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India’s Food Law ‘Expedient,’ ‘Chaotic’

“‘Historic’ and ‘unparalleled’ were the words Sonia Gandhi, boss of [India's] ruling Congress party, used to describe [the country's] new food law at a launch in Delhi on August 20th,” but “[m]ore accurate terms for the law and its introduction would be ‘expedient’ and ‘chaotic,’” an editorial in The Economist states. “The scheme aims to reach 800 million of India’s 1.2 billion people, giving each a monthly dole of five kilos of rice or wheat, at a nominal price” — “mak[ing] it the world’s biggest serving of subsidized food” — “[y]et it has been launched amid confusion, cynicism and claims of fiscal irresponsibility,” the magazine writes and provides a brief history of the law’s passage. “The new law is good in parts,” the editorial states, adding, “It makes sense to enshrine a national obligation to give children a daily hot lunch and new mothers a six-month stipend”; “promote better nutritional help and health care for under-sixes, especially girls, using the existing Integrated Child Development Services”; and help states address the poor populace.

“But much is rotten about the food scheme,” The Economist adds. “It is too costly,” the editorial states, adding that while “[s]ome argue that it is not a given that the money will always be badly spent, … [because of] the chronic abuse of procurement and food schemes elsewhere, massive theft and waste will surely continue.” The “scheme is also badly targeted,” the magazine states, noting, “Just over 20 million people, many in tribal areas or rural bits of northern states, need more help. Yet two-thirds of India’s total population will get the new food aid. That broad splurge of handouts is driven more by raw politics than by development priorities.” The editorial continues, “[H]elping children requires more than a supply of base calories. A lack of protein or vitamins in diet, dirty water, neglect of girls, lack of education on hygiene and ill-nourished mothers who get pregnant too often: all contribute to the problem” (8/24).