Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 4:
It is only four days since the ‘Aahar’ scheme was launched by the Odisha government amid great fanfare on April 1. But it has already been beset with a host of problems that the planners should have foreseen while devising the scheme. From private competition to mismanagement and customer resentment, the government’s cup of woes is threatening to spill over.
The administration went into a tizzy after an organization named ‘Aama Ghara Healthy Food’ launched its own subsidized food scheme at Rs 10 a meal inside Capital Hospital here on Saturday.
Worried that the new scheme could eat into its own ‘Aahar’ scheme, the government cracked down hard on this private initiative.
At about noon yesterday, the organisation started selling its rice and dalma meals for Rs 10 from a mobile van. The government-run Aahar center wore a deserted look soon after this organization started selling its food.
A worried administration immediately started an undeclared investigation to learn about this organization. The policemen on duty threatened the salesmen to shut shop and even summoned the personnel serving the meals to the outpost inside the hospital premises for questioning. They were, however, released after a while and continued to sell their meals.
The hospital administration offered a specious explanation for the crackdown on the privately run subisidised meal scheme.
“We are not allowing any outside vendors to sell food inside the hospital premises to minimize the risk of food poisoning. We noticed the mobile van trying to sell food and informed the police to carry out an investigation. However, we don’t have any idea about the organization that was selling the food or the quality of food it was serving,” said Director of Capital Hospital Biswa Bhusan Patnaik.
Competition from private entrepreneurs, however is not the only problem faced by the government-run ‘Aahar’ scheme. Beneficiaries have expressed resentment at the discontinuation of the option to take four packed meals available on the first three days.
“The option to carry four packed meals was a great help and must be restored immediately because it is not convenient for all family members to come over to the ‘Aahar’ centre for the meal,” said a customer in Rourkela.
Municipal authorities, however, have their own explanation for doing away with the parcel option. “We found that we are unable to service those who are at the counter since a majority of people preferred to carry their food home. We can restore the option if the government does away with the stipulation that not more than 1000 can be fed at a centre,” said an officer of the Rourkela Municipality.
There were others who resented the dropping of pickle from the menu.
There are other problems too. For one thing, a large section of those who are availing the benefits of the scheme meant for the ‘poor’ are actually well off people. Many of them are seen coming in cars, though they take the precaution of parking their cars some distance away from the ‘Aahar’ centre for fear of being seen lunching with the ‘poor’.
For another, crowd control is proving tough for those manning the centres since some toughies break the queue and insist on being served out of turn.
Drinking water scarcity is another problem that dogs the scheme, not just in Rourkela, but also at other places.
It may be noted that the state government had started the Aahar scheme on April 1 to provide subsidized food to residents of Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur, Cuttack, Brahmapur and Rourkela.