Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Mar 29:
The Odisha government’s much talked about ‘Aahar’ scheme to provide lunch at Rs 5 in five urban centres from April 1 has hit hurdles as two sponsors have backed out from extending financial support to the subsidised food programme.
The Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) decision to pull out of the ‘Aahar’ scheme seems had its ripple effect on National Aluminium Company (NALCO) and Rourkela Steel Plant (RSP) as the two PSUs too dragged its feet to contribute to the scheme.
Taken aback by the pull-outs, series of meetings were held through the day on Saturday at the Naveen Niwas, the residence of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, to ascertain the reason behind the withdrawals and prepare roadmap for the launch on April 1.
“The state government would launch its ‘Aahar’ scheme on the scheduled date despite hiccups. An agreement has been signed with the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) to provide assistance for running the scheme in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack and we don’t see any problem in this. Besides, we have roped in Odisha Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) and Odisha Power Generation Corporation (OPGC) for Sambalpur and Rourkela respectively. The preliminary round talks are over and proposals have been sent. As it was decided earlier, Tata Steel would lend its support for Brahmapur,” a senior official of the Urban Development department said without wishing to be named.
Many private companies have evinced interest to participate in the ‘Aahar’ scheme and the state government is examining the proposals. The government is planning to make it penetrating, the official added.
The Navaratna company NALCO and the Maharatna PSU RSP had entered into an agreement with the state government to back the scheme at Bhubaneswar and Rourkela respectively. However, they withdrew in the last minute leaving the state government fuming.
After MCL’s decision to withdraw from the scheme on Thursday, political bickering echoed in and out of the House the following day. The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) leaders launched a veiled attack on a Central leader alleging that he exerted pressure on the company authorities to opt out of the scheme.
“People of Odisha would do justice to those responsible for attempting to snatch food from the poor. The PSUs backing out after entering into agreement with the government is unfortunate,” BJP spokesperson Samir Das said on Saturday.
The populist scheme is set to be implemented in five urban centres-Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Brahmapur, Sambalpur and Rourkela on April 1, coinciding with the foundation day of Odisha commemorated as Utkal Divas.
The state government had approached OMC, Tata Steel, MCL, RSP and Nalco to provide assistance where four outlets in each city will be set up at bus stand, railway station and hospital areas. The outlets will remain open at the designated places between 11 am and 3 pm and will cater to 4,000 poor people every day.
As per plan prepared by Urban Development department, Rs 20 will be spent on preparation of each meal of which Rs 15 will be borne by corporates from its corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds.