In a fresh bid to widen access to low-cost quality food, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa has ordered opening of 360 more “Amma Unavagams,” the popular eateries, across Tamil Nadu. Among them 200 eateries would be set up in the Chennai Corporation limits. With this, the State would soon have 654 such canteens serving quality food at affordable rates.

In expanding this welfare scheme which benefits the poor, daily wage earners, labourers and migrant workers the most, Ms. Jayalalithaa directed that each of the 200 wards in the Chennai Corporation have an additional Amma Unavagam.

Besides these, 27 such eateries at the Government Headquarters Hospitals in 27 districts, 129 eateries in 124 municipalities, one each in the recently-created Dindigul and Thanjavur Corporations and one each in Madurai and Coimbatore Corporations are to be inaugurated.

Ms. Jayalalithaa said in a statement on Sunday that feeling the pulse of the people suffering from escalation of cost in food stuff, she had launched the cost effective eateries scheme with 15 Amma Unavagams in Chennai on February 19, 2013.

The surge in their popularity resulted in the scheme being extended to cover all the 200 wards in the Chennai Corporation. The three major Government Hospitals in Chennai have one eatery each out of a total of 203 canteens in the metro alone.

The Madurai Corporation boasts of 11 eateries while the other city corporations in the State have 10 each, making up a total of 294 ‘Amma canteens’ all over the State at present.

Infrastructure works were under way for establishing the eateries at Kilpauk Government Hospital, Royapettah Government Hospital, SRM Hospital and Kasturibai Gandhi Government Hospital.

The rationale behind setting up more such eateries was for several lakh more people to benefit from low-cost quality food in the AIADMK government's bid to fight hunger and malnutrition.

An estimated 2.5 lakh people visit and partake of food at the 203 eateries in Chennai city every day. That apart, the ‘Amma canteens’ provide livelihood to more than 5,000 staff involved in various capacities, informed sources said.

In fact, the popularity of the eateries attracted the attention of an Egyptian delegation that came calling at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai on Saturday and hailed the scheme as “remarkable.”

Earlier, a delegation from Rajasthan studied the salient features of the scheme and had lauded the concept and its execution, sources in the Chennai Corporation said.

The eateries, which mainly serve south Indian delicacies, have turned a huge draw.

The menu includes ‘idli’ at Re. one, ‘sambar rice’ for Rs. five, and ‘curd rice’ for Rs. three. In the Chennai Corporation areas, apart from these items, ‘pongal’, ‘lemon rice,’ ‘curry leaf rice,’ are priced at Rs. five each, while a plate of two ‘chappatis’ come for a mere Rs. three in the evenings.

Sources said that efforts are being taken to constantly monitor the quality of the food being prepared and served in the canteens.

While the State government is substantially subsidising the cost of the food, the objective is to cover more of the vulnerable sections of the urban poor. There is considerable demand to further extend the scheme to semi-urban and town panchayat areas.

(With Additional reporting by V.S. Palaniappan).

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