In every religion, culture and
civilization, feeding the poor and hungry is considered amongst
the most noble deeds. In the Hindu religion, for instance, one is
able to do one's 'punya' (good work) by feeding the poor.
However, such large-scale feeding will require huge investment in
both resources and time. A better alternative is to create
conditions by which proper wholesome food is made available to all
the rural poor at affordable price. Getting this done will be the
Most of these rural poor are landless labourers. After working the
whole day in the fields in scorching sun they come home in the
evening and have to cook for the whole family. The cooking is done
on the most primitive 'chulha' (wood stove), resulting in
tremendous indoor air pollution. Many of them also have no
electricity and so they use primitive and polluting kerosene
WHO data has shown that about 300,000 deaths a year in India can
be directly attributed to indoor air pollution in such huts. The
pollution also results in many respiratory ailments and these
people spend close to Rs.200-400/month on medical bills.
Besides the pollution, rural poor also eat very poor diet. They
buy whatever is available at Public Distribution System (PDS)
shops and most of the time the shops are out of rations. Thus they
cook whatever is available. The hard work, together with poor
eating, takes a heavy toll on their health. This malnutrition also
affects the physical and mental health of their children and may
lead to creation of a whole generation of mentally challenged
Poverty to my mind is not an absence of material goods but not
getting enough wholesome food. We are what we eat!
So I feel that the best way to provide adequate food for the rural
poor is by setting up rural restaurants on a large scale. These
restaurants will be similar to regular ones but they will provide
meals at subsidised rates for people below poverty line (BPL).
These citizens will pay only Rs.10 per meal and the rest, which is
expected to be quite small, will come as a part of government
subsidy. Our calculations show that this subsidy will be only
Rs.2.50 per person per meal.
The buying of meals could be facilitated by the use of UID (Aadhar)
card by rural poor. The total cost should be Rs.30 per day for
three vegetarian meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner. With an
average wage of labourer being Rs.100 a day, the cost of meals
will be 30 percent of his wages.
Since the food will not be cooked in huts, this strategy will
result in less pollution in rural households, thereby reducing
women's chores. The spare time can be used in gainful activities
like teaching children. Besides giving nutrition and tasty food,
these restaurants will also provide a meeting place.
Eating in restaurants will also require fewer utensils in the
house and hence less expenditure. For other things like hot water
for bath, making tea, boiling milk and cooking on holidays some
utensils and fuel will be required. Our Institute NARI (Nimbkar
Agricultural Research Institute, Pune) has developed an extremely
efficient and environment-friendly lanstove, which provides both
light and heat for cooking.
Cooking is a luxury for the rich and upper middle class. For the
rural and urban poor, it is a chore and a misery. Hence,
subsidised meals in rural restaurants are a necessity for these
How can this be done?
Providing reasonably priced wholesome food is the basic aim and
programme of the union government. This is the basis of their much
touted food security programme. However, in 65 years, they have
not been able to do so. Thus I feel a public-private partnership
can help in this.
To help restaurant owners, the central or state governments should
provide them with soft loans and other lines of credit for setting
up such facilities. The corporate world can take this up as part
of its corporate social responsibility activity.
More clientele (volumes) will make these restaurants economical.
Existing models of dhabas, Udipi-type restaurants and the like can
be used in this scheme. These restaurants may also be able to
provide midday meals in rural schools. At present, the midday meal
programme is faltering due to various reasons.
Cooking food in these restaurants will also result in much more
efficient use of energy since energy per kg of food cooked in
households is greater than that in restaurants. The main thing,
however, will be to reduce drastically the food wastage in these
Rural restaurants can also be forced to use clean fuels like LPG
or locally produced biomass-based liquid fuels. This strategy is
very difficult to enforce for individual households.
Large-scale employment generation in rural areas may result from
this activity. With an average norm of 30 people employed per
100-chair restaurant, this programme has the potential of
generating about 20 million jobs permanently in rural areas.
Besides, the infrastructure development in setting up restaurants
and establishing the food chain will help local farmers and will
create huge wealth generation in these areas.
In the long run, this strategy may provide better food security
for the rural poor than the existing one which is based on cheap
food availability in PDS - a system which is prone to corruption
In India, huge donations are given in both cash and kind to
temples. Thus most of the temples are very rich. It will be better
if somehow these donations can be channelled to create rural
restaurants. This will help assuage the feelings of the giver and
at the same time provide food to the rural poor. The blessings of
the rural poor to my mind will be far more powerful than those of
the gods in temples!
Anil K. Rajvanshi is director of the Nimbkar
Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), Pune. He can be contacted