Perfect mix of sweet and salt

Abhinaya Harigovind

Feb 21, Chennai: Residents of the Lala Gunda area in Old Washermenpet are no help in locating the treasure in their vicinity. A shrug and “they are everywhere” is the most you will get by way of direction. When their neighbours have been manufacturing butter biscuits for generations now, it hardly counts as treasure.

If you follow your nose, you can sniff your way through the maze of alleys to the butter biscuit factories of Lala Gunda in Old Washermanpet. The golden brown, sweet-salt biscuits that are a fixture at every tea shop in the city, are manufactured in thousands at each of these bakeries.

“We don’t keep count of how many biscuits we bake in a day,” says 33-year-old Jawahar Sathi who owns SP Bakery. “There are roughly 150 biscuits in each batch that goes into the oven, but we don’t keep count of the batches,” he says, removing trays of perfectly round baked cookies from a rack that has just been removed from the oven.

A stack of freshly baked biscuits at SP Bakery. | Deepti Sri

According to him, SP Bakery is one of the smallest in the area. The entire baking process is completed in a single room and the only machine they have is the oven. They supply biscuits to around 60 tea shops in Chennai.

While 44-year-old H Sardar cuts the dough with a circular mould, he says, “Biscuits are priced between Re 1 and Rs 5 with the smallest one being the
cheapest, though they all taste the same.” The top surface of each biscuit is emblazoned with the name of the bakery.

A little distance away, MS Bakery is bigger both in terms of the space, the machinery they use to bake and the number of tea stalls they supply. Thirty-seven-year-old Habibullah says that they supply around 500 tea stalls in Chennai and in nearby Pondicherry and Coimbatore.

He has recently bought a wire cutter to cut the dough into circles for Rs 8 lakhs. “We also bought a mixer last year to knead the dough. Earlier, men would knead and cut the dough. Bigger bakeries choose to use machines now,” he says. MS Bakery employs 30 workers, including women who work at the back of the room to pack the biscuits. Men work the machines.

The 25-year-old bakery has been moving from one street to another in Old Washermenpet for the last few years. “The bakeries here keep moving from building to building, but in the same area, depending on rent and how willing the owner is to let us rent the space for longer,” says Habibullah. His older brother has recently taken over the business from his father.

Both Habibullah and Jawahar concurred that the business has been steady for many years. “Apart from Chennai, we also sell biscuits to suppliers in Andhra Pradesh and nearby areas in Tamil Nadu. So the demand is consistent,” Habibullah says.

According to S Surendran, Secretary of the Chennai Metropolitan Tea Shop Owners’ Association, there are around 5000 licensed tea stalls in the city. “In 2014, the Corporation decided that they would issue trade licenses in a day. Now that people get the licenses easily, the number of unlicensed tea stalls has been falling over the years and more people are entering the business. The Corporation claims that 3000 new tea stalls have got their licenses since 2014,” he says.

The prices at these tea stalls cannot be raised beyond a point since people are counting on these places being cheap, he says. He attributes the consistency in demand to the prices. “But now that big companies like Britannia are making smaller, cheaper packets of biscuits, the demand for the butter biscuits has been falling in the city. Some of these bakeries would have shut down over the years because they cannot hike their prices too much,” he says.

“People buy these biscuits more out of habit than anything else. It becomes a routine to buy the butter biscuit with tea and this is what sustains the business,” he says.

Armugham, who works at a tea stall in Taramani, sells around 50 locally made biscuits in a day. He stocks different varieties of these biscuits in glass jars and does not sell any of the big brands that come in packets. “These are cheaper for me to stock than the branded packets of biscuits,” he says. He collects the butter biscuits from Old Washermanpet around once a week.

The smell of the biscuits lingers well past the bylanes of Lala Gunda and follows you out of Old Washermanpet.

Chennai loses their 3rd match, as U Mumba register their 1st win

Aishani Saha

Chennai: U Mumba volley registers their first win in the Rupay Pro Volleyball League as they beat Chennai Spartans 3-2 on Saturday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium.

