It's 6.30 a.m. and construction workers have started assembling near kadiyanakas (hiring points) in search of a job. But one is witness to an unusual scene: Their tiffin boxes are empty.
The reason for this is the Shramik Annapoorna Yojana (Construction Workers' Meal Scheme), under which each registered worker is provided a plateful of food for a mere Rs 10 with the Gujarat government providing a hefty subsidy of Rs 19 per meal.
The meal includes rotis or theplas, mixed vegetable, cereals, rice, pickle or chutney, and green chilies daily -- and a sukhadi (a local sweet) once a week, and the labourers, after filling their tiffin boxes, then hope they will find work for the day.
There are 43 such distribution points in Ahmedabad alone and 44 across the state in 11 cities -- Gandhinagar, Kalol, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Valsad, Dharampur, Vapi, Bharuch and Ankleshwar.
"Due to this scheme more than 25,000 construction workers benefit daily and we have served over 14 lakh meals till date (from its launch on July 18)," Anil Patel, Chairman of the Gujarat Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, said.
Construction workers can enroll themselves at the saffron-coloured food outlets -- that bear pictures of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel -- by filling out a form, following which they get a registeration card.
As for the food, it has been outsourced to NGOs who deliver it to the various outlets in the city, where it is served between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. Each meal provides 1,850 calories and weighs 700 grams.
"We are very happy now as we do not need to get up early in the morning to prepare food for the family," Champa Ben, who works as a labourer at a nearby construction site, told this visiting IANS correspondent.
Describing the state government's scheme as a boon for labourers, she said: "Earlier, if we woke up late in the morning, then to buy a single meal would cost around Rs 30. But now we buy it for Rs 10."
"Even in Rs 30, the food only comprised four rotis and a vegetable. But under this scheme, we get enough food," she said.
Champa Ben has a family of five and her husband is also a construction worker.
Echoing similar views, Hargobind, also a construction worker, said that the state government's initiative is very good for them.
"Due to this scheme I save Rs 100 daily on my food," he said. "Now I don't need to wake up my sick wife to prepare food for me in the early morning. So I come here and get the food from the counter."
The scheme draws inspiration from the Amma Canteens which then Chief Minister J. Jayalaithaa launched in 2013. These serve pongal and sambar for Rs 5 and an idli for one rupee. For lunch, lemon rice is served for Rs 5. The canteens also provide chapatis, curd rice and a side dish for Rs 3 and sambar rice for Rs 5.
The recently launched Indira Canteens in Bengaluru serve breakfast for Rs 5 and lunch and dinner for Rs 10 each.
The only difference is that these canteens cater to the general public, unlike the food outlets in Gujarat that cater only to construction workers.
# Anand Singh was in Ahmedabad at the invitation of the BJP Good Governance Cell.