HYDERABAD: At a time when a cup of tea on a road-side bandi costs `7, GHMC’s ambitious plan – to provide a full plate ready-to eat-meal to the city’s have-nots at a meagre `5, is a cause worthy of applause. To be able to feed 15,000 people in its 50 centres on a daily basis, the civic body had earmarked `11 crore in its 2014-15 budget.
Six months after the launch of the well-intended scheme, the GHMC has succeeded in feeding people; only that some eating these subsidised meals are not poor or homeless. At the Clock Tower, in Secunderabad, (which is one of the centres chosen by GHMC) every afternoon, khaki-clad auto drivers and pot-bellied salaried men can be spotted in scores .
Take for instance, Shanti Kumar, a salesman at the nearby Navkaten Complex. He lunches daily at the Clock Tower. “Though I earn enough to feed myself and my family, I eat here everyday. Since this is an open-to-all scheme why bother eating elsewhere?,” he shrugs casually.
Though intended to feed beggars and homeless, the food scheme lacks an enforcement mechanism to target such people and to prevent its abuse. The food is to be served at such places, where labourers gather frequently, where the concentration of homeless and those living under the poverty line is high. Sadly, a scheme sans enforcement mechanism, leaves beggars and homeless unaware and away from the food centres, opened mostly in the heart of the city such as Clock Tower and Hyderabad Central mall.
Among other loopholes, another glaring one that GHMC overlooked was lack of resources essential to run these centres. According to Secunderabad Medical Officer, Sudheer Prasad, who is responsible for the centre in Secunderabad Circle, the Health Wing is severely short staffed. Where it does not have workers to carry out its basic tasks like clearing the garbage, debris and maintaining cleanliness of the surrounding. “We have not been able to employ more than three staffers, in any of one these food centres. We have one vehicle to bring food to the labour addas (e.g. at Clock Tower) that is also the one that is used to send our staff to locations and help in serving food, make arrangements for water and also cleaning the litter that is left after eating,” informs Prasad.
Additional Commissioner, Health and Sanitation, GHMC, N Ravi Kiran agrees with Prasad. “We are severely short staffed but the scheme was started with a noble intention and we are doing whatever we can with the help of the supplying agency, ISKCON,” he says. ISKCON has been roped in by the GHMC to supply food for the cause.
Another reason is the insufficient resources which is why GHMC could not open up the remaining 42 centres by July. “At present there are only eight such food centres operational. The remaining 42 are in the anvil,” says the additional commissioner. While Prasad claims that Rajiv Awas Yojna survey statistics were used in the identification screening the population, neither GHMC nor he himself has any control over who buys that food available for lesser price.
“We can’t stop people from buying food at `5, for we can’t simply say, you look well off and we won’t serve food to you. It’s something which should be done at social level. The government can’t enforce everything,” he shared. Ravi Kiran on the other hand offers a more humane approach. “The idea was to feed the hungry. Now a hungry man who has money in his pocket will go to Kamat Hotel in Abids, he won’t stop his car at one of these centres in Abids to eat. People who eat in these centres are essentially working class, but not necessarily labourers. Yes, on and off, college students also savour the cheap food, but there no mechanism in place to prevent anyone from eating here. We see anyone who comes here as hungry and like I said the scheme was started to feed the hungry,” he says.
The official also added that segregation of poor and homeless for the scheme would require huge resources that the Corporation does not have.