India-World's largest food for the needy program may soon go into effect
The Indian government has launched a giant programme to provide subsidised food to two-thirds of the population.
The food security ordinance will provide 5kg of cheap grain every month to nearly 800 million poor people.
Ministers were criticised for passing the measure as an ordinance, after failing to win parliamentary support.
Critics say the plan is a political move to win votes and will drain India's finances. Supporters say it will help reduce poverty.
"The union cabinet has approved the food security ordinance unanimously," Food Minister KV Thomas told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
He said the measure would be sent to India's president for approval later on Wednesday, meaning it will come into law immediately. But it must eventually be ratified by parliament.
The ambitious National Food Security Bill is being called one of the world's largest welfare schemes.
It was an election promise made by the ruling Congress party and, correspondents say, its implementation will help the party in general elections due next year.
But the scheme is intended to combat hunger - despite impressive economic growth in recent years, India still struggles to feed its population. It has more malnourished children than any other country in the world.
The bill proposes to provide a kilo of rice at three rupees (six cents; four pence), wheat at two rupees and millet at one rupee.
The measure will apply to 75% of Indians living in rural areas and 50% of the urban population, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says.
Supporters say it will go a long way in reducing poverty, especially in parts of the country which are worse off than sub-Saharan Afri
Could this lead to another population increase like Africa?
Overpopulation is the worst enemy of our earth.
I totally agree to feeding the hungry of the world.
But the world needs to consider options to teach these countries how to slow down population growth before it is too late. Which I think it is already too late.