India subsidised food plan tabled in parliament

Women labourers collect wheat at a warehouse in Punjab
Image caption The scheme is likely to cost 1.3 trillion rupees ($23.9bn; £15.8bn) every year.

The Indian government has tabled a bill in parliament to provide subsidised food to two-thirds of the population.

Food Minister KV Thomas introduced the Food Security Bill in the lower house on Wednesday. Officials said it would be debated next week.

Under the law, the government will provide 5kg of subsidised grain monthly to nearly 800 million poor people.

Critics say the plan is a political move to win votes and will drain India's finances.

Supporters say it will help reduce poverty and hunger.

The ambitious legislation, which will cost 1.3 trillion rupees ($23.9bn; £15.8bn) a year, is being called one of the world's largest welfare schemes.

It proposes to provide a kilo 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 ruling Congress party and its implementation is expected to help the party in general elections due next year.

Despite impressive economic growth in recent years, India still struggles to feed its population and has more malnourished children than any other country in the world.

Last month, the cabinet passed the measure as an ordinance and President Pranab Mukherjee signed it into law.

The ordinance still had to be ratified by the parliament within six weeks of its first sitting for it to become law.

Opposition parties had criticised the government for passing the measure as an ordinance, after failing to win parliamentary support.

On Wednesday, the government withdrew the ordinance before tabling the bill in the parliament.

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