Lack of funds, infrastructure hits implementation of hunger-free project

Almost four years since its launch in Kozhikode, the Hunger-free City project, aimed at providing at least one free meal a day to the poor and hungry, is walking a tightrope.

In Kozhikode, where the project started in 2009 on the medical college campus, feeding about 2,500 mouths, mostly poor patients and their helpers, everyday is a mammoth struggle. With the project’s “modern” kitchen closed for the past three years for want of infrastructure and funds, the afternoon meals are prepared in a room in one of the staff quarters on the campus.

The roof of the dining hall is leaking and falling apart. The Public Works Department’s plans to repair the hall are yet to take off. Besides, there is no space for patients to sit in long queues for food. Many squat or even lie down on the bare floor, awaiting their turn.

“I come twice a week to consult the doctor here. Every time I eat here. For poor patients, a day’s free meal is a big relief,” says K.R. Dileep, a carpenter from Wayanad.

“The project is based on the hunger concept. To provide a person who comes to a new city anywhere in Kerala a square meal at least once a day. Not one person should be left stranded without means to buy food in a city,” Dr. T.P. Ashraf, Executive Director, Kerala Social Security Mission (KSSM), the project’s nodal body, told The Hindu. The state of infrastructure continues to be poor in spite of the fact that the KSSM records show that more and more people are being drawn to the project kitchens across the State.

In 2012-13, 7,50,216 people were fed in four districts across the State — Kozhikode, Kollam, Malappuram and Thiruvananthapuram. The total expense incurred was Rs.94.1 lakh.

Operations in Kollam, Malappuram and Thiruvananthapuram started only after December 2012.

In Malappuram, where the municipality and the KSSM share 50 per cent each of the expenses, 500 people are fed everyday since the kitchen opened in December 2012.

In Kollam, where the project kitchens supply free meals to government hospitals, 1,500 people are fed everyday. Operations only began in mid-January this year.

In the State Capital, 2,000 people, mostly patients from the government medical college, are fed everyday since the kitchen opened in March 2013. The kitchen is located at the Poojappura Central Jail. Inmates volunteer to cook the food. The project is of dual purpose — social rehabilitation of the volunteered inmates and hunger eradication of the poor.

The project has been allotted Rs. 3.50 crore in the 2013-14 budget. Besides, there are plans to launch it in Kannur, Thrissur and Koyilandy taluk this year.

In Kozhikode, where the government incurs an expense of Rs. 12.70 per plate, demand has been consistently high from 2009.

In the first year, the project fed 7,21,386 people and spent Rs. 52 lakh in the district alone. The second year saw 7,27,111 people fed at an expense of Rs. 78 lakh here.

But Mr. Ashraf says lack of support from local bodies like the corporation has been a persistent niggle.

“In Kozhikode, when the project was started, the corporation was supposed to run our modern kitchen through Kudumbhasree and share 25 per cent of the expenses. All they did was give us Rs.25 lakh and look the other way. In Thiruvananthapuram, the corporation offers no help,” Mr. Ashraf said. However, the project is planning to gain more visibility this year.

“In a recent survey by us, around 400 people were found homeless and wandering in Kozhikode city. These are not beggars. They are either poor or sick, someone whom you may pass by, without even a look. We plan to reach to them by providing mobile services through our vehicles. This will increase our presence and make it easy for such people to access food,” Mr. Ashraf said.

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