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Kerala govt may start Tamil Nadu-style Amma canteens

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-05-2017 Nidheesh M.K.

Bengaluru: Kerala government intends to start budget hotels across the state, its own version of Tamil Nadu’s popular “Amma Canteens”.

This was expressed during a discussion in the state assembly on Friday by P. Thilothaman, food and civil supplies minister in chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Front government, which is close to completing a year in power.

Speaking to Mint over phone from Kerala, Thilothaman said the plan is in the ideation phase for now and may take some time to materialize.

“It is an idea that came up while discussing the implementation of a program called ‘Hunger-less Kerala’ which we have promised in our election manifesto,” he said. “We have not arrived at a conclusion, we will intimate the press once the plans are finalised.”

The government had earlier decided to kickstart the pilot phase of “Hunger-less Kerala” in two districts—Ernakulam and Kottayam. The finer details of the scheme are awaited.

The trend of government-run budget hotels was first introduced in India by former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, who launched “Amma canteens” in 2013.

These canteens, where customers get traditional meals such as idli for as low as Re1, quickly became popular, fetching electoral dividends for Jayalalithaa.

Since then, several other states have aped the model, including Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh.

Such initiatives are known to have served well for governments either as a populist measure to help boost the image or as a welfare measure to provide quality food at subsidised prices to the poor.

Kerala already has favourable levels of food security and other welfare systems in place, except for some pockets populated largely by scheduled tribes. Its public distribution system is near universal and it also has volunteer-driven programs like “Operation Sulaimani” to provide free food to anyone who is hungry in select cities.

Kerala’s Left Front government, however, has plans to take it to the next level.

It recently approved a programme that will allow it to restructure the state’s social sector spending, by borrowing Rs50,000 crore outside the budget, and decided to allocate Rs900 crore to increase subsidized food for the poor after it had to bring down the number of ration card holders because of the National Food Security Act.

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