Thanks to the lockdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic in March, 2020, the Rs 10-a-meal scheme had to be discontinued and has remained closed since then
Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India
AHMEDABAD – The Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled Gujarat government has snatched the bread out of the mouth of some 900,000 cash-starved labourers, prompting activists and alert citizens to brand the Vijay Rupani regime as a pro-rich, anti-poor administration.
The Rs 500-million Shramik Annapurna Yojana, an ambitious scheme under which piping hot, nutritious meals were given to registered construction workers in the first phase for just Rs 10, has been in limbo for the past several months.
Hundreds of eye-catching, saffron-coloured food stalls installed at labour markets on crossroads across the state have been gathering dust and cobwebs since March last with penniless beneficiaries eating their hearts out and smacking their lips in the hope that the little canteens would reopen soon after the big hullabaloo raised by the Opposition Congress in the none-too-distant past in Ahmedabad.
Despite suggestions made by the Bandhkaam Mazdoor Sangathan (Construction Workers’ Union) to instead offer unemployment doles or ration coupons to the hard-pressed labourers and migrants hailing from different states, Rupani launched his pet project on July 18, 2017—just ahead of assembly polls–with great fanfare by himself serving to a few souls the freshly-cooked meals comprising five rotis, rice, a mixed-vegetable sabzi, pickle and a green chili to boot.
Thanks to the lockdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic in March, 2020, the Rs 10-a-meal scheme, which was misused by even nearby shopkeepers and auto drivers, had to be discontinued and has remained closed since then. Though a couple of unsuccessful attempts was made to restart it in 2018, neither BJP nor the state government was interested in once again feeding the hungry workers.
According to Jatin Sheth, Ahmedabad’s torch-bearer for citizen empowerment, the Gujarat government’s decision to keep the shutters of Annapurna counters down since March shows the complete apathy of the BJP-led government in Gujarat towards the people who contribute in building the cities by their hard labour.
“Modi has transformed BJP from a party of economically middle class people into a party that cares and caters to the interests of the rich,” opined Sheth who has been taking up the cudgels for oppressed citizens.
Vipul Pandya, founder of the Construction Workers’ Union, told Clarion India that the government was squandering funds of the state-run Gujarat Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board for the ill-planned scheme which was used more by labourers from industries in organised sectors as well as shopkeepers and auto-rickshaw drivers.
Social activist Dev Desai said that the quality of the meals that was being distributed left much to be desired, adding that this government worked only for affluent industrialists, and never spared a thought for down-at-heel labourers, farmers or the man on the street.
“The closure of the scheme for labourers for subsidised food has clearly exposed the anti-poor, anti-labourer face of the Gujarat government which, surprisingly, suffers no qualms of conscience in offering massive tax exemptions to corporates,” said Minority Coordination Committee convener Mujahid Nafees, and demanded immediate reopening of Annapoorna counters.
Senior journalist-activist Radheshyam Goswami felt that the rich, including politicians, wanted all facilities like subsidised food, transportation, housing, education besides pension, those who lived a hand-to-mouth existence had to be satisfied with rationed food grains.
Popular Muslim community leader Zahid Kadri said the BJP administration, which winked at the wrongs of Adanis Ambanis and Mallyas but did not mind starving the have-nots, should rename the ‘Annapurna (giver of food) scheme as Bandhapurna (giver of closure).
While Nikunj Jethwa, an alert citizen, said the meal scheme launched ahead of state elections in 2017 was not aimed at the poor but was an advertising campaign to garner votes, auto driver Naresh Rajput lambasted the government for playing ducks and drakes with the funds of the workers’ welfare board for politicking in the name of the meal scheme for labourers.