State food and civil supplies minister Chhagan Bhujbal on Sunday said the price of the ‘Shiv Bhojan’ meal scheme has been lowered in view of the 21-day lockdown announced to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. A flagship scheme of the MVA government, the subsidised meal would now be provided at Rs 5 per, instead of Rs 10, to one lakh poor people between 11 am and 3 pm daily across Maharashtra, he said.
The ‘Shiv Bhojan’ scheme was rolled out in January to provide food to 18,000 needy persons for just Rs 10. It was later extended to 36,000 people. The decision to expand the subsidised cooked meal scheme comes as the pandemic has dealt a severe blow to the livelihoods of several labourers, migrants and the poor, many of whom have set out on foot to reach their native villages or towns hundreds of kilometres away.
“I have issued directives to the districts and talukas to immediately expand the scope of ‘Shiv Bhojan’… to reach out and help a larger number of people, we have set a target of one lakh. The price has been lowered from Rs 10 to Rs 5, and it will be distributed from 11 am to 3 pm,” Bhujbal said. The food and civil supplies department has also been told not to wait for any official formalities and instead, “start the service immediately”.
The directive issued by the department also categorically warns officials to not turn away any individual from a counter seeking a meal. They have been directed to create a network to ensure all vulnerable daily wage labourers without jobs and earnings are given priority. They also have been told to reach out and provide meals to the homeless, people living on footpaths, agriculture labourers, and small and marginal farmers reeling under financial hardships.
In a webcast earlier in the day, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray also assured that his government will take care of all migrant labourers and provide them basic necessities like food and water. “The state will protect them and provide food, but they should not leave their place. I understand they are anxious but they should not leave. They should avoid increasing the risk of infection,” he said. Thackeray added the state has already set up 163 ‘Shiv Bhojan’ centres across the state to provide food and water to the migrant labourers.
The state government has allocated Rs 160 crore for further subsidising the meal scheme that will continue till June. The government will provide a subsidy of Rs 45 per platter to urban centres and Rs 30 per platter to rural ones. The actual cost of each ‘Shiv Bhojan’ platter in urban areas is Rs 50 and in rural parts is Rs 35. The full meal comprises bread (roti), lentil (dal), rice, two vegetables and curd.
“The Maharashtra Government has said that it has set up 262 relief camps across the State which is presently providing shelter to 70,399 migrant labour/ the homeless people to ensure that they have food, and a roof in this crisis,” Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray also tweeted.
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