THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Hunger Free City, the ambitious initiative of the Kerala government aimed at providing free meals for the poor and needy has come to a grinding halt in the city after a decade of service. The Kerala Social Security Mission (KSSM) decided to temporarily suspend funding for the programme with effect from October 5. The project that started in 2009 used to feed thousands of patients and bystanders at government hospitals at selected districts in the state.
In Thiruvananthapuram, the scheme used to feed around 2500 people daily, mostly bystanders and patients from Medical College Hosptial and Sree Avittam Thirunal Hospital (SAT). Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kollam are the other districts which benefited from the scheme. As part of the initiative, KSSM distributed free rice meals free of cost. According to the officials at social security mission, there is a drastic drop in the demand for the food packets because many other NGOs and welfare organisations are now involved in the distribution of food to patients and their bystanders.
An official at SAT claimed that the demand for the food has reduced at the hospital post the pandemic outbreak. “An average of 400 to 500 people used to depend on the hunger-free city programme. But then, there are many who throw it away, because it doesn’t taste great or there aren’t many side dishes! This disrupts waste management and is causing rodent infestation. So, we feel it is good that they wrapped up the scheme. So far we haven’t received any complaints, but we will report back if there is a need to restart the programme,” said the official.
An official at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College Hosptial said that the government should coordinate and integrate food supply, rather than letting individual organisations take part in their own way. “There is no coordination in the food supply as of now on the MCH campus. Multiple organisations get involved and seek credit for the work they do. The government must centralise or supervise this,” said the official.
Why did KSSM drop the initiative?
Mohammad Asheel, executive director of Kerala Social Security Mission, told TNIE that the scheme is only benefitting the contractor and not the beneficiaries. “We have stopped funding for the scheme because we don’t want to waste government exchequer on something that is useless to the public. We have been planning to stop the hunger-free city programme since last year because of the poor response. Many other agencies are actively distributing food every day for patients and bystanders. The Thiruvananthapuram MCH authorities even called for a meeting of these NGOs to resolve their disputes. At Kollam and Malappuram we were implementing the scheme in coordination with the local bodies and it has been successful. At Kozhikode, we have given patients and bystanders permission to use our facility. In Thiruvananthapuram, there has been no complaints regarding the stoppage of the scheme so far,” said Asheel.
However, many feel that the cancellation of the initiative amidst the pandemic cannot be justified. They add that many of the organisations have stopped serving food at hospitals out of the fear of contracting the pandemic. According to sources, there is no decline in the demand for food either, especially with the soaring number of Covid cases in the capital city. “There are hundreds of destitute and homeless living on MCH premises and they rely on the free food they get from NGOs and KSSM. Even after the pandemic outbreak, people used to queue up for the food. Recently, because of the Covid 19 protocol, many organisation have stopped serving food. This is definitely not a good way to save money,” said an anonymous hospital source.