As the referee blew the whistle to commence the match, the crowd cheered. The opening set was mainly dominated by the host team Chennai Spartans as they got a lead of 10-8. Canadian star player Rudy Verhoff helped the Spartans to maintain a lead. Spartans take a lead of 13-8 as U Mumba, looking to catch up, called for a super point which meant that the team which wins gets two points.

Wanting to finish the game fast, Spartans called for a Super point but as U Mumba scored the point they were able to get back in the game 13-10. After which there was no looking back for U Mumba. Their captain, Deepesh Kumar Sinha with powerful serves was able to bring the score to 14-14. The visitors, keeping their nerve, were able to win the first set of the match.

U Mumba seemed to carry out the same temperament into the second set as they got a lead of 5-1. Canadian star Rudy tried to get the scores level, but the lead kept increasing as DNK Venkatesh, the libero (a player who specialises in defending and isn’t allowed to block or attack) of the U Mumba team dived almost near the free zone to get to the ball. 

With few technical errors from U Mumba, Chennai was almost closing in on the 7-11. But again minute error like smashing outside the court, or hitting the ball more than three times made it impossible for the Chennai Spartans to get into the game as they lost the second set 8-14.

Spartans had the third set to keep the match alive, so they needed to win this. The third set was fought to tooth and nail by both teams. With few smashes from Spartan’s Naveen Raja Jacob and Sorokins, they were almost able to level the score to 9-10. But then high end blocks from U Mumba captain Deepesh and Saqlain Tariq setting up the ball for the attackers to smash, U Mumba cruised to victory in the third set as well.

Chennai had lost the match, but there were two more sets to go so they had to play for their pride. On one hand, U Mumba took the fourth and the fifth set easy as they tried different combinations of players, by changing positions and substituting players. On the other hand, Spartans were full of energy.

As Chennai team captain Shelton Moses and V Hariharan blocked and set the ball, Rudy beautifully placed the ball onto the opponent’s court. The Spartans had won the last two sets.

Though Chennai won the last two sets, U Mumba had won the match as 3-2 was the score. By winning the last two sets they infused more energy into the Chennai supporters.

Mani, a teacher, who came to watch the match with his friends said, “It doesn’t matter they lost the match, they will come back stronger in the next match and will qualify for the playoffs.”

Cricket and Football are the sports that are mainly in the limelight in India. But after sports like Kabaddi, Badminton and now Volleyball is becoming popular through these leagues sponsored by corporates.

“This is the first time I am watching a volleyball match, I am surprised that people have come in such huge numbers to support the home team,” said S Sathish, a professional footballer.

Ajit Singh, a professional volleyball player who represents Jharkhand in state level tournaments said, “Due to the Rupay Pro Volleyball League, the popularity of volleyball will definitely increase.”

He further added, “In our country it’s either football or cricket, but leagues like this would give an opportunity to those who play these underrated sports like volleyball or throwball.”

K.C. Vijay Kumar, Sports Editor of The Hindu said, “Commercialisation of sports is a positive thing with necessary evils.”

“The money that the corporates pay goes to the grassroots, so, for example, somebody in a rural area might get placed because the talent scouts are sent there as the demands keep rising, ” said Kumar.

U Mumba’s libero Venkatesh dives to defend as Chennai Spartans Rudy smashes the ball. | Aishani Saha

Robot Theme Restaurant launches outlet in Porur

By: Ashmita Mukherjee

Chennai, Feb 15: Restaurant with robots as servers has opened its second outlet in Porur to meet the growing demand and interest of citizens.

Robot Theme Restaurant is India’s first restaurant running with robots assigned as servers. It’s a Pan Asian restaurant located at Chennai and Coimbatore. The brainchild of Venkatesh Rajendran, a restaurateur, and Karthik Kannan, an architect, its base branch is located in Semmencheri which began business in 2018. The branches in Porur and Coimbatore are franchise outlets.

