Let alone not allotting funds for the canteens, the corporation budget was silent on their upkeep, raising concerns about their future. Corporation officials say the state government has to spell out its plans for the continuation of the scheme.
Official estimates show the canteens together get less than 1.5 lakh footfalls a month against more than 3.5 lakh a month eight years ago.
In spite of the steady decline, the canteens together have more than 4,355 workers for who more than 60% of the Rs 120 crore annual expenditure goes as salary.
Some canteens get less than 100 people a day but have up to seven workers each. Amudha, former head of a selfhelp-group that runs a canteen in Kodambakkam, said nearly 10 workers were employed for cutting vegetables and cooking among others at a facility that got barely 40 customers a day. “There was no need for so many workers most of who were late and forged attendance. They took rations home too. I questioned this in 2018-19 and was sent home. Some SHG members who supported me also were sacked,” she said.
In the past eight years, just Rs 142 crore has been allotted for the canteens many of which have broken ceilings, dysfunctional fans and no lights or tables. Kitchen equipment and machinery too are broken.
Lack of menu updation, no accountability in both revenue generation and procurement models and excess staff are among the reasons cite for the scheme’s failure. Allegations on staff taking away dry rations have also been reported.
Former mayor Saidai Duraisamy said all canteens need to have CCTV camera surveillance and multiple inspections to prevent irregularities. “Each idli should weigh 60 grams and should be checked. Menu too must get upgraded.”
Reeling under a Rs 3,500 crore debt, the corporation is unable to pay each worker Rs 300 a day. Madras School of Economics director K R Shanmugam said the scheme is still essential. “The corporation can look to downsize the canteens and cut down staff in places where they are not required,” he said, adding that funds can be diverted from other schemes.
The corporation has sought 100 crore from the government to run the canteens and officials said they are carrying out a survey to identify those that are well-performing and carry the practices in others.
Corporation commissioner Gagandeep Singh Bedi said he instructed zonal officers to make sudden inspections. “I have also instructed to keep the canteens hygienic and display the rate list of food.”
Mobile canteens go missing:
The three mobile ‘Amma’ canteens launched by former chief minister Edappadi K Palanisamy in November 2020 are no more visible. The mobile vehicles were launched during the pandemic to cater to interior areas of the city.An assistant engineer from Zone 1 (Thiruvottiyur) said one such vehicle was plying near the Tsunami quarters but it was taken off roads due to poor patronage.