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India launches huge food program ahead of election

India launched a huge food program on Wednesday that will provide subsidized food to two-thirds of its population.

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Indian schoolchildren eat food served as part of The 'Mid Day Meal' scheme at a Government Primary School in Hyderabad on June 23, 2010. The scheme is the popular name for the school meals programme in India. It involves provision of lunch free of cost to schoolchildren on all working days. The key objectives of the programme are: protecting children from classroom hunger, increasing school enrolment and attendance, improved socialisation among children belonging to all castes, addressing malnutrition, and social empowerment through provision of employment to women. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

India launched a huge food program on Wednesday that will provide subsidized food to two-thirds of its population.

The Food Security Ordinance will provide 5kg of cheap grain to nearly 800 million people every month in a plan that has caused ministers to be criticized for passing the measure as an ordinance after it failed to win parliamentary support.

Critics say the program, which is being called one of the world's largest welfare schemes, is a political move to win votes that India cannot afford. Supporters say it will help reduce poverty in India.

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While the government insists money will not be a problem, many economists have questioned how the country will fund the expensive scheme, which will double India's food subsidy bill to more than 1.3 trillion rupees ($23.9 billion).

According to the United Nations, India is home to a quarter of the world's hungry poor, despite being one of the world's biggest food producers.

India's National Family Health Survey says about half of children below five suffer from malnutrition and a third of women are underweight.

The newly launched food program expands on an existing program that already provides cheap food to 218 million people across India. While it is backed by high-profile people like Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen, critics still call it a waste of public money.

The new food security bill proposes to provide 1kg of rice at three rupees (six cents), wheat at two rupees and millet at one rupee. It still needs to be approved by parliament, but is expected to pass without debate as few politicians want to oppose such legislation before upcoming elections, which must be held by May 2014.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/india/130703/india-launches-huge-food-program-ahead-election