Feeding the poor and hungry remains a major challenge for the developing countries that are trying hard to reduce poverty by a half by 2015 — as part of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations about a decade ago.
The Indian government’s bold move to feed two-thirds of its 1.2 billion people living in poverty will go a long way to support its vision to free the country from hunger and poverty. This is happening at a time when the country’s wealth is concentrating in the upper echelons of the society and the urban middle class, as the rich-poor gap widens in Asia’s third-largest economy.
Although the move will cost the country’s exchequer about $20 billion (Dh73.56 billion) a year, it is worth every cent. The passage of the bill is expected to take place smoothly with some minor amendments in a day or two.
However, the real challenge lies in its implementation, especially ensuring that the real target group — people at the bottom of the pyramid — receives the food and at the set prices.
Keeping this free from corruption will also be a big challenge. No one wants this initiative to end up in another ‘ration card’ regime or a tool to secure political loyalty or a vote-buying scheme in an election year where results could swing either way.
The move, although laudable, might not be enough to free the country from poverty totally. This scheme should be part of a larger plan that should be aimed at empowering the 800 million underprivileged people so that they can change their own fate in the long term. For that to happen, the initiative should be packaged with comprehensive and mandatory education, health care and housing projects. If India is to emerge as an economic powerhouse, then there is no alternative.
However, the food bill is a good beginning towards this journey.