community kitchen

The Supreme Court has made a strong recommendation for organizing community kitchens in various parts of country wherever these are needed to prevent hunger. This is the most direct way of reducing hunger which should be widely welcomed.

I remember visiting a community kitchen at the peak of the drought some time back in Bundelkhand region. The hunger here was acute. The most vulnerable persons in the village had been selected for once a day feeding under this community kitchen scheme. It was clear that it was a big help for them. Every one in the group discussion we organized in the village agreed that the scheme was very welcome; their only concern was how long the funds for this will last.

Fortunately we already have the infrastructure and the experience for daily cooking of meals for a large number of children under the mid-day meal program. Even though this program was badly disrupted in Covid times, hopefully it will come back to its earlier levels in due course. All that we have to  do is to add more to this effort. For example if 20  most vulnerable persons affected by  hunger are identified in a village and meal for 100 children is already being cooked in the village, then all we need to do is to add to this cooking to provide free cooked meal for 20 adults as well, while providing an additional cook perhaps, as the existing cooks may  be already overworked.

This scheme can be introduced in about 5000 villages and about 3000 urban places ( combining some worksites, a few slums and shelters of urban homeless) immediately  and learning from the expriences  here for about six months this can be extended to a much wider area, with adequate funds being  provided in the next year’s union budget.

Here it may be added that the allocation for mid-day meals also needs to be improved to provide better nutrition, to improve kitchens and to ensure regular and fair wages to cooks, who are generally women from poor households themselves and whose payments are not only poor but are also often delayed in many places.

However in some villages it may be more convenient or even essential to have a separate place for community kitchen, different from where mid-day meals are cooked. This may be the situation in those villages where the poorest people live in hamlets which are far away from the school. Or in the case of a big village with several hamlets of very poor people it may be necessary to have more than one community kitchen.

It is important to remember the diversity of conditions in various villages as well as the special vulnerabilities of various people. Some highly vulnerable persons exposed much to hunger may not even be in a position to walk to the community kitchen and some arrangement of sending food to such a person from community kitchen will have to be made. If such persons are not covered by community kitchen then its aim will not be achieved. However several people will be willing to come forward to take up such tasks once the government starts such a welcome program for reducing hunger.

Special care will have to be taken to ensure that food is provided in comditions of respect and dignity and there is no discrimination on any basis whatsover.

This can be one of the most creative and useful welfare programs of India which will get worldwide recognition and respect.

Ar present huge wastage is occurring under the name of nutrition in India and billions of Rs. are beig wasted on artificial fortification programs which are not only very wasteful but  can even be harmful. These are being pushed and promoted to advance big business interests. These billions of Rs. should be diverted to community kitchens which are capable of directly taking food to the hungry and the people who will get employment in this will also be from weaker sections. Let this go ahead as a program entirely of community from which big business interests should be kept away entirely.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Protect Earth Now. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine-A Path to Peace ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times).

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