Amma Unavagam restaurants have become a hit with in Chennai, offering affordable and hygienic food

Pandian, a painter, was at the Amma Unavagam in Velachery for the first time. It was a holiday and Pandian wanted to check out the breakfast of Idli (Re. 1/plate) and Pongal (Rs. 5/plate).

Pandian was satisfied after his breakfast. The taste was good. “Nalla irukku,” he said. And he would have had to shell out at least Rs. 30 in a restaurant for the same food – an amount that burns quite a hole in his earnings.

Located opposite the 1400-year-0ld Dhandeeswaranathar temple, the Velachery Amma Unavagam run by the Chennai Corporation is one of some 200 low-cost restaurants run by the Chennai Corporation. These restaurants have been a big hit with the masses, offering the itinerant workers, daily-wage earners and many others an affordable, hygienic restaurant.

Many of them have become regular Anna Unavagam patrons. Kishen, a migrant labourer who works at an upmarket restaurant on Velachery Main Road, is one. His verdict on the food: “Achcha hai.”

Pandian too will become a regular like Kishen.

Inaugurated on Feb. 19 of this year, the number of these outlets had, by early April, climbed to 200 in Chennai. The Velachery Unavagam is one among those which were inaugurated on April 2. Two months later, the concept was extended to nine other municipal corporations in the State and each corporation has 10 such restaurants.

The restaurants offer idli between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Sambar rice is served at Rs.5 a plate and curd rice at Rs. 3 a plate between noon and 3 p.m. In Chennai, the eateries provide pongal at Rs. 5 a plate in the morning and lemon rice or karuveppilai rice at Rs. 5 a plate in the afternoon.

According to a conservative estimate of a Corporation official, the 200 restaurants serve two lakh persons every day. If one were to take into account the possibility of one person coming to the restaurants more than once, the net figure is around 1.5 lakh, representing the economically weaker sections. This means the Amma Unavagams are already covering some 20 per cent of the Below Poverty Line population in Chennai – estimated at 6.5 lakh, or 10 per cent of the total city population. The nine other corporations across the State benefit another 50,000 persons.

The government’s initiative seems to have acted as a price deflator. Some leading restaurants across the State have reduced prices of certain items such as coffee and meals, though they do not attribute their move to the Unavagams.

The government’s plan to scale up and increase the number of Amma Unavagams five-fold in Chennai may face challenges, however. Officials admit that the availability of buildings will be a problem as the local body has virtually exhausted its unutilised lands and buildings for the existing Unavagams. Finding places to house the future restaurants would increase the capital costs.

Another challenge would be in procuring the additional quantities of rice that would be required – as many of the items are rice-related. [Of course, chapathi, a wheat-based offering, is likely to be introduced soon in Chennai.] The Union government, seeing the relevance of the programme, should make an exclusive allotment of rice for the State, officials say.

Graphic No. 1

“Amma Unavagam”: A look at performance

Municipal Corporation

Idli

(piece)

Sambar Rice

(plate)

Curd Rice

(plate)

Chennai

4,73,40,242

87,59,903

51,18,962

Nine other corporations

96,63,133

35,41,780

34,36,395

Note: Figures concerning Chennai Corporation pertained to the period from February 19 to September 4 and those of others, from June 2 to August 22.

In nine other municipal corporations, Amma Unavagams were launched on June 2.

In Chennai, since June 2, Pongal and lemon rice or Karuveppiliai rice are supplied. Up to September 4, about 31.5 lakh plates of Pongal; 15.3 lakh plates of lemon rice and 12.7 lakh plates of Karuveppilai rice were sold.

Graphic Item No. 2

How much each corporation earns and spends

Municipal Corporation

Average daily expenditure

Average daily collection

Shortfall absorbed by Corporations

Chennai

14,00,000

9,00,000

5,00,000

Madurai

89,098

34,873

54,225

Coimbatore

57,720

35,675

22,045

Tiruchi

62,927

34,903

28,024

Salem

1,01,888

34,119

67,769

Tirunelveli

1,01,662

35,854

65,808

Tirupur

83,512

37,486

46,026

Erode

87,689

43,076

44,613

Vellore

70,053

38,017

32,036

Tuticorin

84,673

44,242

42,231

Note: All figures are approximate.

Graphic Item No. 3

How do municipal corporations manage

Rice at Re. 1 a kg from Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation (TNCSC)

‘Urad dhal,’ ‘Toor dhal’ and edible oil from TNCSC at Rs. 30 per kg, Rs. 70 per kg and 90 per kg respectively

Curd from Tamil Nadu Cooperative Milk Producers Federation at Rs. 40 per litre

Vegetables from open market or cooperative stories

Average labour strength of each Unavagam – 12 to 16, all women

In Chennai, an employee being paid Rs. 300 and in other corporations, Rs. 250.