The Delhi government has decided to provide cheap and wholesome food that would make it possible for the labourers, rickshah-walas, street-hawkers access to cheap wholesome food. Could not there be a better way? For when the government provides things to the poor, it impacts the livelihoods of the other poor.
Look around you, bhaiyon and bahano. Who is the most apparent poor man on the street? What is he doing? He is selling food! Chhola bhatura, Chhola Kulcha, rusk and chai, boiled eggs, paapri chaat, fried noodles, momos, idly, kebabs in the inner cities, bananas, sweet potatoes, and what have you. This man/woman of the street is serving the needs of the other men and women on the street.
Would it not be better to spend those 100 odd crores (I am just picking a number) to enhance the services of the street-vendor. Lets figure out how we can facilitate certainty of tenure of that little space each occupies, improved hygiene, access to water (a serious problem for them), greater experimentation, and so on. Let us not have public services competing with them, but work with them and improve the nutrient value and hygiene of street-vendors. The net result would be improved demand, health, nutrition and livelihood.
Can 100 crores do it? I don’t know, but let us at least try. The Delhi government’s low cost canteens, if they come up on a large enough scale to make a difference, will compete not with the McDonalds and KFCs, but with the Kelawala and andawala.
All across eastern Asia for instance, we can eat street-food just about anywhere which is hygienic, nutritious and cheap. Everyone would gain, if we could replicate that in Delhi. Instead of NGOs supplying food, why can we not have NGOs working with street-vendors and monitoring them and advocating improved practices. Instead of giving these new canteens some place on government land, why don’t we allocate a few square meters on every square and bus stop legally for the streetvendor. Instead of subsidizing water to the canteens, why don’t we supply clean water to the vendor. This is all possible, it has been done in other countries, why not do it in ours. We would have retained and grown such a rich part of our heritage.
Yes Sir you may feel good now, but low cost government canteens will cause more harm than good. For the economy is not a machine with a linear process. But it is more like a web of interrelationships, intervention of any type has a ripple effect throughout that web. Subsidies and interventions therefore should be thought through carefully. This proposal is precisely within the class of government interventions that Gandhiji was rejecting when he penned Hind Swaraj.