New Delhi, Oct. 5: Indias Planning Commission is not wrong.
A person earning Rs 32 a day can have three standard meals at the commissions canteen for Rs 18 and still save Rs 14 out of the princely sum that is being considered the reference point for urban poverty.
The poor can think of queuing up outside the commissions office but they will have to gatecrash as only those with identity cards are allowed inside the building on Parliament Street.
The screening means that people who earn 16 times more than Rs 32 a day are partaking of the Rs 6 meal and the subsidy that keeps the tab so low. Needless to say, many of the diners are outraged by the Rs 32 cap but they do not appear to have realised the irony of feeding on subsidy — even if it is a drop in the ocean — that otherwise could have been used to help the poor.
Between 200 and 250 employees eat at the canteen daily which offers subsidised food. Where else can you have lunch for Rs 6 in a city like Delhi? This is one of cheapest canteens in the country, said T.P Sharma, an employee at the canteen.
Many of the employees, who include lower division clerks, upper division clerks and Group D staff, make it a point to have lunch at the canteen every day. They say the meal is cheaper in the canteen than at home, he added with a smile.
A senior official underscored the contradiction. The government is providing salaries to its employees as well as subsidised food but when it comes to poor people they have a different criteria which is abysmally low, the official said.
According to the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations, a lower division clerk at a central government office draws a salary of Rs 16,000 on joining while an upper division clerk gets around Rs 21,000.
On Rs 32 a day, the poor can live with some dignity, if they are allowed access to this canteen as well other government canteens in the capital, the official added, not entirely in jest.
Parliament and almost all government offices in the capital serve employees food that is subsidised or largely paid for by taxpayers.
A sumptuous vegetarian thali costs Rs 14 at the Parliament canteen while one meal at Shastri Bhavan and Krishi Bhavan costs Rs 10.
Over Rs 5 crore is allocated during the current financial year for the canteens at Parliament. The Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha share the amount.
Our salary is very low compared to MPs but they also get subsidised food at the Parliament canteen. The Planning Commission should rethink about the Rs 32 cap on the poverty line to make a difference to the lives of poor people, said an upper-division clerk at Krishi Bhavan.
An MP gets Rs 50,000 a month as salary, plus other payouts such as constituency allowance (Rs 40,000) and office expenses allowance (Rs 40,000).
Ranjan Prasad Yadav, MP and chairperson of the committee on food management in Parliament House, conceded that the rate at the canteen was cheap and explained why it was not being raised.
Earlier, the price of the meal was very low but I raised it last time. But the hike was not much because of opposition from several MPs, he said.
Asked about the government providing subsidised meals to salaried employees and having a different criteria for the poor, National Advisory Council member Harsh Mander said: This is a very interesting observation.
My anguish is about why we have different criteria and abysmally low standards for poor people. The word adequate is normative, implying that the government judges such low expenditures are adequate for the poor to live on and there lies our opposition. As middle-class aspirations of adequate have surged, why is it fine for the poor to subsist on cheap food, poor quality education and almost absent health care? Mander asked.