The concept of providing affordable food has been widely welcomed

Although Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced various welfare programmes in the recent past, the scheme of establishing the budget restaurants, popularly known as Amma Unavagam, through Chennai Corporation in the nook and corner of the metro is the talk of the town, not only in the State capital, but also throughout the State.

No sooner the Amma Unavagams were opened in Chennai, people of other parts of the State started demanding similar facility in their cities and towns too. Understanding the mood of the people, the Chief Minister a few days ago came with another announcement that this scheme would be extended to other corporations too, much to the delight of the residents of all the major cities in the State. Even before the programme is finalised, this scheme has aroused serious expectations in Tiruchi city.

Tiruchirapalli City Corporation has started scouting for places to open budget restaurants.

Although corporation authorities are tight-lipped on the details like number of canteens to come up, the canteens in the city are to be opened soon.

The anxiety of the common people is not without reason. With the prices of essential commodities skyrocketing, the lower income and middle income groups are at their wits end to make both the ends meet. On their part, the hotels and the other roadside eateries too have increased the prices of eatables.

While two idlis in descent hotels now cost Rs. 20, vadai is priced at Rs. 12, curd vadai Rs. 20, sambar idli Rs. 24, Pongal Rs. 32, Poori Rs. 33, dosai Rs. 33, Rava dosai Rs. 33, ghee roast Rs. 45, masal dosai and onion dosai Rs. 42, meals ranging from Rs. 50 to Rs. 75 and special meals from Rs. 75 to Rs.100.

More than anything else, it is the rock-bottom rates of the eatables which have made Amma Unavagams a big hit. While a piece of idli costs just one rupee, the price of sambar rice is fixed at Rs. 5 and the curd rice Rs. 3. Managed by members of the women’s self-help groups, these canteens have been found very comfortable to the office-goers, particularly those staying away from family. Hence, this programme has evoked widespread support of the people within a short period.

The popularity of this project could be gauged from the fact that in the initial days, the low-cost canteens sold 1.3 lakh units a day and queues were noticed in all restaurants during the peak hours. The restaurants, if established in Tiruchi, will enjoy the same patronage, says J. Alexander, a chess coach.

Hundreds of people flock to the roadside eateries on the Big Bazar Street and Nethaji Subash Chandra Bose Road, which function only for two hours in the night (10 p.m. to midnight), for the sole reason of getting cheap stuff, he adds.

Tiruchi, due to its strategic location and the presence of renowned places of worship and tourist spots, attracts a huge floating population round-the-clock. The tourists and devotees visiting the neighbouring districts too, make Tiruchi a transit point. As such, the Chief Minister should accord priority to opening the budget restaurants within Tiruchirapalli City Corporation limits, observe a cross-section of people. Hailing this as a great move by the government, they say that this project generated employment besides providing food at subsidised prices. The State government and Tiruchirapalli City Corporation should introduce this scheme early, many say adding that initially they should be set up near the railway junction, central and Chathiram bus stands and also in Government Headquarters Hospital.

With the construction industry employing a large number of workers and the small scale industrial units accounting for equal number of workers, such canteens will prove a boon to them, says S. Kumar, a construction worker from Somarasampettai.

The State government is providing subsidy for the supply of eatables at subsidised rates. This programme should be restricted only to poor people, says M. Akbar Hussain, running a bicycle repair shop on the Pudukottai Road. Well off people could still take food in these canteens, but by paying a higher price. This would reduce the burden on the government subsidy, he says.

Senior citizens recall that a few decades ago, the government introduced janata meals in all hotels. The price of the full-fledged meals was priced at Rs. 1. Although widely welcomed by the people, the scheme fizzled out within no time, because of the absence of a mechanism to monitor and further strengthening it. This scheme should not meet the fate of the janata meals, cautions Jayalakshmi, a former Union government employee.