Thursday, February 23, 2012


The most difficult process of selecting an eatery, when a family goes for an outing for food, is the quality of food served though cleanliness and safety also are factors that do weigh in the minds of customers. Recent trend in India is for the catering joints to raise the prices of items served, indiscriminately for no rhyme or reason, though the food inflation has dipped into the negative zone. Even a small restaurant is charging its customers exorbitantly making it difficult for low income families to eat outside their home more frequently. Pressure of work, inadequate leisure time and other compulsions make outside eating inevitable whether one likes it or not. Under such a difficult situation there is an urgent need for making the cateing sector realize the folly of continuing with such a suicidal course of "killing the Goose that lays golden egg". To some extent the street vendors are providing relief to such harassed citizens by serving foods at reasonable price though their preparation and serving environment cannot be called satisfactory.

In spite of lot of talk and after hundreds of conferences on street foods, nothing precious has happened to modernize the street vending sector and most vendors in almost all cities and towns across the country continue in despicable state. Surprisingly their clientele is only growing by leaps and bounds and they include even well heeled people who just cannot resist the hot steaming food and many tasty preparations doled out by them. In countries like Malaysia, Pakistan etc there are food plazas in strategic places where the erstwhile street vendors are aggregated into a single place, easy and convenient for the customers. These plazas are adequately equipped with the necessary wherewithal to maintain good hygiene and sanitation besides other facilities so necessary to prevent food related episodes of serious nature occuring. This trend is yet to appear in India and the haphazard  street vending food industry continues to languish with potential danger to the health of millions of regular customers.

The Food Truck movement in the US is an offshoot of the "arrogance" and "insensitivity" of the established catering industry which never bothered to provide customized service expected from them besides increasing the price of their offerings to unreasonable levels unacceptable to many customers. To day the Food Truck business is posing a direct challenge to the established players in many cities across the US. It is time Indian catering sector sees the writing on the wall and address the concerns of its patrons who provide "bread and butter" for its survival! It is entirely possible that in India also a Food Truck movement may start eventually to give a better and more affordable alternative to the much harassed Indian customers. 

Maximum exploitation of citizens and their vulnerability takes place in religious and pilgrim centers where the customers are "fleeced" till they bleed with no succour coming from the local civic authorities and food being an essential item for survival the visitors are literally "extorted" to pay whatever is demanded for keeping their body and soul together! Same is true in bus stations and Railway platforms across the country where it is "free for all" situation with the monopoly caterer selling cheap imitations of popular brands and sub-standard foods at exorbitant prices. It is time that the state governments and civic authorities across the country wake up and take effective measures to prevent such out right "thuggery" in front of their eyes allowing the perpetrators  to go Scot-free. Such negligence can only make the lives of the citizens more and more miserable, especially when they step out of their home.

Recent announcement by the civic authorities in Chennai that they would provide relief to thousands of visitors to the city through a program of setting up low cost food out lets that would serve good foods at reasonable price is indeed welcome. According to the Municipal Authorities there, the concept of 'Kai yendhi bhavan' or roadside eateries would be translated into reality by setting up around 1,000 eateries across the city which would hopefully provide quality, hygienic food to the city's floating population of 10 lakh every day. The targeted beneficiaries include daily wage laborers, auto rickshaw drivers, unorganized workers, and school and college children who can expect to get breakfast and lunch items every day. To start with the Corporation expects to set up 200 such eateries on a trial basis immediately. Those already running roadside eateries can be expected to get preference though they would be wage earners without proprietorship of the out lets.  If the proposal materializes many self-help group members with reputation can be expected to be roped in to prepare food and transport it to the eateries. According to the proposal mooted, the food is to be prepared at the four existing community kitchens of the Corporation from where it is supplied to relief centers during the monsoons. The commodities would be procured from the government owned Tamil Nadu Civil Supplies Corporation at right prices. Of course there could be a slip between the "cup and the lips", if the state government does not accord permission to the Corporation's initiative. 

A natural question that arises in this context is whether any government agency is really equipped with the wherewithal of running a business successfully and if the past experience is any indication the success of the new program may be somewhat tenuous. But skepticism is not justified when people fired with enthusiasm, even in the government, are driven by such noble intentions and the program must be given a decent trial before expanding the same further. If the bureaucratic mind set and usual red tapism associated with government endeavors yield to dynamism, hard work, dedication and mission mentality, there is no way this experiment can fail. If successful, such efforts must be replicated in all states with continuous improvements being incorporated into the Chennai model based on the experience gained.  

Update 19/6/2012
Here is a comment from Chennai on the above publication:

Dear Sir:

I recently came across your blog and in it the article about the 1000 cheap eateries that the Chennai Corporation has planned to set up.

In this context I wanted to introduce to you our own project in Chennai that has successfully set up a back end facility for producing 30000 meals and at the front end, over 50 road side eateries that sell our food. There is no onsite cooking. The women who operate these kiosks earn between Rs 200 and Rs 300 per day, depending on their business volume. We are non profit aiming to empower women and at the same time offer some food security to the community through affordable, hygienic food.

Please find more information about our work at If you happen to be in Chennai we would be glad to show you our project.

Sincerely, Ganesh


1 comment:

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