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Cheap politics

What Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s cheap breakfast largesse is all about

RA Chandroo

Idlis for ₹1 and a plate of sambhar rice for ₹3? Tamil Nadu CM J Jayalalithaa’s determination to ensure food subsidies reach the right quarters led to the launch six months ago of the first Amma Unavagam (Amma’s canteen) in Chennai, where women’s self-help groups prepared basic breakfast and lunch items at heavily subsidised rates. While Amma may have her heart in the right place — and an eye on the upcoming election — her move will exact a heavy price from the exchequer. The numbers will have to wait for next year’s budget, but reports say the Chennai corporation is losing 86 paise on every ₹1 idli and is spending over ₹5,000 daily per canteen on vegetables alone. Meanwhile, 200 such canteens have come up across Chennai  and nine in nearby cities. While a sumptuous meal is always welcome, taxpayers may find the final bill hard to digest.