“WE MUST MAINTAIN THE DIGNITY OF WORKERS”
The 2003-batch Haryana cadre IAS officer’s scheme for subsidised pre-cooked hot meals feeds 1,500 migrant labourers in Chandigarh every evening.
Some months back, we wondered what we could do to improve the lot of the nearly 20,000 labourers in Chandigarh. Most are from the villages of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, and they work as rickshaw pullers or industrial labour. They live in the city’s slums and clearly had trouble getting access to cheap, clean, nutritious food. We drew up a business plan for a subsidised tiffin service, tapping into CSR funds from corporates and government oil firms. Setting up the infrastructure—building the kitchen in Sector 11 of Karuna Sadan, the headquarters of the Red Cross Society in Chandigarh, buying the chapati machines and attakneading machines—and arranging for rolling funds to pay the 20 workers who run the kitchen took some time. A 37 trial run of 200 food packets that we distributed in slums instilled confidence. The Annapurna Akshaypatra Yojana was inaugurated by Punjab Governor V.P. Singh Badnore on January 2. Every day, five trucks drive into the migrant labour colonies or industrial areas between 6 and 9 pm and sell 1,500 food packets. The food is foil-wrapped and each meal comprises six chapatis, 120 grams of vegetables and a slice of pickle for Rs 10. There’s a reason the food is not free. We want to maintain the dignity of the workers by not giving out free food and also ensure that the scheme is selfsustaining. It’s early days yet, but the scheme’s success has given us confidence to dream big. We have the capacity for 10,000 meals a day and will scale up to that gradually over the next six months. We are especially proud the scheme didn’t take a break even when rains lashed the city—our clientele waited for our food. We have laid the groundwork for this scheme to outlast my tenure. It will be administered by the DC under the district Red Cross, which he runs.” —As told to Sandeep Unnithan AJIT JOSHI, Deputy Commissioner, CHANDIGARH