Disappointment served cold: Annapurna Canteens see a decline in food quality, hygiene

Amid extensive inspections in eateries by Telangana Food Safety Department, it is crucial to examine the functioning of Annapurna Canteens.

ByDeepika Pasham

Published Jun 10, 2024 | 8:00 AM Updated Jun 10, 2024 | 9:50 AM

Annapurna Canteens at two locations- one shows unhygienic and other closed (Deepika Pasham/South First)

The Annapurna Canteens were launched in 2014 to cater to low-income people in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

A decade later, they are caught up in a web of issues, including a lack of hygiene and the unavailability of the required quantity of food.

Amid extensive inspections by the Telangana Food Safety Department at eateries across the state, it is crucial to examine the functioning of Annapurna Canteens.

Managed by the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and Hare Krishna Movement Charitable Foundation, the Annapurna Canteens serve meals at ₹5 a plate.

Many believe the food quality in the canteens has declined over the past five years.

According to a GHMC official, the scheme was launched with eight centres and currently, it has 150 canteens out of which 126 are operations.

Eleven canteens, including the one at Gandhi Hospital in Secunderabad, are non-functional and 13 are semi-functional due to some maintenance works, according to a GHMC official.

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Lack of punctuality

When South First visited Annapurna canteens across the twin cities, a huge demand was found near educational institutions and bus stops from where daily wage labourers start for their jobs.

However, the crowds were disappointed since the food was not prepared on time.

In the initial days, the food used to be served by 11.30 am but nowadays it is getting delayed and is served by 12.30-1 pm.

“When the food is served late, some of us (labourers) eat from nearby temples if there is food distribution as we can’t afford to wait,” a person at one of the canteens told South First.

A man having his meal — a plate of rice with sambar — at an Annapurna canteen in Safilguda in Secunderabad spoke with South First about the food

“I eat at the Annapurna Canteen almost every day. Since Covid-19, they reduced the quantity of the food being served and some of us might not get any on some days. The quality has also declined, resulting in many preferring other meals, costing around ₹50. Those who cannot afford ₹50 still come here and eat,” he said.

“Some days, the food arrives late,” he noted.

The dining hall seemed unhygienic, infested with flies, walls with dirt and paint peeling off the walls.

When South First visited the Annapurna canteens near educational institutions, people could be seen paying the fixed price of ₹5 for the meal and a few others paying more, in multiples of five.

The people who paid more money said that the quantity of a single meal was less and they paid more to get more food. Some people were also seen with takeaways.

A student arrived on a bike and stopped near the canteen to have a meal. “I prefer having food from here paying ₹5. I am here to study and eat only less food as I stay in a hostel,” he said.

Closed outlet at Gandhi Hospital

The Annapurna Canteen at Gandhi Hospital has been closed for the past four years, and the ruckus for free food served by good Samaritans is a common sight there.

A large number of people, including attendees of patients, street dwellers, and ragpickers, lining up for food can be seen daily.

Yadamma, who runs a small convenience store near the hospital, told South First that the people fight for the free food almost daily.

“Many people here sleep hungry. Some of them fight when people come to donate food. Every day at 2 pm, a charity feeds as many people as possible,” she said.

Yadamma said she doesn’t avail the free food but would definitely pay ₹5 if the Annapurna canteen was reopened.

“The Annapurna Canteen has been closed for years. The structure looks like it will collapse at any time. If it is reopened, people would surely pay ₹5 for a meal,” she said.

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Closed due to less demand

However, Hare Krishna Movement Charitable Foundation Logistics officer Shiva Bharghav told South First that some canteens, including the one at Gandhi Hospital, were closed due to less demand.

“There are people serving food free of cost (near the hospital). A centre on the premises provides breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, there are many food outlets outside the hospital gate. However, we have approached GHMC officials to reopen the Annapurna Canteen. The hospital administration is new. They may look into it soon,” said Bharghav.

He also noted a seasonal downfall in the number of visitors in several canteens owing to the movement of daily wage labourers to several locations, depending on their work.

Bharghav said that the funds collected in each canteen are given to the driver who delivers the food there and would be paid to GHMC by the contractor every fifteen days.

He added that the GHMC reimburses the collected money to the Hare Krishna Movement Charitable Foundation in a month’s difference.

Noting that the locations of the Annapurna Canteens were decided by the then-corporators and MLAs during the launch of the scheme, Bharghav said there are no plans to propose any new locations.

How much are the staff paid?

A server at the canteen, Swapna, detailed the state of affairs to South First.

“We open the canteen at 11.30 am and close when the food runs out. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the daily visitors count used to be around 90, now it’s reduced to around 60-70,” she said.

She noted that she is paid ₹3,000 every month and that the stall was run by a contractor who acts like a middleman between the workers and the organisation that runs the scheme.

However, Bharghav told South First that the servers were not paid any fixed amount.

“All the servers are not paid ₹3000 monthly, it depends on the number of meals they sell. They are paid one rupee forty paise per meal and we encourage them to attract more crowd. If they serve less number of meals consistently, we fix certain amounts like ₹3,200,” he said.

“During Covid-19, Annapurna Canteens provided afternoon and evening meals also. It was stopped later. Around 60 people have their meals in each canteen and 24 kg of rice is cooked every day,” he added.

However, the representatives did not respond to questions by South First on how the amount of rice was fixed and what they do with leftover rice, if any.

They also did not divulge the GHMC allocations to them and the basis of fixing any certain amount to the servers where only fewer meals were sold.

GHMC allocation

According to GHMC, ₹20 crore was allocated in the 2015-16 budget, which came down to ₹1.79 crore in 2018-2019. In 2019-20, and 2020-21 ₹4.50 crore each was earmarked, and in 2023-24, the canteens were allotted ₹25 crore.

In the financial year 2021-22, the canteens catered to 3,66,87,830 people.

Officials told South First that the budget allocation was reduced in 2018-2019 since the higher amount allotted in the preceding years was to set up the canteens.

The funds for 2023-24 were increased to carry out repair works in some canteens, added the officials.

Joint Commissioner of GHMC Health Department V Shailaja told South First that even though she and some others were recently transferred to the department they reviewed the functioning of Annapurna canteens.

“We are positive about setting up new Annapurna Canteens at different locations according to the suggestions of Hare Krishna Charities. We have requested one at Kawadiguda. We will be assigning teams to give us reports on the locations where it is necessary. There are objections from locals in certain places but we are looking into it,” she said.

When inquired about the lack of cleanliness at the Annapurna canteens, she said she would inspect the outlets as soon as the Model Code of Conduct for the Lok Sabha elections was lifted.

“I have instructed GHMC circle officers to keep an eye on the canteens. A letter was also submitted to the GHMC commissioner to replace 50 kiosks at different Annapurna Canteens as they have been damaged,” she added.

(Edited by Muhammed Fazil)