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How the Indira Canteen is a Failure and a Success

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Indira Canteen is a fast food joint that has been touted as CM Siddaramaiah's pet project in the city of Bengaluru, Karnataka. The canteen aims to serve 500 people per meal per day. Rahul Gandhi inaugurated this populist scheme of the Congress led Karnataka Government on Independence Day 2017. This was done in run up to the Karnataka Assembly Elections that is taking place five days from today. All 197 wards have their own Indira Canteen, built at a cost of approximately INR 30 lakhs each {1}.
The setting up of this canteen is obviously to reduce hunger among the poor. Indira Canteen serves food at heavily subsidized rates by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike. Breakfast can be availed at Rs. 5 and lunch at Rs. 10.

The entire scheme has been well thought of and according to reports has been running smoothly{2}. The canteens are still operational (this is itself a major win for the Government), food is being cooked at remote locations by companies to whom this job has been tendered out to and every day the canteen sells all the prepared items on time.
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While I am glad that the Government has been able to successfully implement this scheme in a short period of time, a few things need to be questioned.
This canteen has obviously been constituted to serve people who cannot afford three meals a day. However, there is no restriction on who can avail subsidized meals at canteen locations. A minimum wage earner who struggles to feed himself and his family should obviously be served meals at the canteen. If he makes it in time and joins the queue early enough, he will be fed. Otherwise if 500 people beat him to buying food, he has to go hungry that day. When a scheme like this is implemented in which good food that fills an appetite is served at dirt cheap prices, relatively richer people such as auto-rickshaw drivers, car-drivers, plumbers, servicemen who can afford to eat elsewhere chose to eat in the Indira Canteen instead of paying a slight premium elsewhere. They are not to blame. The CM said that through Indira Canteens poor people would be able to afford food. However, putting a cap of just 500 meals per canteen is not justified when the aim is to feed all and eradicate hunger. It is not known by many people who do not use this service that there is a cap on the number of meals served. On the face of it, this project is commendable and worthy of everyone's praise. But it is not.

The population of Bengaluru is 1.23 crores {3}. For ease of calculation assume that people are equally divided among the 197 wards. That comes to around 60,000 people per ward. Indira Canteens only serves around 0.83% of the people in each ward due to the 500 meals restriction. A 2016 report states that India has a population in which around 30% of the people are living Below the Poverty Line (BPL) {4). A 2017 report says that the urban population living BPL is around 35% {5}. According to our calculation that amounts to 21,000 people are living BPL in each ward. Assuming that a rule is instated that only BPL people can use the canteen, they can still serve just 2.3% of the 21,000 people per ward. Yes, in a real life scenario, all 1.23 crore people are not equally divided among all wards. That actually worsens the whole thing. In population dense areas, a lower percentage of the already low percentage of people will be able to get affordable food.

At the beginning of this article, I said that the Government's train of thought is questionable. Did the Government create this project to satisfy the hunger of individuals who are poor? Did the Government realise that this project will be beneficial to only a small number of lucky people who reach early enough to have food? Did the Government think it through in terms of who can and who cannot avail these services? Did the Government, sitting in their air conditioned rooms, traveling in SUV's 'gifted' to them by industrialists and living a luxurious life in their humongous bungalows realise that there is a huge number of people who can benefit from these canteens, if not for the excessive subsidy that scants the number of people who it can benefit?

I'll let you answer these question on 12th May, 2018 when you go to vote and make your choice!

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