LPG hike takes taste out of RIMS community kitchen

Community kitchen fires at Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), Ranchi, are burning dimly since the government announced an LPG cylinder subsidy cap of six per year and market prices from the seventh.

The kitchen in the state-run hospital that caters to the cooking needs of patients' kin requires over 45 LPG cylinders per month so most cylinders will now be brought at market rates well over Rs 800, around a 100 per cent jump from the subsidised rate of Rs 440.

From September 28, each person using the cooking facilities is also paying a steep 100 per cent-plus jump in per-hour rate. From Rs 12, each person is paying Rs 27 per hour to use the LPG gas stove per hour.

Community kitchen operator Ram Lakhan told The Telegraph that since then, the number of users has seen an equally sharp decline ' from 200 to 250 a day to 70 to 75 since cooking rates were hiked.

Most people who use the community kitchen are from needy sections of society. Neither can they afford private medical care for their relatives nor buy food for themselves from local eateries. If patients require specific diet, these relatives ' usually wives and mothers ' cook what is required at the kitchen.

But with every paisa needing to be accounted for, these people can ill-afford the luxury of this more-than-double hike in cooking rates.

"It is really too much," said user Bhuglu Mahto of Tatisilway. "Now, time is money at the community kitchen. I have stopped cooking vegetables and boil rice, dal and alu chokha all together."

Sugia Devi of Simdega who used to cook for her husband admitted at RIMS can't afford it anymore. "I go to the Dal Bhaat Kendra started by the chief minister on RIMS campus. I get one hot meal for just Rs 5. Paying Rs 27 per hour for fuel at the RIMS community kitchen is just too much," she said.

The community kitchen, a first-of-its-kind facility in eastern India, was inaugurated at RIMS on June 28, 2010, so that family members of poor patients could rustle up healthy, home-style food and save money.

When the system was started under the corporate social responsibility of IOCL, the charge was only Rs 2 for every 15 minutes. Now, it is Rs 7 for every 15 minutes or Rs 27 per hour.

The kitchen, on the ground floor of the RIMS, remains open from 7am to 9pm and has the facility of running water.

The users don't have to bring their own oven, as the kitchen has around 40. But reports of stoves without knobs or pan supports robbed this facility of much of its convenience.

The steep rise in hourly rates is the final blow.