Karnataka govt's Indira Canteen a ready-made recipe for corruption: Opposition

Three meals a day at Rs 25!

The announcement of the opening of Indira Canteens across the city made many in Bengaluru rejoice. They thought with such subsidised rates, they will not have to stay hungry.

But two months later, the scheme has turned out to be quite a disappointment. Nearly 1.8 lakh plates are dished out of Indira canteens in the city but many are left hungry as the canteens are unable to match the growing demand. We visited a few canteens to see the functioning of the centre ourselves and what Bengalureans thought about it.

Indira canteen number 111 was gearing up to serve lunch. It was not 12 30 PM yet. The caterer kept glancing at his watch as he wanted to begin the service at 12.30 sharp. People began queuing and lunch was served. The Indira Canteen definitely looked like a populist scheme.

Now here comes the hitch.

Mylarappa, 30, has been in the catering business for six years now. He bagged the contract to serve one of the Indira Canteens in city. He dishes out 400 plates during breakfast hours, another 400 plates during lunch hours, but dinner time caught in a fix. He is left with as many as 100 plates, unsold, and the only option is to discard them.

"I incur losses of Rs 800 to Rs 1000 a day and that is because dinner plates go unsold. I don't know how to make up for those losses. I maintain a diary to note down how many plates have not been sold," he said.

The canteen, however, has been a welcome move for several low income group people.

A group of auto-rickshaw drivers were in queue for food. They were on a break between trips and had stopped to get some lunch. Sadiq, an auto-driver was taking his wife and children to the doctor but stopped at the India canteen before proceeding to the clinic. He picked up his coupon quickly as there have been times when the canteen ran out of food and people had to leave hungry. "They run out of food. It happens in many places, but what can one do?" he asked.

But are the Indira Canteens opened in Bengaluru to feed nearly three lakh people every day bleeding the tax payers' money? The Indira Canteen may have been the perfect poll strategy for the Siddaramaiah government, but it also got the Opposition pointing fingers at it, accusing them of corrupt practices and bad implementation.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in Opposition in Karnataka, say that the initiative to provide concessional food to the poor may be welcome but the scheme is a ready-made recipe for corruption.

S Prakash, BJP spokesperson, said, "There is no transparency in the implementation of the programme. They claim that they cook for 500 people but in reality they only serve 250 plates. The food for the rest of the 250 people is swallowed by them. Corruption is here. The government is looking the other way and allowing the contractors and the suppliers to make hay while the sun shines."

Indira Canteen number 148 is in an area called Viveknagar. The food was supposed to arrive at 12 PM and served at 12.30 PM, but what we saw was hungry Bengalureans waiting for food. The canteen was locked as the food supplier had not turned up. Santosh, an office boy in a nearby private firm, told us that he had been waiting for more than 15 minutes and that his lunch break is just 30 minutes. "If I don't eat during that time, I will have to stay hungry," said Santosh.

"Today, we had close to 380 plates served but had to turn people away as there was no food left", said one of the caterers at the Indira Canteen near Hudson Circle in Bengaluru. "There is shortage of food and high demand; we have to ask people to leave", said Rajkumar while counting his day's earnings.

A labourer from Uttar pradesh who had come to the canteen said, "Haan gussa toh aata hai jab khaan nahi milta, kya kare , sarkar ko luch karna chahiye (Yes, I do feel angry when I don't get food, but what do we do? Government should do something".

"We have put 90 crores in this project till now. A person gets food at Rs 25 per day and the government is putting an additional Rs 32 from its side. So if we are serving 400 plates a day, and the demand is for 600, there will be people who will not get food, that is why we are very closely monitoring the situation and the supply. We don't want more than 5 percent of the food to be wasted," said BBMP Special commissioner R Manoj.

With rising demand, inadequate supply and allegations of corruption at the contract level, those handling the canteens are having a tough time.