While most of India is locked down to fight the second wave of the pandemic, a sizable section of our society has been adversely affected to the extent that they do not have enough to feed themselves. To mitigate this economic-cum-health crisis the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO) has launched its first Ma Canteen at New Town to serve food to the underprivileged at only ₹5 from 1pm to 3pm every day.
This humanitarian initiative was launched on June 1 and started by serving 100 needy people. The Chairman cum Managing Director of HIDCO, Shri Debashis Sen (IAS Retired) said, “This token price gives the beneficiary a sense of dignity that he or she is not reduced to begging.”
The meal includes rice, dal, a vegetable and egg curry. To ensure proper planning coupons are distributed in the morning from 9am to 10am. The initiative is being run at NKDA market, DCP Office, Action Area-1 near Street No. 45.
Need of the hour
This initiative is part of Honourable Chief Minister’s larger program of setting up Ma Canteens or community kitchens run by women self help groups to provide subsidized cooked food to the urban poor.
Debashis Sen said, “In the lockdown, economic activity for many has come to a near standstill. In a recently published report released on June 1 by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate across India has increased from about 7 percent to 14 percent in the month of May. It is partly due to the lockdown which has forced shops and establishments, as well as public transport like auto-rickshaws or taxis, to stop operations. Besides, people are not coming out to dine in restaurants, or to watch movies at the theatre owing to the lockdown. This has led to an overall economic downturn. Those in the lowest strata of the society are deeply impacted on account of this and are not able to afford essentials like food. To address this problem the Ma Canteen has been launched in New Town.”
Some other initiatives on this line
In addition to the canteen the New Town administration is also ensuring home delivery of free lunch and dinner to COVID affected people in home isolation and would be functional throughout the period the person is in isolation that is, 17 days from the day of being tested positive. “During this period people face problems in preparing food, as the domestic help does not visit their houses out of fear of contracting the virus. Hence chores like cooking, washing dishes, becomes an issue,” Debashis Sen reasoned. There are plans to distribute dry ration among the needy after assessing the demand.
Moreover, for people who are not infected but would like to taste something interesting, Cafe Ekante is ensuring home delivery of exciting dishes. Cafe Ekante at New Town is a well known restaurant which serves delicacies at the Ekante Cottages and other places as well.
Execution amidst pandemic
Cafe Ekante’s staff, machinery, and kitchen are being harnessed to run the Ma Canteen as of now. “Since the restaurant is closed on account of lockdown we thought of using their expertise. When the lockdown would end we would be employing women self help groups for cooking,” informed Sen.
The delivery of free meals to Covid positive home isolated patients is being looked after by a consortium including Hotel Association of Eastern India, Assembly of God Church, Prime Arc, Wom Momo, Cafe Ekante and others. “We are collaborating with multiple partners for this initiative. The meals are being delivered from different restaurants on different days. Wow Momo is looking into the delivery aspect of it. All resources are pooled at one place and then distributed to the patients,” said Debashis Sen.
Talking about overcoming possible challenges he said, “Logistical and time related issues could have been a possibility as the food is coming from different places, and getting distributed to different patients staying at different locations. However, everything is being efficiently managed, thanks to technology. We have formed WhatsApp groups involving key nodal officers appointed at various places where all pertinent information is being shared.”
Response from people
The Ma canteen initiative has received overwhelming response. Everyday 100 people are able to enjoy a full square meal.
The number of free meals being distributed for home isolated patients is not big in number and is thankfully on the decline. “Number of COVID affected individuals are decreasing as we have given due importance to the vaccination program,” Debashis Sen explained. “People are satisfied with the ecosystem which we have created. We are able to assure people of Kolkata that we are always by their side,” he said.
Talking about expanding this initiative Debashis Sen said, “We are willing to expand it to other places like Action Area 2 and 3 as soon as we are able to stabilize the process.”
For the netizens of Newtown, he advised, “Stay healthy, wear masks, maintain social distancing protocols and get vaccinated.”