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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Landmark Indian jobs bill passed
Indian village women in Rajasthan
The scheme targets India's 60m rural households
The lower house of India's parliament has passed a landmark bill aimed at guaranteeing 100 days of employment each year to every rural household.

The Rural Employment Guarantee Bill was passed unanimously after a marathon 13-hour debate.

The bill seeks to provide a job to one member from each of India's 60m rural households.

Analysts say it is the first step towards a welfare state in India where 70% of the population live in villages.

The bill will now go to the upper house for approval where it is expected to pass easily.

It will become a law if passed by the house and after it gets the president's assent.

Election pledge

Correspondents say the bill is the most ambitious pro-poor scheme launched by an Indian government.

It was an important plank of the Congress Party's election campaign last year, and is supported by its communist allies.

People employed by the scheme will work on projects such as building roads, improving rural infrastructure, constructing canals or working on water conservation schemes.

The government say special priority will be given to women under the scheme, which will be launched in 200 districts this year and will extend to the entire country over the next four.

The scheme is estimated to cost between 3bn and 17bn and critics say it is not clear how the government intends to meet the costs.

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