Jescilia Karayamparambil profiles Dr. Ravindra Khatanhar of ISKCON and the program director for their midday meal program called Annamrita.
Dressed in a white kurta and dhoti, Dr. Ravindra Khatanhar popularly known as Radha Krishna Prabhu, sits cross-legged chanting the name of Lord Krishna in ISKCON’s administrative office, before he starts his daily duties. This might be a typical day for him yet is a fruitful one. As he talks to Free Press Journal about his journey with ISKCON, there is a unit besides the admin office (in the same premise in Tardeo) preparing mid-day meal for school children. This mid-day meal program is called Annamrita and Khatanhar is the director to this program and has been with it since its inception in 2004.
“This Tardeo kitchen was our first kitchen and we continue to maintain high standard of cleanliness here,” he stated. “Every time you build a kitchen you need to invest Rs 5 crore.” As every kitchen should meet ISO standards and has to be supported by vehicles that take the mid-day meal to the required schools. Today, Annamrita program has 20 kitchens spread across states of Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Every day the program supports 12 lakh students across 6000 schools in India by providing them mid-day meal.
This program is in partnership between various states government, but still there is a shortfall in funds and Khatanhar is proud that many corporates have come forward to fill this gap. “Corporates want to support such causes as part of CSR activity. There is no dearth of funds,” he added. According to the financial statement for the year ended March 2015, Annamrita program has spent Rs 46 crore in food cost and distributions. The report stated that its inflow stood at Rs 89 crore, while its outflow cost stood at Rs 77 crore. Interestingly, the government’s contribution in form of reimbursement stood at Rs 59 crore.
Commenting on government contribution considering it is a PPP model, Khatanhar said, “Various state governments provide us with raw rice and cooking charges. The reimbursement of the cooking charges is often delayed. But it does not stop us as we have corporates supporting us.” The cooking charges paid by the government are Rs 3.75 per person a day, but it takes Rs 5.75 per person per day to cook. The Rs 2 deficit in this program gets covered up by donations. Also, the government provides subsidiary if only the schools are government aided. “There are many schools in the slums and government does not provide subsidy there but still we try to extend our support,” he added.
Without mincing words, Khatanhar revealed the challenges for such initiatives. “The biggest challenge is when you have states participating in this program with vested interest.” Yet another topic, he did not shy away from addressing is the wastage part. He said marginal level wastage does take place but at some places we have developed a provision to feed cattle in farms where food gets wasted. Going forward, he hopes that Annamrita program would feed more children as there are 40 non-aided schools in their waiting list.
1946-born former dental surgeon revealed that he can associate with the plights of these children. Born in pre-partition Karachi to an aristocratic family, he was quite well-off, but after his family moved to India things changed overnight. Talking about his journey with ISKCON and Annamrita, he said that it has been a fulfilling journey for him. Despite being a successful dental surgeon, he decided to end his practise and join the ISKCON temple in 1986. Since his joining, he held various important roles in ISKCON’s governing council team. Khatanhar has received a lot of recognition in the past for various activity. “But now, my well-wishers are persuading me to apply for Padma Shri.”