India set to launch subsidised food plan

A woman winnows wheat crop at a wholesale grain market near the Indian city of Ahmedabad on 7 May 2013
Image caption The scheme aims to combat hunger, but has been called impractical and unaffordable

The Indian government is to launch a programme to provide subsidised food to two thirds of the population.

The food security scheme aims to provide 5kg of cheap grain every month to nearly 800 million poor people.

The launch is going ahead even though the controversial Food Security Bill which maps out this welfare scheme is yet to be approved by parliament.

Critics say the scheme is a political move to win votes and will drain India's finances.

But India accounts for a third of the world's poor and supporters say such assistance will help reduce poverty and hunger.

The food security programme will be officially launched in the capital, Delhi, by the head of the governing Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, to coincide with the birth anniversary of late prime minister and Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi.

Four other states, ruled by the Congress, will also launch the scheme on Tuesday.

Controversial law

Earlier this month, the government tabled the Food Security Bill in parliament and the authorities plan to take it up in the lower house on Tuesday.

The ambitious legislation, which will cost 1.3 trillion rupees ($23.9bn; £15.8bn) a year, is being called one of the world's largest welfare schemes.

It proposes to provide a kilo of rice at three rupees, wheat at two rupees and millet at one rupee.

The measure will apply to to 75% of Indians living in rural areas and 50% of the urban population.

The bill was an election promise made by the ruling Congress party and its implementation is expected to help the party in general elections due next year. But it has had a rocky journey through the legislative process.

Last month, the cabinet passed the measure as an ordinance and President Pranab Mukherjee signed it into law. The ordinance needed parliamentary approval within six weeks of its first sitting for it to become law.

Opposition parties criticised the government for passing the measure as an ordinance, after failing to win parliamentary support. The government withdrew the ordinance before tabling the bill in the parliament.

Despite impressive economic growth in recent years, India still struggles to feed its population and has more malnourished children than any other country in the world.

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