New Delhi, August 24:

India’s communist-backed coalition government passed revolutionary legislation in parliament yesterday that guarantees 100 days of employment annually to every rural household in India, ignoring critics who said the law was impracticable and would foster corruption.

“This is the most important piece of legislation on behalf of India’s impoverished millions since India won its independence in 1947,” said Prabhat Patnaik, professor of economics at the Jawaharalal Nehru University. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act promises wage employment to every rural household in which adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work — a form of direct intervention intended to alleviate poverty in India’s long-neglected rural hinterland, where 72 per cent of its billion-plus population lives, according to 2001 census.

Patnaik said that because of its grand scale the programme could be regarded as one of the biggest steps so far in meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — which include halving global poverty and hunger — by 2015, ‘’although this is hardly the aim of the legislation.’’ Essentially, he said, the government would be committed to spending ten billion dollars annually (slightly more than one per cent of GDP) to ensure that impoverished rural households earn at least about $1.50 a day for a minimum of 100 days a year. “I would have personally preferred that the programme was based on individuals rather than households,” said Patnaik, indicating the many pulls and pushes that went into shaping the ‘landmark legislation.’

Right-wing economist Surjit Bhalla said the law opens the floodgates to widespread corruption through the “fudging of muster rolls,” which he said was a practice all too common in India.