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A Moveable Feast Across Gujarat Schools

Among the largest cooking facilities in India, Bhadaj kitchens can make 2,00,000 meals in 5 hours and are dedicated to the Midday Meal Scheme.

Published: 28th September 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th September 2014 05:25 PM   |  A+A-

Jagranjan-Mishra

The sun is barely up but Akshaya Patra Foundation’s kitchen at Bhadaj, near Gujarat’s capital Gandhinagar, is already bustling with activity. Tons of wheat flour is loaded onto the roti-making machine where it goes through a sheeter and roller that controls the gauge of the dough that is then cut by a die to make flat rounds which go through the conveyor to the baking oven before turning out as a roti. The machine can turn out 60,000 rotis in an hour.

“With a capacity to produce 2,00,000 meals in five hours, the Bhadaj kitchen is one of the largest cooking facilities in India,” says Jagranjan Mishra, general manager of operations at The Akshaya Patra Foundation. “It is certainly the largest kitchen dedicated to the Midday Meal Scheme, a programme of the Government of India that supplies free lunches on working days for children in schools to improve the nutritional health of school-going kids in India,” he explains.

Since Akshaya Patra is one of the major providers of these midday meals, much research and innovative thinking has gone into automating the kitchens to ensure high production and also hygiene as this requires minimum human handling in the kitchens. “The epitome of these efforts so far is our recently built Bhadaj kitchen which supplies about 1,30,000 lunches to around 526 schools in seven talukas of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar districts. The daily challenge is to ensure the freshly cooked meals can reach the schools within minimum cook-to-consumption time. For this, some technologies used in manufacturing industries has been adapted to the kitchen, perhaps for the first time’’.

The roti-making machine became a necessity, when the Bangalore-based Foundation found that their rice-based meals were not currying favour with north Indian children. “At Vrindavan, the team found children were not consuming much rice. Since the idea behind the midday meal scheme is to optimise nutrition, rotis were needed to increase consumption. This machine came from Vidya Sagar, a Punjab-based engineering company owner. At Gandhinagar, apart from the 60,000 rotis per hour machine we have a standby machine that can take over if this breaks down,’’ says Mishra.

In Gujarat, the set lunch menu also includes local favourites like dal dhokli, thepla or sukdi, a jaggery-based sweet apart from the staples of roti-sabzi-dal-rice. The idea, Mishra says, is to get children to eat more. “Idlis have proven to be popular in Vadodara, so we plan to add this to our Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar menu in future,’’ he says. 

Mishra says Akshaya Patra came to Gujarat after Narendra Modi visited their Bangalore facility in 2007.  They started kitchens to provide midday meals to schools at Gandhinagar, Vadodara and Surat. “We got good support from the CSR wings of PSUs like ONGC, GSPC, GACL and GIPC and local donors,’’ he says. “In Surat, apart from schools we have also taken up Integrated Child Development Scheme’s Anganwadis. In 2014, we shifted from rented premises in Gandhinagar to set up this kitchen on a two-acre plot donated by the Chimanlal Agrawal family.”

The roti-making machine is the centre piece on the ground floor. Upstairs, there are cauldrons and tanks for making dal, vegetables and other foods, while the top floor is the pre-process area where sorting and cutting takes place. “This is perhaps the first time in India that the gravity flow process used for materials in factories has been adapted to a kitchen,” Mishra says. “All machines are linked to conveyors and chutes that channel the prepared food down to the ground floor without any human handling. They are loaded onto vehicles that are customized to hold vessels upright in a honeycomb structure and designed for minimal temperature loss between leaving the kitchen and reaching the school.’’

Mishra says their audits show students are getting their meals on time and are happy with their lunches.



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