India on Wednesday approved an “ambitious” food welfare program targeting the nation’s poorest, reportedly part of the government’s attempt to draw support from rural voters ahead of national elections.
“The cabinet has unanimously approved the food security ordinance,” food minister K.V. Thomas told reporters.
President Pranab Mukherjee was due to pass the long-delayed National Food Security Bill as an ordinance, meaning it would come into law immediately but must eventually be approved by parliament, reports AFP.
The food security ordinance will offer of between 3 kilos and 7 kilos of subsidized grains every month to nearly 70% of the population, or more than 800 million, becoming the largest food welfare program in the world.
The measure was part of pledges by the ruling Congress party and is seen as key to the Congress-led coalition’s fortunes in the elections due in the first half of 2014.
The scheme drew mixed sentiments from supporters and opposition.
While some lauded that it will go a long way in reducing poverty, opposition parties have attacked the government saying it was passed without enough discussion.
Economists, on the other hand, questioned how India can fund the expensive measure, which will see the country’s annual food subsidy bill double to more than 1.3 trillion rupees ($23.9 billion), BBC reports.