Buoyed by the success of the canteen called ‘Didi Ki Rasoi (DKR)’ run by women SHGs popularly known by the name of Jeevika didis along with the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS) at seven district hospitals of the state, chief minister Nitish Kumar had asked authorities to ensure that all canteens in the remaining districts should all be handed over to them.

The move is seen as one more step towards women’s empowerment by the Bihar government, one of the main polls promises by the NDA

The project, which first started at Vaishali district hospital, was later extended to Gaya, Purnia, Buxar, Sheohar, Sheikhpura, and Saharsa. “In November 2020, the RBI signed an agreement with DKR and today 10 didis are providing food to 50 RBI employees daily,” said secretary of rural development department Balamurugan D.

“Jeevika didis are doing wonderful work on contract farming, milk production, bee keeping, and several other fields. The participation of women has increased in small scale industries. All district hospital canteens should now be made to run by these jeevika didis,” said Kumar while holding a meeting in state capital on Friday night.

The DKR chain of community-based canteens is efficiently managed by the empowered rural women who also happen to be the members of the self- help groups (SHGs) of JEEViKA (or Bihar State Rural Livelihoods Mission). “DKRs have emerged as the true axiom of collective leadership aiming at meaningful changes in the rural community in terms of poverty elimination in Bihar. These entrepreneurs are charged with commitment to serve the customers (mostly in patients of district hospitals) with hygienic and home-like quality food at fair price. This is an innovation wherein no one is the master and every one is the owner (partner),” said Arvin Kumar Chaudhary, principal secretary of the department.

“The didis are not the employees of DKR; they are the proud partners of their enterprise. Contribution of seed money to begin the venture entitles them for a partnership. They now earn a monthly salary and also get an equitable share in profit at the end of the year,” said Balamurugan.

Providing quality and hygienic food to a large number of patients of district hospitals had been a challenge for government. “While from JEEViKA’s perspective; diversification in JEEViKA’s livelihood interventions was the need of the hour to provide sustainable and scalable livelihood options to poor-rural women. Solutions of both the challenges were sought in an amalgam and thus, DKR was conceptualized,” said Chaudhary.

Apart from catering to the in-patients of district hospitals and their attendants, the DKRs have also been making their presence felt in fairs and exhibitions at district, state and national levels through food courts. DKR Buxar and Vaishali served food to Bihar State Election Commission during General Elections, 2019. “Total sales during the General Elections 2019 were worth Rs 18 lakh,” said an official.

“DKR has not only given a consistent means of income to the didis, it has also generated employment opportunities for many other employees and other workers who work in these canteens,” said Balamurugan.

The state currently spends at least Rs 130 per patient per day on food in accordance with rates. Allotted by the state government, this amount is routed to women SHGs through BRLPS, which is a state government initiative.

The SHSB has already been directed to make space available at the concerned facilities for the canteen. The state of Bihar currently has 8.25 lakh SHGs which cover 94.85 lakh households.

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