The latest example of creative thinking is the Amma Unavagam (canteen) idea of Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalithaa. Started six months ago, the canteens offer staple food items such as idlis, sambar rice, pongal and curd rice at heavily subsidised prices. Idlis are sold at a rupee each while sambar rice and curd rice cost Rs 5 and Rs 3 a plate, respectively. And these are not small portions. Each idli weighs 100 gms while the rice plates are of 350 gms each.

If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then going by the thronging crowds, these canteens — 200 of them in Chennai alone, plus in 9 other cities/towns in Tamil Nadu — are quite popular indeed. They open for breakfast in the morning and again for lunch; soon they will be open for dinner too. The best part of these canteens is that they are clean and efficient, run by women self-help groups (SHG) who are provided rations by the state.

And it is not just the neighbourhood watchman, maid and rickshaw-puller that patronise it; even middle-class office-goers seem to vote for these canteens if newspaper reports are anything to go by. For any doubts google “amma canteen” and read the different newspaper reports to understand how satisfied the man on the street is by this novel concept. This is a very interesting thing indeed and proves that universalism is an important component of any social sector scheme. Read More