Updated: Thu, 04 Jul 2013 09:45:00 GMT | By Reuters

India launches huge cheap food scheme

Under the plan, the government will sell subsidised wheat and rice to 67 percent of its 1.2 billion people


India launches huge cheap food scheme (© Reuters)

New Delhi: The government launched a $22 billion welfare scheme to give cheap food to hundreds of millions of people, a centrepiece of the ruling Congress party's plan to win a third term in elections due by May 2014.

The minority government sidestepped the unruly parliament and resorted to an executive order to implement the programme, hoping to take the credit for a vote-winning plan. "The union cabinet has approved the food security ordinance unanimously," Food Minister KV Thomas told reporters after the cabinet meeting. The measure would be sent to the president on Wednesday for his signature, he said.

Under the plan, the government will sell subsidised wheat and rice to 67 percent of its 1.2 billion people. India is home to a quarter of the world's hungry poor, according to U.N. figures, despite being one of the world's biggest food producers and experiencing years of rapid economic growth. The decree expands an existing programme that provides cheap food to 218 million people and has high-profile backers including Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen, but critics call it a waste of public money at a time when growth has been steadily slowing.

The expanded subsidy is a pet project of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who led her party to victory in the last two elections on the back of populist programmes such as a rural jobs plan and a $12.5 billion farmer loan waiver passed just before the 2009 general election.

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