They complain dues are pending for the last eight months; BBMP says they are looking at new contractors to continue the initiative.
Caterers of Bangalore’s pocket-friendly Indira Canteens are having a difficult time running them as the dues owed by the Bengaluru Bruhat Mahanagar Palike (BBMP)has piled up to Rs 20 crore for some. They say that they are struggling to manage basic costs like staff salary.
“Currently, the BBMP owes us around Rs 20 crore. The payment hasn’t been since last eight months. In between, they paid us 50 percent of the amount for four months. Because of the pending amount, we are facing difficulty in providing services, paying staff salary and material procurement,” said Govind Poojari, Managing Director of ChefTalk Hospitality Service Private Limited, an Indira Canteen contractor.
Canteen operators say that besides being unable to pay their staff, they are also struggling with the procurement rephrase of groceries and vegetables.
Launched in 2017 by the Karnataka government to make the city hunger-free, Indira canteens provide meals at highly subsidized rates to cater to the urban poor. The canteens saw a sharp spike in demand during the two lockdowns.
During the second wave of COVID-19, the state government announced that canteens will offer free meals to the needy. The city currently has 174 such canteens operated by three contractors – Rewards, Adamya Chetana Foundation and ChefTalk.
The state government, in the recently concluded assembly session, admitted that they have not allocated a single rupee towards running these canteens in the last two financial years. They also said that the responsibility was passed on to the already cash-strapped civic body to run them at their own cost.
BBMP in its latest budget allocated around Rs 80 crore for the scheme, which, contractors say is below the minimum requirement.
The civic body said that a part of the contractors’ dues have been cleared recently and that they are looking for new caterers to continue the initiative.
“We released Rs 8 crore last week. We need to relook at the system because now there are a lot of complaints regarding the quality of food that’s supplied. The tender period (of the current contractors) has ended. We are looking at whether to call for a fresh tender or we should give it to some agency who has an exemption,” said Thulasi Maddineni, Special Commissioner (Finance), BBMP.
Meanwhile, activists have slammed BBMP for non-payment of dues and suggested some changes to make the scheme more effective.
“It’s really shocking that BBMP hasn’t paid the contractors of such an important scheme. It’s time that they start looking at options where local communities can be involved; whether street vendors can be employed in the Indira canteens to cook food or local self-help groups be involved in catering to the needs,” said Vinay Sreenivasa, Advocate at Alternative Law Forum