Robots designed in all white with blue patterns resembling a dress, glide through the restaurant on wheels. Their structure is feminine with slender limbs. Customers order food through a tab and the kitchen team is informed of the order. The robots then fetch food from the kitchen before delivering to the right table.

The restaurant chain is already working on the blueprint for a branch in Bangalore this year. According to Kailash Sundarrajan, the general manager of Porur branch,

“It takes 45 days to import robots because of customs. There are specific codes for import of robots which were an initial hassle for the owners. So we need about 90 days to start a branch in Bangalore. The restaurant chain also plans to open shop in six more cities in the near future.”

Restaurant staffs have been trained by the robot manufacturing company’s personnel on how to operate the machines and implement them effectively.

According to the general manager, there are six robots working as servers and one robot working as a receptionist. The serving robots stand at a height of 5.5 feet whereas the receptionist robot is only five feet but is a more advanced model. Every robot has sensors on its hands and at its base. The robots can detect movement or any presence near them. They speak English and can ask people to move aside from their pathway and announce arrival of food at designated booths. The robots run along a magnetic strip under the vinyl cover on the floor to stay on route while serving.

The general manager added,

“The receptionist robot is equipped with image mapping that helps it to navigate its way avoiding obstructions in its path. It has facial recognition software that helps it to remember the face and name of a customer and greet the customer when they revisit. The receptionist robot can also escort guests to booths, bathroom and the selfie point for taking pictures with it. The robots have no sharp edge so are safe around children. Children visiting the restaurant often in excitement push a robot off its magnetic strip path but the robot is able to recourse its trail.”

The robots run on android software manufactured in China. The robots do not need any large part replacements for any malfunction. Only the motherboard that runs the robot requires tweaking or replacement. The robots can be in use for a day’s worth of work before they need to be plugged in at the charging station like any other batter operated machine. Robots and their parts are all imported from China.

The Young and Fast

-Aishwaryaa. R

Vehicle theft by juveniles is becoming a big threat to Chennai’s traffic police.

The Detroit of India, Chennai, records more than 25 cases of vehicle theft each day. Many of these thefts are done by young boys, mostly in groups.

“We see a dirty scooty lying unsupervised in a narrow underlit street, we take it. We turn it on with dummy keys or even a metal wire, and take it to the scrap shops to be dismantled. We sell these parts to a local dealer for money,” says a 15-year old boy from Pudupettai. He works part-time at a mechanic repair shop there.

The teenager has been working in the mechanic shop since he was 7 years old. He has repeated his 9th standard twice and finds no interest in studying. His parents are daily wage workers at a construction site. He has an elder brother who also works as a mason. Even with all of their salaries put together, they can barely make ends meet.

“I don’t have any interest in studies. I find it very difficult to catch up, especially English. I’m good with calculation. So I think I’ll drop out and work at the shed full-time to learn mechanical work. It’s far more interesting than regular school for me,” he said.

Tearing them down, part by part. | Photo Credit : Lakshmanan Subramani

Apart from economic pressure, it is also peer pressure that drives these boys into thieving.

“I was never into it. But my friend took me out once and got me involved in one such situation. I couldn’t escape as the police was nearby and if I run I would be caught. He [his friend] takes me along with him most of the time now. The money helps me get my own stuff, so I continued to do it,” said another 15-year old from Kasimedu.

This boy hails from a family of fishermen. He comes to Pudupettai since he finds this has a better future than fishing. His parents are unaware of the dangers that he faces in the field.

“They are fine with me working here since it pays more and they think it is safer than going into the sea. I can’t tell them about what happens here. If I do, they will definitely be very angry with me and won’t allow me to work anymore,” he said.

He uses the money to buy food from better eateries in the area, for himself and his family.

“I sometimes crave for a barotta or biriyani. My parents can’t afford to get it often. So I get it whenever I feel it with this money. Sometimes I get fancy items like watches or sunglasses. I hide it in my closet at home so my parents don’t question me as to where I get the money.”

In order to escape from the police, number plates and stickers on the bikes are immediately changed before taking it into the main roads. They take to a nearby alley, change and clean the vehicle as fast as they can, and sneak it away by wearing helmets.

