India parliament passes flagship food-for-poor scheme

An Indian rice vendor prepares of rice sacks in his roadside shop on a pavement in Kolkata on Aug 26, 2013. India's parliament on Monday passed a flagship US$18 billion (S$23 billion)  programme to provide subsidised food to the poor that is int
An Indian rice vendor prepares of rice sacks in his roadside shop on a pavement in Kolkata on Aug 26, 2013. India's parliament on Monday passed a flagship US$18 billion (S$23 billion)  programme to provide subsidised food to the poor that is intended to "wipe out" endemic hunger and malnutrition in the aspiring superpower. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's parliament on Monday passed a flagship US$18 billion (S$23 billion)  programme to provide subsidised food to the poor that is intended to "wipe out" endemic hunger and malnutrition in the aspiring superpower.

The Food Security Bill - a key scheme seen as a vote-winner by the ruling Congress party ahead of national elections next year - was adopted in the lower house after a nine-hour debate.

Meira Kumar, speaker of the lower house announced the passage of the bill, saying: "The ayes have it. The motion is adopted and the bill as amended is passed." In a rare speech in parliament, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi told MPs to send a message to the world that India was ready to eradicate malnutrition, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as a "national shame".

"The big message which will go out to the country and rest of the world is clear and concrete: that India is taking the responsibility of providing food security of all its citizens," she said.

Gandhi was later admitted to a hospital in the capital suffering from a fever, according to a party leader.

India already runs the world's biggest food distribution system covering hundreds of millions of people, but the Food Security Bill will offer grains at lower prices and attempt to better target the needy.