KOLKATA: Rice, daal, subzi and egg curry for Rs 5! Taking a leaf out of the book of late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jaylalithaa, Mamata Banerjee launched a meal scheme for the poor on Monday. Called ‘Maa’, this subsidised meal package comes months before the Assembly elections in West Bengal. The state government has sanctioned Rs 100 crore for the project.
Jayalalithaa had initiated a similar scheme in Tamil Nadu, offering food at cheap rates, aimed mainly at the poorer section. The outlets were popularly known as Amma Canteen. It is believed that this concept played a significant role in AIADMK’s sweeping success in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, when they bagged 37 of 39 seats in the state. With elections knocking on the doors of West Bengal, this move by the chief minister seems to be targeting the same objective.
The Maa kitchens will be functional from 1 pm to 3 pm and food will be given on a first come first serve basis. To begin with, there will be 16 kitchens in Kolkata and one in each of the 23 district headquarters. Shortly, the initiative will be spread to all the municipal areas in the state, said an official of the state government. In all, there would be around 180 kitchens across the state.
“The target beneficiaries of the scheme are daily wage earners and poorly paid workers. These people find it difficult to afford a regular meal even in cheap eateries. This new scheme will help them,’’ said Mamata, while inaugurating the scheme virtually from the state secretariat. The state government has engaged self help group workers to run the Maa scheme. “Fund will not be an issue. We have chalked out a detailed plan. We have our own mechanism of procuring ingredients to run the scheme,’’ said Mamata.
Leaders of the ruling Trinamool Congress described this as a masterstroke by Mamata, who had earlier announced free health insurance protection for the people of the state ahead of the elections. “The health insurance scheme received very good response. Going by initial reactions, the food scheme will also be a success. Sure it will give us electoral dividends,” said a TMC leader.