BENGALURU: Indira Canteens, launched by , have served up nearly 6 crore meals to Bengalureans in the past 11 months. The menu has grown and so has the number of Indira Canteens while mobile canteens have been added as well. The consensus so far: it’s a healthy, tasty and affordable option for all, but especially for the poor and those who need to grab a meal on the go.

The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike () launched 101 of the 199 subsidised canteens on August 16 last year. The remaining started operations over the next few months. A year on, there are 171 ward canteens and 17 mobile canteens. Eleven canteens are yet to come up as their locations have not been identified.

As the number of canteens increased, the number of plates sold every day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) almost doubled from 1,09,773 in September 2017 to 2,10,200 plates in June 2018. The number peaked in March at 67,56,450, and fell in April and May, before rising in June. Officials attributed the drop to handouts during assembly polls.

Activists say the canteens have made a difference when it comes to serving low-cost, hot meals to the urban poor. The canteens were primarily targeted at autorickshaw drivers, construction labourers and daily-wagers.

“Even for those earning Rs 7,000 a month, spending Rs 30 for a meal every day adds up to a lot of money. The meals served at the canteen are priced at Rs 5 and Rs 10 and they have really made a difference,” said Vinay Sreenivasa, convener of Bengaluru Street Vendors Association. “It is good that they are changing the menu to include ragi mudde. I think they should include non-vegetarian options like eggs, as well as millets which are highly nutritious. Additionally, instead of giving the tenders to only one or two big contractors, BBMP can give it to women’s self-help-groups.”

The initial contract for a year was bagged by Rewards and ChefTalk. The contracts, ending this August 16, have been renewed for another year.

Observers say BBMP has spared no efforts to ensure quality control at the canteens. The two contractors have been fined for a range of infringements – including smaller size of idlis and food running out quickly, depriving many.

In April 2018, BBMP levied fines of Rs 13 lakh on ChefTalk and Rs 1.7 lakh on Rewards, most of which had to do with food reaching the canteens late, not matching the indent quantity or of generally bad quality. The contractors have also been fined amounts ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 5,000 for staff failing to wear uniform or for complaints from customers, including “raitha had a lot of water”, “vangibath/ chutney was very spicy” and pickle not issued”.

“Retired Army officers have been posted at each of the canteens to monitor the meals. Our health inspectors and assistant revenue officers have also been put on rotation to inspect the canteens” said a BBMP official.

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