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Cooking school beats poll code

New Delhi, March 14: A united Andhra Pradesh stays elusive but that will not necessarily leave Seemandhra’s K. Chiranjeevi with a bad taste in the mouth.

The Union tourism minister last evening secured cabinet clearance for the country’s first National Culinary Institute, to be set up on his home turf of Tirupati — eight days after the model code of conduct kicked in.

A provision has been kept for three other such institutes in future, with one of them being planned in Salt Lake because of Calcutta’s proximity to the Northeast.

The Election Commission gave permission for the project but stipulated there can be no foundation-laying ceremony or “publicity” — that is, advertisements or media releases.

Chiranjeevi, who has succeeded where three previous tourism ministers failed, however, knows that word will get around anyway.

Tirupati is the Seemandhra constituency that sent the actor-politician to the Assembly five years ago before he gave it up for a Rajya Sabha seat and a Union ministry berth. Chiranjeevi would be keen to nurture the seat for the future.

The idea of a national culinary school has been cooking for over a decade. Jagmohan, tourism minister in the NDA government, had been the first to suggest one in 2002 and procured a plot in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. But the proposal did not take off.

Renuka Chaudhary was the next to push the project. The UPA I tourism minister wanted it in her constituency of Khammam in Andhra Pradesh but could not arrange for land during her two-year tenure.

“During Ambika Soni’s time, the proposal was on the back burner as (being a Rajya Sabha member) she did not have any particular constituency to cater to,” a senior ministry official said.

But the project came into focus again when Kumari Selja took over as tourism minister.

She wanted the institute in Pinjore, a small Haryana town that falls within her then constituency of Ambala. Selja recently resigned from the Lok Sabha after securing a Rajya Sabha seat.

As soon as Chiranjeevi bagged the tourism portfolio on November 1, 2012, he began jockeying to bring the institute to Tirupati. Then chief minister Kiran Reddy gave the Union tourism ministry 14 acres in Tirupati free of cost.

Sources said the tourism ministry forwarded the proposal to the cabinet secretariat on March 1. There were two cabinet meetings between March 1 and March 5, the day the Election Commission announced the polls and the model code came into effect.

“Those meetings focused on key political issues, such as the pros and cons of bringing the anti-corruption bills in as ordinances. Obviously, the proposal for a culinary institute did not receive much attention,” an official said.

The ministry then sought the Election Commission’s permission.

“We gave a conditional approval. First, there can be no foundation stone-laying ceremony and second, there should not be any publicity about the cabinet decision,” a senior poll panel official said.

Under the approved proposal, Tirupati will be home to the headquarters of the National Culinary Institute, with regional branches in Noida, Pinjore and Salt Lake.

The institutes will research advanced cooking techniques and teach all varieties of Indian recipes, from Nagaland to Maharashtra. The Institutes of Hotel Management (IHMs), which too function under the tourism ministry, offer only basic culinary courses.

“The (hospitality) industry faces a huge shortage of trained manpower. Even IHM graduates have to undergo job training when they join a hotel chain,” a senior ministry official said.

“Graduates from the National Culinary Institute will be able to cook at an international level from day one.”

The Tirupati institute will be built at a cost of Rs 45 crore and will start operating within the next two years. Each batch will have 60-70 students.