India's Massive Challenge Of Feeding Every Poor Person

The Indian government's new food security plan would cover impoverished families like this one in the city of Allahabad. i i

The Indian government's new food security plan would cover impoverished families like this one in the city of Allahabad. Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP
The Indian government's new food security plan would cover impoverished families like this one in the city of Allahabad.

The Indian government's new food security plan would cover impoverished families like this one in the city of Allahabad.

Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

We've become familiar with the story of India's economic ascent and the creation of a large middle class. While that story is true, hundreds of millions of Indians have not been lifted out of extreme poverty.

India has sought to help its poorest children with its midday meal program, which was in the news this week when more than 20 schoolchildren died after eating tainted food.

As we noted, India trails other developing nations at the pace at which it is reducing death rates for children under 5. And as the map and graph below from the International Food Policy Research Institute show, India also lags behind in other key childhood indicators. (You may have to click on India on the map to see the data. You can also click on other countries.)

In the face of all these challenges, India's government is working on a new plan to feed hundreds of millions of poor people with subsidized food grains.

It's called the National Food Security Ordinance. The government says it will help the country's poorest people, and help India reach some of its poverty-reduction goals. Here are some key facts about the program:

— It would cover 2 out of every 3 Indians — or some 800 million people.

— It would give each of them 11 pounds of grain each month.

— It would provide rice at 5 cents; wheat at 3 cents; millet at 2 cents per kilogram (2.2 pounds).

— Its cost has been estimated at more than $20 billion annually.

Critics say India can't afford public spending on such a vast scale; and they say it'll be far more expensive than the government's estimates. They also claim the program amounts to pandering ahead of next year's elections. Meanwhile, the government is battling allegations of corruption, inefficiency and a slowing economy.

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