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India's Dh73bn food welfare plan passes

The food security bill has been sent by the upper house of parliament to the president for approval and will guarantee citizens a legal right to food.

NEW DELHI // The food security bill has been sent by the upper house of parliament to the president for approval and will guarantee citizens a legal right to food.

India plans to subsidise wheat, rice and cereals for about 800 million people under a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) scheme to cut malnutrition and poverty.

Two-thirds of the country's 1.2 billion people are poor and half of the country's children malnourished. But the bill 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.-

The food minister, KV 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 produce rots before they reach the market.

The legislation was long promised by the governing Congress party and allows those who qualify to buy 5 kilograms of rice a month for 16 fils a kilogram. Wheat and cereals will cost less.

Pregnant women and new mothers will also receive aid. In a deviation from 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.

The cost of food subsidies will rise from 0.8 per cent of gross domestic product to 1.2 per cent under the scheme.

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