“Once, my friend stole a [Yamaha] R15 from Saidapet. He changed the number plate and added a sticker in the front and rode it in the very same street where he stole it from. Nobody got a clue that it was stolen. The commonly used bikes are the easiest to steal around the city,” said the boy from Pudupettai.

Children are also hired by local dealers as they are quicker and easily fooled into such business.

The police said that a few are caught when they see them speeding in triples on the roads, but the nimble adolescents find ways to escape from the police.

“We have caught many of these boys while stopping them for not wearing helmets. They don’t have any license or even ID proof, which arouses the main suspicion. Even if they do wear helmets, some of them drive unusually fast on main roads. All these are ways to see if the boy has stolen the vehicle or not. Public need to be aware of such activities and make sure that their vehicle is parked in a safe space,” said a traffic policeman in Pudupettai.

Metro stations offer healthy beverage choices

Akshara Srivastava, Bharat Sharma

Chennai, Feb 15: Orange juice vending machines have started showing up at metro stations across the city, as part of Chennai Metro Rail Corporation’s (CMRL) efforts to make station food and beverage offerings diverse and healthier.

O. Jooz, at the Corporation’s ambitious machine squeezes fresh juice with no human intervention in less than 40 seconds.

At Rs. 100 a glass, it is not the cheapest alternative. However, unlike most vendors who use traditional juicers and fruit concentrate, the machine is entirely waste-free and has no additives.

A fairly new technology, it is the first of its kind in India and is imported from Singapore.

The vending machine cum juicer is designed to allow a transparent view of the juicing process. From skinning to squeezing, one can witness every step of the preparation.

According to Karuppusamy Andi, who works for O. Jooz, there are currently 20 juice machines across the Metro line.”These machines are located at stations like Central and Vadapalani. The feedback has been positive so we are looking to expand slowly but surely”, he said. The machines are washed and topped up every day.

The juice remains consumable if stored between 3-6 degree Celsius. It has no added sugar or preservatives, which is usually the case with packaged juices.

An O.Jooz kiosk at Chennai Central.

According to Rathinam Devendrar a daily Metro commuter, the machine has eradicated his dependence on carbonated cola drinks. “I drink this juice every day. It is a little pricey, but better than Pepsi which is simply unhealthy… It refreshes me but also makes me feel healthy…”, he said.

The Chennai Metro Rail Corporation (CMRL) has vending machines that sell carbonated drinks at every platform. However, this venture is part of its attempts to make stations offer instant healthy beverage alternatives.

Shruthi, Assistant Public Relations Manager, CMRL claimed that more healthy options will start showing up at stations soon. “This is just the start. Soon, one will be able to find mega chains like Subway and local chains like A2B at stations… However, we prefer more mechanised options… whereby vending machine technology is utilised to the max”, she said. They’re in talks to procure coconut water and salad vending machines soon.

Lags continue to decelerate Chennai Metro

Chennai Metro tackles lag and signal issues amidst a growing network

Akshara Srivastva, Bharat Sharma

Chennai, Feb 15: The Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) has been experiencing frequent lags and glitches since its inception.  

“The Metro here is slow in terms of frequency and also gets delayed often. It is particularly annoying when I’m rushing to office in the morning and the network is experiencing technical issues, causing delay,” said Ravina Subramaniam, who uses the blue line every day.

On Monday, February 11, the rail services on the blue line were disrupted due to an overhead cable tripping between Saidapet and Little Mount stations.
Services came to a screeching halt, and passengers were forced to de-board and walk alongside tracks to reach the Meenambakkam station.

Siemens provides equipment for overhead and power supply, the signalling software, and the passenger information display system.
“Siemens is providing all necessary support to Chennai Metro Rail Limited to ensure that there are no interruptions and delays to the train operations,” according to a  report in The Hindu

“The glitch was temporary and was resolved soon,” said Shruthi, Assistant Public Relations Manager, CMRL.

