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‘They don’t want to work’ versus ‘They don’t want to provide work’: Seeking explanations for the decline of MGNREGA in Rajasthan’

16 July 2014.
ESID‘s latest working paper explores the reasons behind the sharp decline in MGNREGA implementation in the Indian state of Rajasthan since 2010. This paper was produced as part of ESID’s research on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the largest social protection scheme in the world. Its author is Dr Deepta Chopra, a Research Fellow on Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction at the Institute for Development Studies.
In this paper Deepta investigates why the performance of MGNREGA has declined so drastically in Rajasthan, which used to be among the highest performing states for the programme. She combines primary and secondary data to examine both the supply side of NREGA – the politicians and technocrats who design and implement the programme – and the demand side – the citizens who are supposed to demand access to public work under the scheme. She finds that the decline in programme performance may have less to do with the needs of the rural poor in Rajasthan than with the perverse incentives of the local officials who control implementation.
Here are some excerpts from the paper:

The MGNREGA is a demand-led programme – this implies that the programme will only provide employment to those who ‘express’ a demand for work. Once the demand has been expressed, it is assumed that the state machinery will kick into action and employment will be provided through the opening of appropriate worksites. The individual then turns up, does the work, and is paid his/her wages either in cash or into a bank/ post office account. …
Along with expressing demand for work, equally important is the process through which this demand is captured and noted by the state machinery. …
The lack of adequate numbers of frontline staff, and the overloading of responsibilities onto limited numbers of staff may be an important determinant in the failure to capture demand in Rajasthan. …
The MGNREGA has very strong elements of accountability and transparency measures, the most significant being the process of social audits that are mandated in the Act. …
This has made leakages from the MGNREGA difficult, small-scale and risky – for both local power holders, such as Sarpanches, as well as the frontline support staff (junior engineers, etc.). Thus, local actors who would have otherwise had a vested interest in implementing the Act (through diverting its benefits) are instead wary of the transparency measures that curtail the amount of money they can draw from the Act, as well as increasing the transaction costs of such actions. In addition, they risk being caught in the act of trying to divert funds for their own benefit. Instead, it is much easier to limit the scale of their engagement in the MGNREGA’s implementation, and make money from other governmental schemes from which lining their pockets is convenient and still possible.

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