Researching the politics of development



Success and failure in MGNREGA implementation in India

Briefing No. 1

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) – offering up to 100 days work each year to rural Indians – is the largest social protection programme in the world, in terms of the number of households covered. There is a lively debate around whether it provides a vital social safety net for the poor or merely burdens the economy.
This briefing summarises the key findings and policy recommendations emerging from an ESID project exploring the implementation of MGNREGA.
The research shows that:

  • there is marked variation in the provision of employment to those demanding work
  • employment outcomes are lower in states with higher poverty levels
  • MGNREGA implementation depends on the supply of work, rather than the demand for it
  • supply of work is determined by differences in state capacity and commitment, local power relations and political competition

The findings offer a nuanced view of state capacity and commitment, as well as stakeholder dynamics, and their impact on employment. Those implementing MGNREGA are recommended to:

  • strengthen the demand-side nature of MGNREGA
  • allow for flexibility – within limits.


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