The passengers were offered free rides on Monday and the next day to compensate for the hassle. Stations saw huge crowds as citizens thronged to avail the free services. The glitch was resolved by 1 p.m.

The network also experiences signal problems frequently, delaying office-goers and school going children.

Many have taken to social media to express their frustrations with the metro services.

Battling hunger in Triplicane

Featured image credits: The Hindu

Abhinaya Harigovind

Chennai, Feb 14: Two months after Altaf Ahmad began distributing food to the needy in Triplicane, he has realised that battling hunger, even in a single area, is a tall order.

What began as an informal arrangement to distribute breakfast occasionally to the poor in the locality has now become Triplicane’s Food Bank. Altaf and his team of ten volunteers collect, pack and distribute the food.

“Most of the food comes from wedding halls and celebrations like birthdays,” said Altaf, who is a retired real estate agent. “We have asked the halls nearby to let us know if they have food left over. Almost always there is a lot of food left from every wedding.” A few weeks ago, they received 25 kg of biryani left over from a wedding.

Food Bank volunteers are spread across the city and sometimes collect food from wedding halls in Pallavaram and Tambaram as well. “We get calls at around 12 a.m. informing us that there is food left over from a celebration. But ten people across the city is hardly enough. We end up going from one end of the city to another to pick up food since we don’t have volunteers in every area,” Altaf said.

They usually prepare breakfast at their office in Triplicane out of the donations they get. Lunch and dinner are distributed out of the food they collect. Their office is equipped with a fridge. “People who know about us in the area come to leave and take food from the fridge,” Altaf said. “Sometimes, children come asking for food for their entire family.”

When they began, Altaf and his volunteers would distribute food to the homeless on pavements and outside temples and the Triplicane railway station. Now, apart from the homeless, they have also identified other needy families in the area.

“We did a survey last month where we identified around 37 families in Triplicane and adjoining Royapettah. The people we found to be most in need were widows, differently-abled people, the old and the sick, and famlies in which the adults have not been able to find and keep regular jobs,” he said. They take packed food to the houses they have identified at least once every day. Sometimes, they distribute rations like rice and sugar that they receive through donors.

The previous night’s food has been distributed and the Food Bank fridge lies empty till the next donation. | Abhinaya

Altaf hopes to extend the Food Bank to more areas. “When we started the project, we didn’t realise how many families go to bed hungry. There are so many that we are unable to serve now because we don’t have enough volunteers or funds,” he said. 

Last night, the Food Bank received a call at 11 p.m. requesting that extra food be picked up from a wedding hall in the area. Altaf has just finished packing and distributing what they had collected. “There is a little bit left over in the fridge to distribute for dinner. Once you know that so many of your neighbours do not have enough to eat, it is difficult to stop this work, or even stop thinking about it,” he said.

ThinkEdu Conclave 2019: Heavy focus on the nexus between politics and education

Anand JC

Chennai, Feb 15: The idea of giving freedom to State governments to decide their own education policies, reserving seats for Parliamentarians below 30 years of age, targeting Urban Naxals were discussed at the New Indian Express’ ThinkEdu Conclave 2019 at the ITC Grand Chola here yesterday.

Many writers, experts and government representatives talked on how education can be improved and and the influence of the current political scenario on it. 

The day started with a talk on what the education policy of India needs. The panel was chaired by Anil Swarup, Former Secretary,  the Government of India. “It is time we got rid of meaningless discussions and formulated an action plan directly targeting the issues that plague our education system,” he said.

Padma Sarangapani, Chairperson, Centre for Education Innovation and Action Research, TISS said that in a stratified society like ours we have deep rooted inequalities. “We need to address these issues in our education policies. We all believe in the myth of born teachers, but we need to train them to get the desired results.”

J Krishna Kishore, CEO, AP Economic Development Board addressed the need to include the happiness quotient in our education system. “We can follow Finland’s education system. Happiness after all has a direct linkage with productivity.”

