Currying political favor has always been a primary motivator for social benefits — or so the cynic might say — but is that really cause for complaint?

In India, the government has recently passed an ordinance, the National Food Security Bill, aiming to provide subsidized food to nearly 70% of the population.  This food security ordinance could go a long way towards addressing the number of malnourished children in India — which exceeds that of any other country in the world. Critics, however, claim that the measure, passed by ministers as an ordinance when it failed to win parliamentary support, is simply an attempt to gain political favor ahead of end-of-year elections, and further, that India can’t afford to maintain the subsidies. Both arguments carry weight. Sonia Gandhi, the chief of congress, has called a meeting next week between party leaders and state heads, to discuss the speedy implementation of the ordinance. The fear of the ruling party is that opposition controlled States will oppose the new legislation and prevent its implementation before elections.

The food bill poses a complex issue. It will cost nearly $24 billion a year and will be one of the world’s largest welfare schemes, a significant drain on government resources. But the converse is that 800 million people, 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population, will be able to purchase subsidized grains. The plan proposes providing rice at a rate of six cents a kilo, wheat at four, and millet at two. For families living in extreme poverty the move will be hugely significant.

The aim of the Indian Congress will be to begin subsidies in Delhi on August 20th, with the remainder of Indian states to follow before the end of the year. And while the rush to initiate the program may be due to maximizing the political gain from it rather than assisting the malnourished population of India, the end result will nevertheless be the same.

– David Wilson

Sources: BBC, Daily News & Analysis India