Jaipur: The Rajasthan BJP government, under Chief Minister Bhajanlal Sharma, recently rebranded the Indira Rasoi Yojana as Shree Annapurna Rasoi Yojana. However, despite the renaming, no guidelines have been issued concerning the clearance of pending payment of kitchen operators, leaving most kitchens on the brink of closure.
A recent visit by The Mooknayak to the Shree Annapurna Rasoi in Malarna Dungar town, SawaiMadhopur district, revealed a concerning reality. One of the kitchens, previously operating as Indira Rasoi, remained closed since December 3. The kitchen operators, responsible for running the establishment, were reportedly not receiving their payments pending with the government.
Back in 2016, the then Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje took inspiration from the successful 'Amma' canteens in Tamil Nadu, introducing the Annapurna Rasoi Yojana in Rajasthan. This ambitious scheme aimed to provide affordable and hygienic food to the less privileged, offering subsidized meals for various categories of individuals, including laborers, rickshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, employees, students, working women, and the elderly or disabled.
Under Raje's leadership, breakfast was made available at Rs 5, while nutritious meals were offered at Rs 8. The scheme's objective was clear: to ensure that individuals from diverse backgrounds could access affordable and nutritious food.
However, the political landscape shifted in 2018 when Ashok Gehlot assumed power. In a rebranding move, he renamed the Annapurna Rasoi Yojana to the Indira Gandhi Rasoi Yojana, with a continued commitment to providing nutritious and economical meals, particularly in rural areas across Rajasthan.
Fast forward to the present, under the current BJP government led by Chief Minister Bhajanlal Sharma, the scheme underwent another transition, becoming the Shree Annapurna Rasoi Yojana. Unfortunately, this transformation has been accompanied by financial uncertainties, placing kitchen operators in a precarious situation.
The Mooknayak team visited the second kitchen running in the premises of the Panchayat Samiti, where they encountered people dining in the kitchen managed by women affiliated with the Mahatma Gandhi Rajivika Mahila Cluster Sangathan.
Kitchen manager Afsana revealed that operations commenced on September 10, 2023. Diners pay 8 rupees in cash for their meals. Despite contract with the government over a subsidy of 17 rupees per plate, it has not been received, leading to an accumulation of debt. Afsana highlighted that around one and a half lakh rupees from the grant remain unpaid. The kitchen serves 70 to 80 people daily. However, the lack of subsidy has strained their finances, with local vendors discontinuing credit.
Afsana now personally covers expenses in cash. Despite rising inflation, quality standards are maintained without compromising.
She further states, "I am Muslim, but everyone dines here. Lachhi Mahavar and Mamta Bairwa prepare the meals, and I work alongside them. The food plate and seating arrangements are the same for everyone. We do not discriminate in the kitchen. Cleanliness and quality are our priorities."
The Mooknayak team went to Bairwa Basti in search of Rizwana, who operated one of the two kitchens here. When she was asked for the reason of closing down the Rasoi, Rizwan expressed the challenges faced, noting that despite serving nearly 5487 people between September 10 and December 3, they had not received any subsidy from the government. With over 93 thousand rupees of grant unpaid, Rizwana emphasized the difficulty in paying for essential supplies like vegetables, oil, and spices, leading to the closure of the kitchen. She said she took a loan of 7 thousand rupees to procure gas connection to start the kitchen , but now everything is in a limbo.
A regular visitor Hari Mohan said, 'The food is very good. Cleanliness is also maintained.' Kailash Verma, who works for an NGO in Virat Nagar, Jaipur, mentioned, 'I came to know that Indira Rasoi is operating here. Delicious food is available here at affordable prices, food is really good.' Dr. Sanjeev Verma said, 'This kitchen has been running for the last two to three months. The food is very good. The vegetable menu changes daily here. The bread is also good. The special thing is that cleanliness is well taken care of here to avoid any possible risk of infection. Everyone eats here. People associated with labour and employee category prefer to eat here."
The Mooknayak reached out to Rajivika's Block Program Manager, Manohar Lal Bairwa, who confirmed that no Indira kitchen in Rajasthan had received the promised subsidy amount. He acknowledged the truth behind the closure of several kitchens due to the lack of payment.
Translated by Geetha Sunil Pillai