While the Maharashtra government has announced it will ramp up its ‘Shiv Bhojan Thali’ scheme to ensure that the urban poor and migrant labourers do not go hungry in the coronavirus lockdown, in Pune, most Shiv Bhojan Thali centers were closed for the past 10 days — since the district administration started imposing restrictions.
On Monday, only six of the 14 centres in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad were open, and reported to have sold 687 thalis (out of a capacity of 3,000 thalis per day). This was a big improvement over sales throughout last week, when none or barely one/two centres remained open for business.
On Sunday, Maharashtra Food and Civil Supplies Minister Chhagan Bhujbal had announced that considering the lockdown and with the fear of migrant workers leaving the state in large numbers, the Shiv Bhojan Thali will be made available at Rs 5 per plate instead of the earlier rate of Rs 10. He also said that the timings of the centres will be expanded from 11am to 3pm against the earlier 12 noon to 2pm. These changes will remain in force until end of June 2020.
A stock of the situation on Monday, however, showed that in Pune, a majority of the Shiv Bhojan Thali Centers were closed, including the one at Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), which was inaugurated by District Guardian Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on January 26.
Of the 14 centres, only five, namely Green Palace Restaurant in Budhwar Peth, Saileela Bhojanayalay at Katraj Chowk, Shiv Samarth Bhojanayala at Hadapsar, Swami Samarth Snacks Center near Marketyard, Swami Samarth Krupa Snacks Center near Faraskhana and one at PMCM Headquarters were open for business.
At Nishigandha Canteen at PMC Headquarters, which has a quota of 200 thalis per day, staffers said the centre was shut for over 10 days due to the lockdown and hoped that it would open in “a couple of days”. At Hotel Samadhan inside Gultekdi Markeyard, staffers said they are in the process of obtaining the groceries and the centre will restart in ‘a day or two”.
When asked for a comment, Deepak Wajale, Tahsildar and Assistant Food Grains Distribution Officer, said the centres may have suspended operations last week due to lockdown affecting the footfall.
“Due to lockdown, there were very few or no visitors in some of them and hence, perhaps, they might have suspended operations. However, on Monday, we held a meeting of all the zonal officers and have asked them to issue instructions to open operations immediately,” said Wajale, who promised that all 14 centers will be operational from Tuesday.
Wajale also said that at centres where, due to the location, they expect no or vey little footfall, the operators have been instructed to parcel the thalis in packets and take them to nearby areas where they think there would be a demand.
“These food packets are to be sold at Rs 5. They have been asked to go to areas with food packets in nearby slums, areas where migrant labourers stay, or hostels where students are residing,” said Wajale.
New Shiv Bhojan centres to come up in interiors
As per officials, when Bhujbal announced that the capacity of the scheme would be increased five-fold, it meant that the number of thalis served in the district will go up and not at the existing centres. “New centres will be opened at taluka places, thereby increasing the capacity in the district as a whole,” said Wajale.
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