A day after members of an Egyptian trade delegation tasted the food served at the Tamil Nadu government-run canteens in Chennai and found the entire scheme fit for replication back in their nation, chief minister J Jayalalithaa announced that 360 more such canteens will be opened soon, taking the total throughout the state to 654. The canteens, now mostly in urban areas and government hospitals, are patronised by the lower and middle classes of society primarily because they are economical.
In fact, the initiative was a hit right from the beginning as there was no compromise on quality of food. Even the initial criticism died down as people began flooding the canteens, especially those on government hospital premises. Now, its popularity in urban areas is taking it to small towns and also sub-urban localities. Perhaps soon, entire Tamil Nadu will be covered under the scheme—reminiscent of the midday meal scheme launched in 1982 by then CM M G Ramachandran for schoolchildren.
The midday meal scheme evoked criticism though there had been many earlier attempts to provide food to schoolchildren, the state and across India. The enormity of the project prompted many to term it populist and resent the expending of public funds. But soon, the project was recognised by UNICEF for its potential to fight malnutrition and illiteracy. It was later implemented nationwide, evolving into an Integrated Child Development Services scheme. The government-run canteens, too, can be a pioneering scheme from Tamil Nadu for consideration by the other states before the Egyptians do it. For, it will mainly be beneficial to the working class that often go without food for obvious reasons. Unlike doles and many other government schemes that tend to make people lazy, the canteens only enable hardworking people to buy quality food items from a fixed menu for affordable prices.