A West Bengal government scheme for doorstep delivery of grocery and cooked food to senior citizens in Kolkata for a minimal payment now caters to around 80 families for every meal, two months after it was introduced.
The scheme by the West Bengal Comprehensive Area Development Corporation (CADC), an autonomous organisation under the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, is outsourced to women self-help groups (SHGs) and aims to help senior citizens through the lockdown.
The canteen, located in the CADC’s office in Salt Lake, is run by eight women from SHGs at Haringhata in Nadia district, with a new group brought in every four months. Apart from serving customers who drop in at the canteen, food and other essentials are home delivered by male members. The raw material is also procured from SHGs. The groups are shortlisted by the CADC’s Project Directors, present in every district.
All orders have to be placed on WhatsApp a few hours ahead of the scheduled delivery. A vegetarian meal, including rice or roti, dal, bhaji and sabzi, costs Rs 35, and a non-vegetarian mutton meal Rs 85. The canteen also delivers breakfast and snacks.
Niranjan Chowdhury, 78, a resident of Salt Lake who lives with his wife and is retired, is among the canteen’s regular clients. He says he orders two to three times a week and likes meals for being affordable but less spicy. “It’s similar to what we cook at home.”
The women, who are paid Rs 200 daily, live in a dormitory on the CADC premises. This means that they often accept even late orders, provided the person can pick the same up, says a CADC official.
Officials say the canteen was started in February for providing food to staff at government offices in the vicinity. It shut down after the lockdown. In June, realising the problems being faced by the elderly living alone in procuring essentials, the government decided to use it to help them across the city.
Earlier this month, the West Bengal government began an exercise to create a database of all senior citizens living on their own in Kolkata, Howrah and Bidhannagar.
Says West Bengal Cabinet Minister Subrata Mukherjee, who is in-charge of the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, “The project was initially limited to certain areas of the city. But now, demand has increased and anyone from across the city can order food.”
Soumyajit Das, Joint Secretary in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department who is the CADC administrative secretary, says, “The objective is also to ensure women empowerment through financial inclusion… Everything is done by women. The government has provided only the infrastructure.”
Mampi Das (30), one of the cooks at the canteen, says, “The demand keeps varying depending on the orders we receive. It is affordable pricing that has kept us afloat.” Das used to work as a tailor back home in Haringhata.
Head cook Abha Roy, 48, says in Haringhata, she made doormats for a living as part of an SHG, and there was always the pressure to pay off loans. “I like it here. Although cooking for so many gets tiring, I receive the salary on time. The biggest benefit is I don’t have to spend money on food and stay.”
Given the demand, CADC is planning to scale up the initiative. Says Das, “We will need a mother kitchen. We are working on that. The plan is to handhold the project for the next two years. Then these women can run the initiative themselves by forming a company and availing loans…”
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