The Amma Canteen at Chennai's Santhome had a VVIP visitor for breakfast on Wednesday morning as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edapaddi K Palaniswami stopped at the outlet for a plate of Idli (rice cake).
K Palaniswami made a surprise visit to check the quality of food and also to see whether social distancing is being maintained, as state-run Amma Canteens have turned a saviour for the poor and needy amid the nation-wide lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, the brain behind Amma Canteens that serves food for the poor at a subsidised rate, had launched the programme from this very canteen. The canteen offers Idli for for Re 1, Sambar Rice for Rs 5, a plate of "Karuvapellai Satham" for Rs 5 and Rs 3 for a plate of curd rice.
The chief minister also interacted with customers and asked them about the quality of the food. He also inspected the cooking methods and storage of ingredients.
The Amma Canteen project was a success during late Jayalalithaa's tenure between 2011 and 2016 drawing not just the poor but even middle income families. What began as a project in Chennai was soon expanded across the state. A few other states, including Karnataka, have replicated the model.
However, the project has suffered in the recent years due to fund crunch. Recently, the state government roped in corporates inviting them to use their CSR funds.
Amid the lockdown, the Amma Canteen workers are now demanding a special package for continuing to work even amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is in line with the recently-announced plan by the Chief Minister to pay an additional one month salary to medical staff and sanitation workers involved in the efforts to combat COVID-19,. particularly this attending to where there are positive cases.
The women workers said that at present they are being paid a monthly salary of Rs 9000 only.
A Cook at a canteen in South Chennai, who did not wish to be named, said: "We too face utmost risk of contracting the virus because all kinds of people come here. My family do not want me to come here during this lockdown period. We come only because we are concerned about the people."
Another worker said: "The Chief Minister should acknowledge our contribution too."