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The subsidy on snacks and meals in Parliament’s Canteen/Cafeteria that ensured best quality food that made it the country’s cheapest eatery is set to go. Ridiculously low prices at any time will get hiked to “market rates” – more likely determined half-way – since MPs include many with humble background who subsist on it.

One could have a full vegetarian lunch at Rs 2.50 in the 1970s. A plate of Vadai was Rs 2. In later years Biryani cost Rs 29 and so on. Hiked in the recent years, with Dosa at Rs 12, they still remain way below even a modest eating joint. But then, this is the country’s Parliament!

For media, staff and security personnel, there was this unstated privilege of being on the same table with MPs, ex-member, ex-MPs, even former ministers and governors. This was long ago, till the strength of parliamentary correspondents went up post-Emergency and security was beefed up post-PM Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 and further up after 2001 terror attack on Parliament.

That one broke bread with the likes of L K Advani is now distant memory. No more of that meal-time hobnobbing with MPs, many of whom, one heard, were rich and prosperous and certainly influential, when mutual courtesies were exchanged.

Now lawmakers who resented being made to wait have two separate rooms, officials and security staff a room and a room for media. For those without access to the Central Hall, the Canteen was the best place for the cash-strapped journos to be generous. Those were old times.

High-ceilings, large doors with curtains and old mahogany or Burma teak furniture was the hallmark. Today’s generation would not know, and have no use of garlic buds that used to be on the table, to be consumed by the health-conscious before a meal. The canteen rush is less these days with MPs ordering their meals in the Central Hall.Not very well-known is the fact that the Canteen is run by the Railway Ministry and in the recent years, IRCTC. Late Madhu Dandavate as Railway Minister once said in the Lok Sabha: “We run the country’s best cafeteria in Parliament. By the way, we also run the Railway Ministry.” One wonders whether that flavor that bonhomie prevails in the new century with MPs bringing different, business-like perspectives.

Mahendra Ved
Mahendra Ved is a veteran journalist who has served with the Times of India, Hindustan Times and United News of India. The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

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