Siddaramaiah, in his fourth budget as Karnataka Chief Minister, has launched Namma Canteens—Our Canteens—ahead of the Assembly elections in 2018. Similar to the Amma Canteens launched by J. Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu when she was Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Namma Canteens will serve breakfast for Rs 5, and lunch and dinner for Rs 10 each. 198 Namma Canteens will come up in every ward of Bengaluru city corporation. With a budgetary outlay of Rs 100 crore this year, the government has earmarked Rs 50 lakh for the setting up of each canteen. The menu comprises idli-vada and lemon rice for breakfast and the traditional bisibele and curd-rice for lunch.
The announcement, coming ahead of the elections and days after the embarrassment Siddaramaiah’s government faced on the alleged diary entries of payments received in lieu of sanctioning a steel bridge project, has raised hackles. The Opposition is crying foul. Jagadish Shettar, Leader of the Opposition in the Karnataka Assembly, told The Sunday Guardian, “Why is it being announced now? The idea has been under discussion for two years. It clearly shows the intention is not to just serve subsidised food but expect votes in return.”
Siddaramiah told the media, “It’s for the benefit of the urban poor. The scheme will serve millions and at the same time provide direct employment to around 800 people this year itself.”
However, the challenge is in making the canteens operate smoothly. The nodal agency, the Bengaluru Bruhat Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), is still getting the blueprint of the scheme ready and the canteens may not start functioning before 2018, just ahead of the elections.
A senior BBMP official told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity, “The Chennai Corporation faces several hurdles in operating the Amma Canteens. The biggest concerns are corruption, poor food standards and hygiene.” Allegations of improper system of maintaining accounts have been made in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report in 2014-15. The CAG has also questioned the propriety of even the middle class population being served subsidised food in a canteen meant for the poor.
A source in BBMP said, “In Chennai, the city corporation had four bulk kitchens in place. So production of food items started within weeks of the announcement being made. We do not have any ready infrastructure for such large scale cooking.”
The people are, however, excited. Hussain, an auto-rickshaw driver, said, “I eat two meals outside daily. Thousands like me can save some money every day by eating at these canteens. So what if the government gets some votes in return? The everyday beneficiaries will be poor people like us.”