NEW DELHI, India (AP):
India plans to subsidise wheat, rice and cereals for some 800 million people under a $20-billion scheme to cut malnutrition and ease poverty.
The Food Security Bill, sent this week by India's parliament to the president for approval, guarantees citizens a legal right to food.
India has some of the world's worst poverty and malnutrition, with two-thirds of its 1.2 billion people poor and half of the country's children malnourished. But the $20-billion annual cost of the bill, which consolidates and expands existing subsidies, has drawn renewed attention to strained government finances at a time when India is flirting with an economic crisis as its currency falls and debt mounts.
improving food distribution
Food Minister K.V. Thomas called the bill a first step towards improving food distribution in a country where poor transportation and lack of refrigeration mean up to 40 per cent of all grains and produce rot before they reach the market.
The legislation, long promised by the governing Congress Party, was passed by India's upper house of parliament on Monday after being passed last week in the lower house.
It allows those who qualify to buy five kilograms of rice a month for three rupees (4.5 cents) a kilogram. Wheat will cost two rupees a kilogram, and for cereals the cost is one rupee.
Pregnant women and new mothers will also receive at least 6,000 rupees ($90) in aid. In a deviation from India's patriarchal traditions, the scheme designates the eldest woman in each home as the head of the household, hoping to prevent rations from ending up on the black market. This would also help keep subsidy costs from escalating, the government said.