Other panelists included R Subrahmanyam, Higher Education Secretary, the Government of India, Anil D Sahasrabudhe, Chairperson, All India Council for Technical Education, Dr S Vaidhyasubramaniam, VC, SASTRA Deemed-to-be University.

The discussion on the idea of Urban Naxals and secularism became controversial. Vivek Agnihotri, an openly pro-BJP filmmaker, talked about Hinduism and the idea of secularism. “Without Indianisation, the original form of Islam or Christianity will not be able to serve the secular purpose of the country,” he said. The debate got heated when actress Khushbu Sundar, who is also Congress’ spokesperson, said that she is not ashamed of her real name Nakhat Khan. “To quote Shah Rukh Khan, my name is Khan but I am not a terrorist.”

Rakesh Sinha, Member of Parliament and BJP member said that cow worshippers are the most liberal people. “Beef eaters, on the other hand, are the ones who display the highest level of intolerance,” he added.

Columnist Shankar Aiyar chaired a talk on schools and nationalism. The other panelists included Kiran Bedi, Governor of Puducherry. “I wonder which school Lord Krishna, Gautama Buddha and APJ Abdul Kalam went to. We need to have value-based education. We need to encourage values like volunteerism and gratitude to improve the country.”

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, National Vice-President, BJP said that the parents need to undergo training as well. “We think parenting is easy. Modern parents need to have a modern outlook. Our education system has not managed to give our students proper knowledge about their purpose in life.

Feroze Varun Gandhi, Member of Parliament talked on what the modern Parliament members can do to address the general issues plaguing the country rather than focusing on political tussles. Some of the issues addressed were poverty, hunger and climate change.

“In my constituency, we worked on something known as the Roti Bank scheme. In this, every household in my constituency gives one-two rotis and sabzi. Eventually we can feed everyone,” he said.

Member of Parliament Dr. Shashi Tharoor discussed how education can uplift the underprivileged and the rural masses. He addressed the lack of youth in the Indian Parliament and how reservation for people under the age of 30 can help solve the problem. “We have the highest population of people under the age of 35 in the world. It is even more shocking that we have the highest number of illiterate adults in the world, 287 million people,” he added.

We have spent `3,000 Cr on a statue in Gujarat. How many IITs and IIMs could that have funded? It only takes `100 Cr to run an IIT or an IIM. I mean, let’s be serious. This government’s priorities are misplaced”

He addressed the need to remove governmental restrictions, increasing the capacity in educational institutes to improve the employment prospects of the working age population.

Smriti Irani, Textiles Minister of India and Farooq Abdullah, Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who participated in the final session, focused on how the current educational system of India had become divisive.

“If agriculture fails, the country fails”; the 2019 Budget fails to address the people’s problems

The “election Budget” is more about spectacles than solving problems.

Piyush Goyal, the acting Finance Minister, on the day of the Budget speech. |BW Businessworld

CHENNAI: Acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented the interim Budget on February 1, 2019. Many, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, termed it as an election Budget. However, the public does not seem too enthusiastic about it.


The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi(PM KISAN) was one of the major announcements.Under this scheme,farmers with landholdings upto two hectares will receive Rs 6,000 annually as income support.

Dr. N Parasuraman, Principal Scientist at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation(MSSRF), says, “PM KISAN is insufficient.Rs 6,000 won’t do much for the farmers.Still, the farmers will get something. I don’t want to express any opinion about the election aspect, but any relief measure for the farmers is welcome.”

He stresses the need for linking agriculture with job security. “This Government promised a lot. It said it will double farmers’ income by 2022. For that,agriculture needs a business model. Everybody thinks that agriculture is only about food production, but it also includes organic farming,food processing,seed and fertilizer production. These are potential sources for job creation. Agriculture must give job security to the people. If it is made entrepreneurial, young people will also get involved. We have Right to Information, Right to Education, and we must also have Right to Job Security. India has one of the highest number of young people in the world.Agriculture should provide them employment.Ours is a country where,if agriculture fails, the country fails.”

Dr. Parasuraman says that different ministries and departments pertaining to agriculture should come together.” For example, the Food Corporation of India(FCI),Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, and the Ministry of Rural Development could be merged.”

