Thiruvananthapuram: A hotel selling delicious meals at Rs 20 may not sound plausible at a time when the prices of essential commodities and vegetables are touching new highs each day.
But in Kerala, a string of hotels, providing traditional meals at this subsidised rate, has come as a huge relief for a large number of people, especially daily wage earners and those belonging to below poverty line (BPL) during the time of COVID-19 pandemic.
An average of 70,000 meals is being sold daily through the 'Janakeeya Hotels', run by the all-women network Kudumbashree, at the rate of Rs 20 each in the southern state.
Kudumbashree is the poverty eradication mission and one of the most successful women empowerment models of the state government.
The meal packets, sold by the Kudumbashree volunteers through these budget hotels, at a nominal rate of Rs 20, has been a big hit among commoners during the time of lock-down.
Kudumabshree executive director, S Harikishore said it was a historical achievement for the Mission as the total number of the budget hotels opened by it has crossed a 700 mark despite the COVID 19 pandemic and the lockdown.
"The Janakeeya hotels serve an average of 70,000 meals a day at the subsidised rate of Rs 20 each. We have proved that we can ensure quality food for people at this humble rate even during the time of lockdown," he said.
"And we are proud that we can ensure a steady income for over 3,000 Kudumbashree volunteers (all women) through these hotels," he added.
Even when many places were declared containment zones due to the pandemic, the volunteers could deliver food packets without fail.
"We have proved that our hotels can act as nodal points to deliver food packets even when a place is declared as a containment zone," the official added.
Sixty-six-year old Padmavathy, a housemaid working in several houses in the capital city, said the hotel was a huge relief for her on many days during the pandemic.
"At a time when the infection had started spreading on a larger scale, many families were not keen to allow housemaids in their premises due to the risk of the disease spread. It was a big blow to people like me, who depend on daily earnings. At that time, the Janakeeya hotels was a huge relief as we get good meals at just Rs 20," she said.
Not just her, several neighbours in her colony also depended on these budget hotels for many days.
The Janakeeya hotels have been set up as part of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government's ambitious "Hunger-Free Kerala" project.
While presenting the 2020-21 state budget, state Finance Minister T M Thomas Isaac had announced that the government would open 1,000 common man's hotels, serving subsidised meals, across the state.
Currently, a total of 767 such budget hotels-both in urban and village areas-are operating in the state, Nishanth, programme co-ordinator, Kudumbashree said, adding that it was implemented with the support of the Local Self Government and Civil Supplies departments.
Detailing the working mechanism of Janakeeya hotels, he said the subsidised meals are served at these hotels between 12.30 pm and 3 pm.
"Before and after that, the Kudumbashree members, who run the hotels, are free to sell other food articles according to their choice. But, it is not under the subsidy rate," he said.
The budget hotels had begun delivery of meal packets at the doorstep of the needy during the lockdown.
For that, they charge Rs 5 extra for each packet, taking the total amount to Rs 25, he added.
Besides the subsidy of Rs 10 provided by the Kudumbashree for each meal, Rs 30,000 would be provided by the Corporation as a grant for hotels set up in urban areas, and Rs 20,000 by the block panchayat for hotels in village areas.
The land/ rent amount, electricity and water for the hotels are provided free of cost by the respective local self-government institutions, official sources added.