Chennai shuts, but Amma Canteens feed the hungry

Over 350 outlets were open and instructed to hand out free food

Ahead of the funeral of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Tuesday, Chennai shut down — shops, restaurants and roadside eateries were closed.

But as Tamil Nadu mourned her, one of Amma’s pet schemes — ‘Amma Unavagams’ (Amma canteens) stayed open — but not for business as food was served free of cost to all those who walked in.

Of the 407 Amma Canteens, over 350 were open and instructed to hand out free food. Digital entrepreneur and podcaster Kiruba Shankar, who visited one of the canteens on Kamarajar Salai, Virugambakkam, spotted around 20 people having their food at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

“The Amma canteen was open and feeding people. It was business as usual when almost every shop and hotel was closed. The right way to pay a tribute,” he exulted.

Mary Antonita, who had her lunch at an Amma canteen in Thiruvanmiyur, said, “I’m a daily wage worker and I walked five kilometres to have food here.”

However, Naresh Kumar, a resident of Madipakkam, complained that the canteen was closed at Velachery. The same was true in Chintadripet and CIT Nagar. A Chennai Corporation source said these outlets had to down shutters as they ran out of provisions (usually these outlets have a stock for 40 days).

Nutrition security

On Tuesday, Professor M.S. Swaminathan pointed out that Ms. Jayalalithaa’s attention was not only on advances in modern technology but also on the nutrition security of the poor.

“For this purpose, she established a network of Amma Unavagams to provide the needy food at a low cost,” he said in an email statement.

These low-cost canteens attracted global attention with a delegation from Egypt visiting in 2014 to study the model with a view to replicating it.

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