He says that the allocation for MGNREGA should be increased as there are a lot of dues which are yet to be cleared. “There needs to be focus on nutrition literacy and making India malnutrition free. The Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations must be fully implemented,” he says.

Sreedharan, an employee at Khadi Bhavan,T Nagar,says,“The only thing that can be said about PM-KISAN is that it is better than nothing. It is insufficient. Moreover, with the corruption being rampant, how can one trust any claim made by the Government? Remember the 2G scam? How much money did the nation lose due to it? All politicians,irrespective of their affiliations, only exist for filling their own wallets.”

Nurul Amin,42,sells jewellery on the streets of the T Nagar market. He says,“As income support, the Budget provides Rs 6,000 to farmers with land holdings upto two hectares. That’s roughly Rs 17 a day. That’s less than even the price of a water bottle which typically costs Rs 20. A kg of rice costs about Rs 65. And there is also the expenditure for treatment and medicines.”

GST, Demonetisation and the 15 lakh jumla

Before GST, the cost price of these two pieces were Rs 78 and Rs 156. Post-GST, it became Rs 82 and Rs 162. Amin says that the selling price has remained the same:Rs 100 and Rs 200.He can’t sell at a higher rate because then no one will buy them.

“Moves like GST and demonetisation hurt the informal sector.Before GST, I had to earn Rs 3000 on a given day to make a profit of Rs 500. Now I must earn Rs 5000 to make the same profit. GST increased the cost price of items, but we don’t have the luxury of increasing the selling price. Moreover, ours is an economy heavily reliant on cash; it is baseless to say that it can be converted into a digital economy,” says Amin.

Abdul Qadir,57, who works as a cashier at a restaurant in T Nagar, says,“ Modi had announced that if he came to power he would put Rs 15 lakh into the bank account of each and every Indian.That was a lie.Now the prices of petrol and diesel are rising.Moreover, the value of $1 is almost Rs 73. Earlier it was about Rs 45.”

“Whatever little has been offered in the Budget has been done with the election in mind.Even then, in Tamil Nadu he will surely lose. He may get support in north India,” he says.

The “mega pension scheme”

In his speech, Goyal announced a contribution-based pension scheme called Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan for workers in the unorganised sector.

Amin says,“Often pension schemes get discontinued. The first question is whether it will be properly implemented. And the second is whether it will be carried on. Even when old people do get pensions, they often have to go the bank time and again, which leads to travel expenditure.”

Qadir raises questions about the effectiveness of the scheme.“According to the pension scheme, workers will be eligible to get Rs 3,000 per month after the age of 60. But that’s almost the life expectancy of an average man. What would be the point of such ‘social security’? And what if the person dies before he turns 60 years old? Where will the money deposited by the person go?” asks Qadir

Foreign tours,black money and education

“So much for the show of love for the people, where was he(the Prime Minister) at the time of Cyclone Gaja? I don’t know if this is Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas. And what about the amount of money which is being spent on his foreign tours? What has been the outcome?” says Qadir.

About the education sector, Qadir said, “It was good for Tamil students so long as the entrance exams were being conducted at the state level. But since the advent of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test(NEET), students have been struggling.Those who score well in the board exams falter in the entrance test. One girl even commited suicide.”

He was probably referring to a 17-year-old,Anitha, who committed suicide in 2017.

To Sreedharan, the Government’s claims about reining in black money sound dubious.

“The Modi Government keeps claiming that it has got hold of a lot of black money. If so, then why doesn’t it come back to the people?” he asks.

Water crisis and the linking of rivers as a potential solution

Sreedharan supports interlinking of rivers as solution to the water crisis.“The State faces a severe water crisis every year. Even if it rains, most of the water goes to the sea. Those who have system for groundwater harvesting are able to save some water. But interlinking of rivers must be done. That way a lot of water could be saved and its availability maintained,” asks Sreedharan.

