It’s 9.45 am and a saffron-coloured food stall with pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel on Narol crossroads in Ahmedabad has run out of meals. Reason, it provides one plate meal of five rotis, a mixed vegetable sabzi, rice, pickle and green chilli for just Rs 10. Moreover, it being a Sunday, seera (a local sweet) was also on the menu.
This temporary food stall, along with 83 others across the state, is part of a new initiative of the Gujarat government, Shramik Annapurna Yojana, under which meal is offered to construction workers once a day for Rs 10 only. The daily wage for unskilled labourers in Gujarat is around Rs 300.
For availing the scheme, which will be formally inaugurated by Chief Minister Rupani in Ahmedabad on Tuesday, the construction workers will have to get themselves registered with the stalls by providing ID proofs (Aadhar or voter cards) and two photographs. Once registered, they will be issued pink identity card-cum-booklets from state government’s Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board.
Mehulbhai Parmar, owner of the Narol food stall is already catering to 500 registered labourers. His stall, furnished with a wash basin, has six employees — two persons, wearing aprons, plastic gloves and caps, for serving the food kept in steel containers; one for collecting cash; one for registering new beneficiaries; and two security guards.
Parmar said they need the security staff to control crowd. “Today (Sunday) we started serving food from 6.30 am. So, it got finished early. On other days, we are open till 11.30 am,” said the owner of the stall at Narol, which is one of the several kadiyanakas (labour markets) in Ahmedabad city. He said within a few weeks of opening the stall, the scheme became a hit. “We already have 500 registered labourers who take the meal every day and today (Sunday) we have received at least 60-odd applications for availing the subsidised food,” said Parmar.
Satish Yadav (45), who was seen packing his tiffin box, was probably one of the last customers before the stall ran out of food. “They have run out of rice. So, they gave me eight rotis instead of five. This is a very good initiative as we sometimes don’t have work, especially in monsoon. At least we will not go hungry, even on days when we have no work,” said Yadav as he rode his rusted bicycle to work in a hurry.
Ramlal Vanjara, another beneficiary from an outlet near Khodiyar Nagar, said earlier he used to spend Rs 40 on a small meal from roadside shacks. “After this stall opened, I am getting good-quality and affordable food. This is any day better than ganthia and mircha (a popular Gujarati fried snack made of gram flour),” said Vanjara.
According to government sources, there are 41 such food stalls in Ahmedabad, located near labour markets at Naroda Patiya, Vatva, Isanpur, CTM crossroads and others. Anil Patel, chairman of Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board, said, “At present these food stalls are operating in 83 places across the state — Ahmedabad (41), Bhavnagar (4), Gandhinagar (2), Rajkot (8), Surat (13), Vadodara (12) and Valsad (3). These are meant for migrant labourers working in cities where they either don’t have access to kitchen or fuel, be it cooking gas or firewood. Our target is to provide 1,700 calories per meal.”
According to officials, the government is expected to extend the scheme to other labour markets after the formal launch. For providing cooked meals, the government has partnered with NGOs with centralised kitchen facilities for at least 1,000 people per day. “We are currently tied up with Akshya Patra and Stri Shakti who are already providing food under mid-day meal scheme,” Patel added.
Mukesh Vaghela, who runs a similar food stall in Danilimda area, said they have already been asked to bring all registered workers to the July 18 event. “We have been told that free tiffins will be distributed at the event,” said Vaghela, who has 400 labourers registered at his stall. When asked how they ensure that the beneficiaries were construction labourers, Stuti Christian, owner of another stall at Khodiyar Nagar, said, “We can usually make them out. But we generally ask them.”
Some food stall operators, however, said that shopkeepers, industrial workers and autorickshaw drivers have also started enrolling themselves.