India's lower house of parliament has passed a flagship $22bn programme to provide subsidised food to the poor.

The national Food Security Bill will entitle 67 per cent of Indians to highly subsidised food. By giving cheap grain to the poor, the government is intending to wipe out endemic hunger and malnutrition across the country.

In a rare speech in parliament, the ruling Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi told MPs to send a message to the world that India was ready to eradicate malnutrition, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described as a "national shame".

"The big message which will go out to the country and rest of the world is clear and concrete: that India is taking the responsibility of providing food security of all its citizens," she said.

India already runs the world's biggest food distribution system covering hundreds of millions of people. According to the 2012 annual Global Hunger Index, India has the highest percentage of malnourished children in the world after East Timor,

The Food Security Bill is a key part of the ruling Congress party's strategy to win re-election. Polls are due by May  next year.

The upper house must approve the decree before it becomes law.

Source: Agencies