Aug 29, 2008

India - Singur Kitchen Bill;Rs 2.5 Lakh a day

SINGUR: Mamata Banerjee's marathon dharna in Singur might seem to be a spartan affair - what with the heat and dust and shrill sloganeering - but a lot of fuel has gone into keeping the protest torch burning for five consecutive days. Till Thursday, the makeshift kitchen at the office of Rupnarayanpur Krishi Cooperative Society had ladled out over 90,000 meals in two shifts -in the morning and in the evening. The 50 cooks and helps engaged for the job have been at it since Sunday morning with only a few hours of sleep at night before the next day's challenge of feeding 7,000-10,000 hungry men, women and children. The kitchen is on the ground opposite the Nano factory site. Some 50 metre away is a large tent where food is served to 150-200 persons at a time. Though the meals aren't elaborate (rice, daal and sabzi on days when the head count is around 5,000 and khichdi when the crowd is larger), around Rs 10 lakh has been spent on food since agitation began on Sunday. The day starts early for the cooks and helps. They have to wake up around 4 am. "This is an elaborate affair. It isn't easy to cook for so many people," said Subal Paramanik, a cook from Rishra. Digest this: Subal and his co-workers had prepared 150 kadhais of khichdi till 1 pm. "And we haven't yet finished. I don't how many more kadhais have to be cooked today," he said. Subal is working for one of the three contractors who have been hired for the daily kitchen service. Even the workers and volunteers from Krishi Jami Raksha Committee, who serve the food, don't have an idle moment. "Cooking and serving lunch go on till late in the afternoon. After an hour's break, we have to start all over again for supper," said Suresh Karmakar, while taking a brief rest between long minutes of stirring the pot. Two trolley-vans are constantly moving between the kitchen and the eating place. In the afternoon, when pressure increases and the crowds swell up, the helpers carry the pots. Not everyone can eat in the tent where tables are lined up. There are no chairs though. Tarapada Maity came with his wife Aparna and four-year-old son Arka. "The khichdi was good, but there were no fries or vegetables. To make up for it, we have bought some salted peanuts and are eating it with the khichdi. We were not even expecting this. We may have had to go without food, but Didi is very considerate," said Tarapada. Each of the cooks usually charges Rs 100 a day. They aren't quite sure if they will be paid at the same rate for sweating it out at the protest site. Estimates according to the usual rates show that the current bill has already run up to Rs 25,000. Add to that the cost of the 20 small tents that have been locally sourced and the huge dais that has been erected by Modern Decorators of Kolkata, and the figure easily breaches the Rs 10-lakh mark. Then there are the 50-plus loudspeakers, amplifiers, microphones, lights and fans. Indeed, the protest site has become the vortex of a mini-economy sustaining rickshaw-pullers, truck drivers, ice-cream sellers and a host of other vendors. With nearly 50 transporters and an equal number of vendors in circulation, the business over the five days is pegged around Rs 5 lakh. Most of them are doing three to four times the regular business. Given Banerjee's unwavering stance, transporters and vendors look set to enjoy the stint for a while longer.

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