Birender Singh stood up and clapped the loudest when cabinet minister Aslam Shaikh inaugurated the Shiv Bhojan scheme in Mumbai on Sunday. For Singh, whose 24-year-old son has undergone eight surgeries on his fractured leg over the past eight months at BYL Nair Hospital, the Rs-10 meal scheme is a welcome change from the “everyday” aloo bhaji with four puris served at the hospital once a day by a trust.
The scheme is Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s pet project, which was launched as a pilot in at least 100 centres across the state. It is Maharashtra’s own version of Tamil Nadu’s Amma canteens that provide food to the poor and the needy at heavily subsidised rates.
Of the 100 canteens launched simultaneously across the state, 10 are in Mumbai: King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital (Parel), Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital (Sion), VN Desai Municipal Hospital (Santacruz East), Dr RN Cooper Municipal General Hospital (Juhu) and Bharat Ratna Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Memorial Hospital (Byculla), among other government establishments.
The subsidised food canteens will serve a full meal, including two chapattis, a vegetable bowl, rice and dal, at Rs 10 per thali to beneficiaries. While the initial plan is to serve 18,000 thalis daily, the first 100 canteens will serve 4,000 customers. The 10 centres in Mumbai will serve 1,900 thalis per day.
The canteens have a small area for seating 25 people at once in a corner, where about 100 thalis will be distributed daily between noon and 2 pm on a first come, first served basis.
In Nair hospital, assistant security in-charge Pooja Chaudhary said the subsidised thali was available between noon and 2 pm. “But the food was over within half an hour. On Sunday, the hospital was less crowded. But on Monday, several relatives of patients queued up to get the thali,” Chaudhary added.
While the thali is available for patients’ relatives, the service does not cater to Class IV employees in these establishments.
Staff worker Swapnil Mathane said they were told that the thali system was only for patients’ relatives. “I get my own food daily. But if the facility is extended to all of us, it will be great. We don’t earn enough to buy expensive meals and getting food from home every day is not easy,” he added.
The three municipal hospitals, however, bear a massive patient load and officials said extending the scheme to the staff might deprive poor patients from accessing the facility.
At KEM hospital, Dean Dr Hemant Deshmukh said, “Everyday, 8,000 patients visit the hospital. Most cannot afford the daily cost of food. This facility is to help the poor.”
The thali system works through a mobile application on an Android-enabled phone. A beneficiary’s photograph and contact number is fed into the app, which automatically keeps a tab on the number of beneficiaries to be served per day.
At KEM hospital, Deshmukh said the staff did not face any technical issues in accessing the mobile app.
“The taste of the food is very good and it is enough for one person. Most days, we would try and buy something from outside as it is difficult to eat the same puri-sabzi every day,” said Singh, eating the hot meal served to him.
For Kandivali resident Sharda Prajapati (60), whose husband is undergoing treatment at the hospital for the past one week, a trip home for food is not an option as the autorickshaw fare is about Rs 15.
“I would usually buy food from outside, and sometimes it’s not possible to shell out Rs 50 every day. Now, this works well and the food is also good,” she said.
Washim resident Ashru More, who will be donating his kidney to his 31-year-old son, said the hospital staff should give coupons to patients’ relatives who can avail the scheme.
“With just 100 thalis, we might not even get the food if we don’t come on time or for some other reason have to go for a check-up,” he said.
However, according to an official, the scheme is for all and not just patients’ relatives. “We will try and work out a way in the next few days where at least some thalis are reserved for patients’ relatives,” the official said.
Meant to provide wholesome food at affordable rates, subsidised food canteens have been a runaway success with even Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh launching their own versions of Amma canteens.
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