x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Food scheme for India's poorest wins approval

The populist programme will offer subsidised grains to nearly 70 per cent of the country, or more than 800 million people.

NEW DELHI // India's government yesterday approved a vast food welfare programme for the nation's poorest as it sought to increase its popularity before national elections next year.

"The cabinet has unanimously approved the food security ordinance," the food minister, K V Thomas, said.

The law was to be sent to India's president, Pranab Mukherjee, who is expected to pass the long-delayed National Food Security Bill as an ordinance, meaning it would become law immediately but must eventually be approved by parliament.

The populist programme will offer subsidised grains to nearly 70 per cent of the country, or more than 800 million people.

It has been pushed strongly by the head of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, who has insisted on honouring a 2009 election pledge despite concerns about the impact on the public finances and food prices.

The bill had been expected to be cleared by legislators in the parliament in February, but it was never introduced because of demonstrations from the opposition over corruption, which repeatedly disrupted proceedings.

Opposition parties have attacked the government for ramming the measure through for approval by decree. They said there had not been enough discussion of its effect on prices and on farmers who must produce more food.

The bill guarantees a monthly supply of between three and seven kilograms of grain per person, depending on their level of income.