Every eligible person will be entitled to five kilograms of rice for three Rupees (5.4 cents), five kilograms of wheat for two Rupees (3.6 cents), and five kilograms of millet for one Rupee (1.8 cents).
The ambitious plan - its critics argue it will be corrupted and misused like so many previous programs to feed the poor - will push the amount the government spends feeding its population beyond $21 billion a year.
“India’s current macroeconomic position does not provide the space to implement this policy,” Sonal Varma, an economist with Nomura Securities, said.
But there are more hungry children in India than in all of Africa, and proponents argue food shortages must be the country’s highest priority.
Food security is a now permanent and growing challenge in India. The Green Revolution took India from intermittent famine to agricultural surplus but it depended on two unsustainable practices - fertilization and groundwater irrigation. Excessively intensive farming has left some Indian farmland degraded to the point that the fertilizer that contributed to soil exhaustion must now be doubled. Yet India's water supply problem is the greater threat according to a recent report on Peak Water:
India's grain harvest has been expanding rapidly in recent years, but in part for the wrong reason, namely massive overpumping. A 2005 World Bank study reports that 15% of India's food supply is produced by mining groundwater. Stated otherwise, 175 million Indians are now fed with grain produced with the unsustainable use of water. As early as 2004, Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist that "half of India's traditional hand-dug wells and millions of shallower tube wells have already dried up, bringing a spate of suicides among those who rely on them. Electricity blackouts are reaching epidemic proportions in states where half of the electricity is used to pump water from depths of up to a kilometre."
As India's water table falls, well drillers are using modified oil-drilling technology to reach water, going down a half mile or more in some locations. In communities where underground water sources have dried up entirely, all agriculture is now rainfed and drinking water must be trucked in. Tushaar Shah, who heads the International Water Management Institute's groundwater station in Gujarat, says of India's water situation: "When the balloon bursts, untold anarchy will be the lot of rural India."