As the Delhi Government said it would set up 'Aam Aadmi' canteens, in line with Amma Unavagams (Mother Canteens) in Tamil Nadu, the low cost canteen model is back into limelight again.In Tamil Nadu, there are 451 Amma Unavagams as named after Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa (refered by her partymen and others as Amma, which means mother) starting from a few numbers in 2013.
The subsidised canteens run by the Chennai Corporation and municipalities are a big hit among the people. A wide segment ranging from daily wage earners to professionals patronise the canteens. The canteens in Chennai alone caters to nearly 10 per cent of the city population, according to experts. The state set a target to increase number of Amma Canteens to 1,000 in the coming years across the state.
Not only states like Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, a few of North Eastern states and others have sent their officials to study the model, these canteens gained attraction of the international community. People from African countries, Egypt and Korea have not only visited these low cost canteens, but also tried the foods.
Between 7 a.m and 10 a.m. idly with sambar is served at Re 1, while pongal is sold for Rs 5. For lunch, from 11.30 am one can get sambar rice, curry rice and lemon rice for Rs 5 each, while curd rice for Rs 3 a plate. Dinner (only in canteens at Chennai) has the menu of chappathis with dal or kurma for Rs 3.
An average person can manage three square meals at under Rs 20 per day, which is cheaper alternative than cooking at home. Cheap doesn't mean lack of quality, both in terms of taste and hygiene. Both are maintained by women, from Self Help Groups, who runs these canteens and gets paid Rs 300 a day.
These canteens are now available in all wards of all Tamil Nadu municipal cities (plus many in government-run hospitals).
Across the State there are 451 canteens now, of which 300 comes under municipalities. Each of these 300 canteens serve 1200 idlis on a daily basis, which translates to 3,60,000 idlis a day overall for break fast.
A hot and fluffy idly costs Re 1 in Amma Canteens, compared with Rs 5 in a road side mobile cart and it can go upto Rs 35-45 in big chains. A plate of sambar rice is priced at Rs 5 in Amma Canteens as against Rs 15 in the mobile cart and around Rs 60 in big chains.
From 11.30 a.m each of these 300 canteens serve 300 sambar rice and 300 curd rice at Rs 5 and Rs 3 each, which translates to 1,80,000 plates of rices a day. The canteens also serve lemon rice rice and curry rice for Rs 5.
Every day, Chennai Corporation alone spends Rs 14-15 lakh, while its revenue is about Rs 9-10 lakh. The Government subsidises the deficit. The annual outgo for the Corporation is estimated to be around Rs 18-20 crore. The canteens provides food for over two lakh people on a daily basis and employment to nearly 4,000-5,000 women who run them.
Saidai Duraisami, mayor of Chennai in last October said, "At least three lakh residents visit the 207 outlets of Amma Unavagam for nutritious food at affordable prices. Over 50 per cent of them are labourers and at least 25 per cent are children."
According to Government sources, the Corporation is also looking at roping private sector to support the low cost canteens. A senior official in the State said that the private sector can participate in funding canteens as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility. This will also reduce the subsidy burden of the State Government.
It also has plans to mechanise preparation of food, such as ready-mix for idly, which in a massive level would bring down the costs. According to experts, the supply of subsidised food grains and rice and wheat by the government has also resulted in curbing smuggling of low cost rice to other States and to the open market.
By the end of June, 2014, it has also started making arrangements to use eco-friendly fuel, methane gas, instead of LPG cylinders. It has started using the methane gas produced from the wasted food, in Amma Unavagam in Peravallur, where two LPG cylinders were used every day. While Rs 60,000 is spent on LPG cylinders a month, the methanisation fuel is installed with a cost of Rs 18 lakhs, in which there wont be any further expenditure.
If the bio-methanisation stove is set up in all the Amma Unavagams in Chennai, around Rs 18 crore could be saved as the cost of cooking. This would not only help the canteens, but also reduce the burden of garbage in the city, it said.
Find my canteen
One can locate nearby Amma Canteens by sending SMS and even in apps its available. The city corporation has tied up with Google Earth and all canteens in every ward can now be tracked using the online application.