Anil K Rajvanshi
In every religion, culture and civilization, feeding the poor and hungry is considered amongst the noblest deeds. However, large-scale feeding will require huge investment in both resources and time. A better alternative is to create conditions by which proper wholesome food is made available to all the rural poor at affordable price. Getting this done will be the biggest charity!
Most of these rural poor are landless labourers. After working the whole day in the fields in scorching sun they come home in the evening and have to cook for the whole family. The cooking is done on the most primitive ‘chulha’ (wood stove), resulting in tremendous indoor air pollution. Many of them also have no electricity and so they use primitive and polluting kerosene lamps.
WHO data has shown that about 300,000 deaths a year in India can be directly attributed to indoor air pollution in such huts. The pollution also results in many respiratory ailments and these people spend close to Rs.200-400 a month on medical bills.
Besides the pollution, rural poor also eat very poor diet. They buy whatever is available at Public Distribution System (PDS) shops and most of the time the shops are out of rations. Thus they cook whatever is available. The hard work, together with poor eating, takes a heavy toll on their health. This malnutrition also affects the physical and mental health of their children and may lead to creation of a whole generation of mentally challenged citizens.
Poverty to my mind is not an absence of material goods but not getting enough wholesome food. We are what we eat!
So I feel that the best way to provide adequate food for the rural poor is by setting up rural restaurants on a large scale. These restaurants will be similar to regular ones but they will provide meals at subsidised rates for people below poverty line (BPL). These citizens will pay only Rs.10 per meal and the rest, which is expected to be quite small, will come as a part of government subsidy. Our calculations show that this subsidy will be only Rs.2.50 per person per meal.
The buying of meals could be facilitated by the use of UID (Aadhar) card by rural poor. The total cost should be Rs.30 per day for three vegetarian meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner. With an average wage of labourer being Rs.100 a day, the cost of meals will be 30 per cent of his wages.
Since the food will not be cooked in huts, this strategy will result in less pollution in rural households, thereby reducing women’s chores. The spare time can be used in gainful activities like teaching children. Besides giving nutrition and tasty food, these restaurants will also provide a meeting place.
Eating in restaurants will also require fewer utensils in the house and hence less expenditure.