The upper house of the Indian parliament has passed the federal government's National Food Security Bill which aims to provide cheap food grain to two-thirds of India's 1.2 billion population.

The proposed legislation was approved by the Rajya Sabha on Monday by a voice vote after an almost 10-hour-long debate.

During a day-long debate the opposition attacked the government, saying the measure was just repackaging of some existing schemes and a gimmick with an eye on elections scheduled for next year.

The programme would entail an annual expenditure of $22bn.

The ambitious bill, seen as a game-changer by the Congress Party-led government, now just needs a presidential assent to become a law.

The new legislation will entitle 67 percent 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.

India has the highest percentage of malnourished children in the world after East Timor, 2012 annual Global Hunger Index says.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies