BENGALURU: Flooded with complaints over the poor quality of food served at Indira Canteens, mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun has warned the caterers that they will be sent packing if things don’t change soon.
“The food quality is deteriorating by the day and our employees themselves are finding it difficult to consume it, ” Gangambike said.
Indira Canteens were commissioned amid fanfare by the previous Congress government to provide food at subsidised rates to weaker sections across the city. Over 11 crore plates of food have been served in Indira Canteens since their inception in August 2017.
A reality check by TOI at a couple of Indira Canteens over the past week revealed the food was not only insipid but also contained strands of hair.
Launched amid much fanfare in 2017, Indira Canteens were meant to dish out hot and affordable meals to the poor. The previous government’s pet project tasted success — the outlets served 6 crore meals in almost a year — until complacency crept in. That corporators themselves prefer not to eat at these canteens speaks volumes about its quality. Also, the BBMP’s claim of food inspectors doing a good job doesn’t quite ring true, given the number of complaints by consumers. The mayor’s warning should send a strong message to caterers who must realise there can be no compromise when it comes to health and hygiene.
There were not many customers at the Indira Canteen in Hemmigepura (ward 198) in southwest Bengaluru when a TOI reporter visited it on Thursday. Built on the roadside, the outlet doesn’t see much footfall, staffers admitted. On ordering a plate of pongal, the reporter found it lacked salt and was half-cooked.
Asked about the substandard pongal, a staffer replied rudely: “People don’t come here often and the consumption of food is very little.”
A visit to the Indira Canteen in Jayanagar, which is always crowded, revealed lack of basic hygiene. The food, however, didn’t taste as bad as the items served at Hemmigepura.
“Food is served in plates that have soap stains, and sometimes water glasses too smell bad,” said Madhukar P, a resident of Jayanagar 9th Block and retired officer. “Often, there are no spoons to eat and we have to wait till they are washed,” he added.
Special commissioner (finance) Venkatesh S admitted certain areas had problems but most Indira Canteens were well-maintained. “Ex-military staff check the food quality on a daily basis. They are doing a great job,” he claimed.
Another senior BBMP official there is politics at work and the opposition is lobbying to change the catering contractors. “Two corporators wanted some of their men to operate Indira Canteens, but we objected to it. They are the ones who are creating the problems,” he added.
Box: Corporators skip lunch at council meetings
The most damning indictment for the poor quality of Indira Canteen food is available during every BBMP council meeting. Most corporators, including the mayor, scrupulously avoid the food.
The supply of Indira Canteen food at the council meetings began in December. Though the launch was well attended, corporators began giving the lunch a miss from the next month itself. Facing angry corporators, the BBMP ordered food from private caterers for the council’s budget meeting on February 18.
Venkatesh said the tax and finance committee took the decision as it was a budget meeting. “It requested for special lunch. Else, we serve only Indira Canteen food during council meetings. People are just blaming us for no reason,” he added.