Lack of information about the Budget

Many people have not understood the details of the Budget. “I could express a view only if I knew about the Budget. For example, though the MUDRA Yojana was announced a long time ago, I came to know about it only last week through my brother, who is preparing for the civil service exams. I am thinking of a applying for a loan under the scheme. The plans of the Government, such as the details of the Budget must be made more accessible,” says Mohit, who is a snacks seller.

Toilet built near temple lies unused


CHENNAI, Feb 8: Residents of Urur Olcott Kuppam, located on the periphery of the affluent neighborhood of Besant Nagar, in Chennai do not use the public toilet as it is built near Selvavinayagar Temple and because of the lack of proper water supply.

The area is home to a fishing community. “Our families have been living here and have been involved in the fishing business for seven generations” says Monika Anand, a 52-year-old fisherwoman.

The stench from the garbage strewn around renders the toilets useless. | CHIYA AHUJA

The kuppam (fishing hamlet) houses 600 people, including fishermen, businessmen and migrant workers from Andhra Pradesh, Maharshtra and Odisha.

The locals of this area did not receive any money to build private toilets and some have created broken-down roofless structures that are used for bathing, washing and laundry. These make-shift structures cost them around Rs. 5000, which they spent from their own pockets.

Washrooms serve as abandoned storehouses. | CHIYA AHUJA

The community toilet, which was built 20 years ago, consists of 10 cubicles, five for women and five for men. It is maintained by Minalkodi (52), who has been living here for 15 years, and is paid no salary. She earns through the pay-and-use facility, which amounts to Rs.2 per use.

She explains that the toilet is not used by many people as it remains dirty and water comes only for an hour every day.

For daily-wage labourers and fisherfolk, a charge for a basic necessity as this is high. Rupak Ranjan Raut, a 23-year-old migrant worker from Odisha, who works as a security guard at the National Stock Exchange office in Kotturpuram said,“Money is spent, but what can we do when everyone has to pay.”

Dilip Raut (25), another migrant worker from Odisha, states that migrants in the area use the facility more often the than locals.This is because they have settled here recently, and do not have access to toilets in their homes like some local dwellers do.

Since the drainage system became fucntional only as recently as last month, those few who have toilets in their houses, have been unable to use them. Moreover, there is no water to clean and maintain the toilets and thus, it stinks of garbage piled up nearby and has become home to insects.

“The water motor is not working and there is a water problem,” Minalkodi explains. The tank used to store water is also jammed, she adds.

Most of them, then, defecate out in the open which becomes a health hazard. The area by the beach is littered with garbage and is cleaned only once in three days.

Another reason why toilets are not in use is that it is adjacent to a temple. “I can’t join my hands in prayer on one side, and go on and relieve myself at the other,” says Sushila (70), who sells dried fish in the market.

“The toilet built by the corporation is barely used by any of us. It lacks maintenance and is cleaned only once in 60 days. With the temple next to the toilet, it violates our religious beliefs to use the toilet. Hence, it lies abandoned. The area gets water supply through the tankers and when there is excessive water, the tank in the public bathroom is flooded. Otherwise, it lies empty, ” says K Saravanan, a fisherman.

The motor remains jammed and water is available for only an hour a day. | CHIYA AHUJA

Satyarupa Shekhar, Head of the Government Outreach and Advisory team at the Citizen consumer and civic Action Group (CAG), says, “If we look at it from the planning perspective, we need to question what the local government did before they built the toilet. If they are building a toilet near a temple, they should think of the cultural restrictions. The problem is, toilets are built where land is readily available and the sanitation need of the community is ignored.”

Looking at the case of UrurOlcottKuppam, she explains, “There are no private toilets or a sewer line. The rainwater carries feces and dirt to the river, where the water is untreated. The government needs to make decisions based on the right information. They have addressed the sanitation need, but not built support infrastructure for the same like water supply, drainage system and electricity.”

The consequences of such neglect include personal and public hygiene problems. It proves to be unsafe for women to openly defecate at night. “The plans need to be culturally contextualized and made after due consultation from the local residents,” she added.