On Day 200, chicken, rice served at Bengal’s longest-running community kitchen set up amid Covid-19

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Running since April, West Bengal’s first community kitchen set up during the Covid-19 pandemic entered its 200th day on Sunday with not just young CPI(M) workers, who run it, but members of the civil society and film industry taking part in a small celebration. It is the state’s longest-running community kitchen.

Some CPI(M) members opened the kitchen at Jadavpur in south Kolkata to offer free cooked lunch to poor people. It became so popular that around a thousand people visited it every day at the height of the lockdown. It got the name ‘Shramajibi Canteen’ (canteen of the working class).

Impressed by the turnout, the party decided to work out a viable model. After the lockdown ended, the kitchen started offering cooked food at Rs 20 a packet which includes 2-3 items such as chicken, egg, fish or paneer curry besides rice. On some days people get sweets.

Incidentally, Sudip Sengupta, the CPI(M) Kolkata district committee member who conceived the idea and has been running the kitchen, tested positive for Covid-19 a few days ago and is now in hospital.

“The kitchen has proved that people can achieve something as long as they work as one towards a goal,” Sengupta wrote on his social media page. The kitchen has a page as well.

Film director Anik Dutta, actor Badshah Moitra were among CPI(M) leaders, such as state secretary Suryakanta Mishra, who took part in a small procession that the volunteers took out at Jadavpur. Video messages were sent by many eminent people including Srijit Mukherjee, director of successful movies such as Gumnaami.

The community kitchen has now become a model of sorts. Thousands of people get their food either free or for Rs 20 from more than 20 kitchens in north and south Bengal districts, said Sengupta. At some of these kitchens, the price is less than Rs 20, he added. The CPI(M) workers, however, do not use the word price. They say it is ‘anudaan’ (contribution).

It is a takeaway service only. A specified number of poor people are served free. The kitchens have provided permanent employment to the cooks and other staff.

The daily cost of running the kitchens vary between Rs 10,000 and 20,000 (on days when chicken and desserts are served) and the money comes entirely from donations, said Sengupta.

The sale proceeds do not cover the cost on all days but the kitchens have worked out to be a successful reach out programme of the CPI(M), party leaders feel.

Impressed by the service, many eminent people such as doctors, actors, singers have been celebrating their birthdays or anniversaries by donating money for the food and physically serving the packets.

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