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India’s Food Security Bill, by the mind-blowing numbers

By Nandagopal J. Nair
IndiaPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

India’s government is embarking on an ambitious program to make food a legal right for two-thirds of its 1.2 billion population. The Food Security Bill, which was passed by ordinance but needs to be ratified by parliament, is being promoted by the government as India’s best shot at combating chronic malnutrition and hunger. Critics argue that the program is designed to gain favor with rural voters ahead of national elections in 2014. Here’s a rundown of the mind-boggling scale of what could be the world’s largest food-subsidy system:

  • Two out of three Indians, or around 810 million people, would get five kilograms of subsidized food grains every month. The program would offer food subsidies to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population.
  • The plan would dent India’s fiscal credibility. The program is projected to push up India’s fiscal deficit to 5.1% of GDP in the current fiscal year. The government has promised to keep that deficit under 4.8%.
  • Another big worry is that the plan will be implemented via the inefficient and corrupt public distribution system. About 10% of India’s food rots in warehouses before it is distributed.
  • But the plan could be a boon for the poorest Indians hit hard by rising inflation. The plan could cut expenses of households by up to 8%, according to Crisil Research.

Photo illustration by Quartz. Photo by Reuters/Utpal Baruah.

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