of a charitable model.â€ť
In Thiruvananthapuram, the programme is being taken forward purely as a subsidised canteen and does not involve delivering food to the homes of those who need it.
â€śThis project is for whoever wants to have cooked food for a very nominal price, especially those who go for work and poor working women. The food is prepared at a central kitchen and then moved to another location, where it is sold at extremely reasonable rates, between Rs 10 and Rs 20. In Thiruvananthapuram, itâ€™s currently being run by the Kudumbashree unit,â€ť District Collector Vasuki said.
She added that different districts have adopted different models under the Hunger-Free Kerala programme, and that while broad guidelines have been issued to each district, â€śthe main criterion is pricingâ€ť. As it is an experimental project being launched district by district, different districts are trying various approaches that suit their immediate and budgetary concerns best.