Mamata Banerjee Serves A Populist Platter In Poll-Bound Bengal

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Kolkata: High inflation, soaring prices of vegetables and pulses coupled with less or no income have put poor people in a quandary. But now, men and women who move out for work daily can take solace.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made them happy with a platter of rice, a veg item, dal and egg curry for just Rs 5, served through Mayer Rannaghar (Mother’s Kitchen).

Sources said the thali will have 200gm of rice with an egg, accompanied with a veg item and dal. The subsidised thali will be provided by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC)’s Mayer Rannaghar initiative in 16 civic boroughs in Kolkata.

Later, the facility will be extended to 144 wards under the civic body in a phased manner, the sources added.

Such schemes, to run canteens for the poor, are nothing new though. First started by the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, Amma Unavagam, drew widespread publicity and also brought her closer to people. Amma Unavagam, literally means mother’s canteen. It served idli, sambar rice, curd rice, Pongal, lemon rice, curry leaf rice and chapati.

Later, such schemes were also replicated in states like Odisha, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Odisha’s Ahar Yojana (Food Scheme) is run by the state government to provide cheap lunch to the urban poor at Rs 5. Launched in 2015 by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Ahar Yojana provides rice and dalma (a popular dish made of dal and vegetables) during lunch hours.

On her part, the Bengal CM is slated to virtually launch the canteens at the boroughs simultaneously on Monday, informed Municipal Affairs Minister Firhad Hakim. People can enjoy their lunch thali from Tuesday onwards from 1-2pm, every day.

Mamata had made such a provision for the poor, serving processed food through the canteens in her budget on February 5.

Serving the thali at Rs 5 is set to give relief to many of office-goers, daily wagers and marketing personnel, who are mostly on the road throughout the day.

Coming just ahead of the forthcoming Assembly elections, the move supposedly will also make her more popular.

The CPI-M, which has been running Shramjibi Canteens for many years now, serve non-veg and vegetarian food for daily wagers, rickshaw-pullers and for poor at Rs 20.

On Mayer Rannaghar effort by the government, CPI-M leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “She is copying our model, which we have been doing all these years. Our janata canteens have been running successfully in Kolkata and in the districts and the common man has been talking about them. Taking a cue from us, Didi had started such a project earlier too. But after running for 2-3 days it was discontinued.”

Pointing out that this is populist measure to garner more votes, Chakraborty said, “Vote is a big driver. Mamata is again copying us. We have no objections to this endeavor of hers. Our only demand will be it has to be started all across the state and not just in Kolkata. Our only worry is there might be siphoning of funds or the ration, as has been their tendency. We will ask the government for its expenditure.”

He, however, added that the major difference being that the red party is doing it out of its own funds and the new scheme will be run by the government.

TMC leader and former MMiC, KMC, Debasish Kumar, who has been given the responsibility for Mayer Rannaghar, said, “I cannot say much, apart from the fact that such schemes are hugely popular amongst the people. We have seen this when Tridhara Club in south Kolkata had started such a scheme for the poor serving veg food at Rs 6. Such schemes are of utmost importance to the common man.”

Talking of Mayer Rannaghar, he said, “There is no such rule that the food would be served in packets or with sitting arrangements. We will take a call on that as per the space we get.”

He further informed that the scheme would be extended to more wards in coming days depending on the need.

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