Following Amma’s Lead, Karnataka Marks Rs 100 Cr for Namma Canteen

What does it say about a democracy when “authoritarian” China does better in tackling hunger?

Unveiling one of the flagship schemes in the 2017–18 Karnataka budget, CM Siddaramaiah announced the setting up of Namma Canteens in the state capital Bengaluru, along the lines of the Amma canteens introduced by late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.

The Chief Minister announced that 198 such canteens will serve breakfast and lunch for Rs 5, and Rs 10, respectively.

The budget proposal has earmarked Rs 100 crore for the project, Siddaramaiah said during his Budget address on Thursday.

In other districts, subsidised food will be made available at Saviruchi Sanchari (mobile) canteens, which will be run by Self-Help Groups, the CM said.

He also added that the rice quota, under the Anna Bhagya scheme, would be increased to 7 kg from the previous limit of 5 kg.

The Amma Unavagams, or Amma Canteens, are subsidised food outlets first set up in 2011 by the Jayalalithaa–led government in Chennai. They were later expanded to other parts of the state, with the state government opening 360 such outlets in June 2014.

Even in 2017, the Amma Canteens sell idlis for Re 1, and Pongal for Rs 5, which allows lakhs of poor people to avail low-cost nutritious food at these outlets.

Among the other highly–subsidised meals provided at the Amma Canteens are sambar rice at Rs 5 per plate, and curd rice for Rs 3 per plate. In the evenings, a plate of two chappatis and dal is sold for Rs 3.

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The scheme has attracted praise from politicians across states, with Chief Ministers from Delhi, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh among others, making attempts to replicate the Amma Unavagams in their respective states.

However, the populist scheme hits the exchequer badly.

A CNBC-TV 18/ Money Control report by Poornima Murali, published in September 2013, said that each idli lost the government 86 paise, while each plate of sambar rice lost Rs 5.

Karnataka is headed to the polls next year, and the incumbent Siddaramaiah–led government has been facing heat from the opposition on a variety of grounds.

Ahead of the budget, the CM had indicated that the budget will be a ‘people-friendly’ budget. The Namma Canteen has been one of the populist measures that Karnataka has been contemplating for some time now, and has received the formal seal of approval this budget.

(The article was first published on The News Minute).