21 Aug 2013

Subsidised food plan starts in India

5:38 am on 21 August 2013

The Indian government has launched a programme to provide subsidised food to two-thirds of the population.

The food security scheme aims to give 5kg of cheap grain to about 800 million people each month.

The BBC reports the programme will cost 1.3 trillion rupees ($23.9 billion) per year, but is yet to be approved by parliament. It will be one of the world's largest welfare schemes.

Critics say it is a profligate plan which will hurt the economy.

The programme was officially launched by Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi in the capital, Delhi, where she handed out special cards to a group of women which entitles them to cheap grain supplied by government fair price shops.

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

The programme proposes to provide 1kg of rice at three rupees, wheat at two rupees and millet at one rupee.

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

The bill was an election promise made by the Congress party and the BBC reports its introduction is expected to help the party in general elections due next year.

Last month, the cabinet passed the measure as an ordinance and President Pranab Mukherjee signed it into law. But parliamentary approval has not yet confirmed it into law.