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India Embraces the Welfare State

NEW DELHI – In recent weeks, India’s parliament, often justifiably derided for the frequent disruptions that mar its work, has surprised its detractors by passing two crucial pieces of legislation that could transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

The first, the Food Security Act, grants 67% of India’s population a right to 35 kilograms of rice or wheat for three rupees (less than five US cents) per kilo. Together with related provisions that would provide meals to infants and expectant mothers, and subsidized pulses to supplement cheaply available food grains, the law will add $6 billion to India’s annual fiscal deficit. But it would also abolish the risk of starvation and malnutrition in a land where too many have gone hungry for too long.