CUDDALORE: For the poor and destitute, who have been affected more by the lockdown than the rest of us, Amma Unavagams are a godsent gift. With most cheap eateries shut, these government-run canteens ensure people don’t go hungry. And behind this successful enterprise are a bunch of low-paid temp staff, who are as underprivileged as the people they serve.
When the lockdown was announced, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami promised that Amma Unavagams would continue to work through the period, serving three meals a day across the State.
Rajathi (name changed) shows up to work at 4 am, and so do her friends. By 7 am, they get the breakfast ready. By the time dinner is done and they wind up for the day, it’s 9 pm.
Walking into the outlet where Rajathi works, we found that the food prepared for lunch had gotten over. There were still people waiting to eat, and the workers had to cook a fresh batch. “This outlet serves 80 persons on average. Now, we are serving about 130,” says Rajathi.
“Even then we cannot meet the demand.” As per statistics quoted by official sources, on March 31, 377 people ate breakfast, 370 had lunch and 105 had dinner at the outlet inside the Cuddalore GH. On April 1, the numbers steeply increased to 411, 412, and 200 respectively.
The entire operations here are managed by just 7 women. “It is satisfying to serve the poor and government staff in times like these, but the administration should also consider our hardships,” says a staff member. “Since 2014, our contract payment has been standard – a paltry Rs 7,500.”
The workers are seeking extra payment for the lockdown period.
Commenting on this, Cuddalore Municipality Commissioner Ramamurthy said, “I suggested them to bring in more workers so that they can share their work load or work in shifts. But, they seem unwilling to do that. They instead sought salary revision. Since this is a State government scheme, we are only following the guidelines.”
Meanwhile, Cuddalore Collector V Anbuselvan told The New Indian Express that he would take up the concerns of workers for salary revision and regularisation of jobs with the government.