Lok Sabha approves $20 billion Food Security Bill

NEW DELHI Mon Aug 26, 2013 11:35pm IST

1 of 2. A man who runs a government subsidized food shop weighs lentil inside his shop in Chennai July 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Babu/Files

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, daughter of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, adjusts her flower garlands as she campaigns for her mother during an election meeting at Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

Election 2014

More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.  Full Coverage 

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Lok Sabha approved a plan worth nearly $20 billion on Monday to provide cheap grain to the poor, a key part of the ruling Congress party's strategy to win re-election.

Under the plan, the government will sell subsidised wheat and rice to 67 percent of its population of 1.2 billion. India is home to a quarter of the world's hungry poor, according to United Nations data, despite being one of the biggest food producers and experiencing years of rapid economic growth.

The vote broke a long stalemate in parliament, potentially clearing the way for several reforms aimed at spurring the flagging economy which the government hopes to pass in an extended session that ends on September 6

Faced with an unruly parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government last month resorted to an executive order to implement the programme, which his Congress party hopes will help win it a third consecutive term in power. The next election is due by May.

The Rajya Sabha upper house must now approve the decree before it becomes law.

'NATIONAL SHAME'

In a foretaste of the battle for votes to come, the main opposition party says the welfare scheme, which expands an existing cheap food programme covering 218 million people, is still too narrow to tackle widespread malnutrition among India's millions of poor.

The house passed the bill only after nearly nine hours of debate and the inclusion of amendments that government sources could lead to an additional requirement of about 3 million tonnes of grain.

Singh said last year that the child malnutrition in India, where almost 50 percent of children are underweight, was a "national shame". Despite that, some critics have dubbed the new plan a waste of public money at a time when growth has been steadily slowing.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), which already runs a successful food handout programme in Chhattisgarh state, voted for the bill. It had earlier criticised it for making food more expensive and failing to provide enough nutrition.

The BJP's likely candidate for prime minister, Narendra Modi, said in a letter to Singh on August 7 that the scheme would effectively reduce allowances for very poor families and make them spend more on food, because entitlements would be calculated per individual rather than per family.

He said families below the poverty line would now have to spend an extra 85 rupees per month to keep eating the same amount of rice and wheat.

The expanded subsidy is a pet project of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, who led the 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.

In a dramatic development, Gandhi, widely seen as the country's most powerful politician, had to be led out of parliament during the debate. She was admitted to a New Delhi hospital after complaining of chest pain, television channels said.

(Reporting by Anurag Kotoky and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
kpvidya1999 wrote:
Sad day for India. It is not the poor who will benefit, but the bureaucrats and middlemen. Already we are seeing eligible poor sell off the cheap grains for a higher price in various schemes run in the states. Govy can remove personal income tax and allow us working tax payers some relief to eat the EXPENSIVE food. Rottenest day in indian history –15 august 1947, when every crook got a vote. Despicable situation in india. Oligarchs and dictators are around the corner.

Aug 26, 2013 8:35am IST  --  Report as abuse
MU3tTAq7EIN wrote:
free quality education to all is a must !

Aug 27, 2013 4:51am IST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Election 2014

Election 2014

Kashmiris wary as Modi challenges for power.  Full Article 

Facebook's Performance

Facebook's Performance

Facebook Q1 revenue grows 72 percent on rising mobile ads.  Full Article 

Earnings Season

Earnings Season

Bharti Infratel Q4 net profit jumps 64 percent.  Full Article 

Monsoon Forecast

Monsoon Forecast

South Asia monsoon seen below-average to average in 2014 - WMO.  Full Article 

Solar Dispute

Solar Dispute

Green groups urge U.S. to drop solar trade case against India.  Full Article 

Oil Imports

Oil Imports

India to make May-July oil payments to Iran - sources.  Full Article 

Rice Exports

Rice Exports

India may cede top rice exporter spot under Southeast Asian price onslaught.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage