MGNREGS across 5 states in India
Launched in 2006, MGNREGS is one of India's largest social protection schemes that has provided more than 30-billion person days of work till date. It has served as a critical lifeline, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic for millions of people in rural India. The impact of the scheme extends beyond alleviating poverty to improve nutritional intake and economic resilience, supplement farm income for poor farmers, and increase women’s access to and participation in paid employment. Although the program has been a strong rail for rural Indian households, critical gaps continue to undermine the scheme’s welfare potential. With the support of Omidyar Network India, Dalberg released an extensive study titled 'The state of rural employment: A look at MGNREGS across 5 states in India' covering Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Along with understanding beneficiaries' experience with MGNREGS, the report is among the first to spotlight challenges and perspectives of local administrators that can be useful for long term policy action and implementing immediate solutions at the frontline.
5 recommendations on how to bridge the gaps in the MGNREGS scheme for both beneficiaries and local administrators
Enrolment in MGNREGS
Improve beneficiaries’ awareness of MGNREGS processes through targeted CSO-led drives.
Targeted CSO-led awareness drives could help eligible individuals who are not aware of the processes with different aspects of the scheme, such as registering for a job card.
States like Andhra Pradesh have successfully collaborated with CSOs to raise awareness in Gram Panchayats where uptake of the scheme was low. They reported increased levels of awareness among beneficiaries of the different processes and their entitlements.
This has the potential to enable up to 5.4 million rural adults (estimated) in the five studied states to avail work under the scheme.
Getting employment in MGNREGS
Ensure Rozgar Diwas is held regularly and set up village level help desks to support job card holders who want to apply for employment.
Schedule Rozgar Diwas every month and inform potential beneficiaries of the date. Enlist CSOs to support with spreading awareness about the Diwas and organizing it.
Help desks located at the Gram Panchayat office have shown promise in supporting beneficiaries to fill application forms for obtaining job cards or employment, troubleshooting, and addressing general queries.
▷ Andhra Pradesh recruited additional MGNREGS staff (on a contract basis) or designated top MGNREGS beneficiaries in the Gram Panchayat to establish such help desks.
▷ Jharkhand leveraged support from empaneled CSOs to establish and operate such help desks.
This could enable an estimated 9 million rural adults across the five study states who are unable to apply for employment to receive entitlements under the scheme.
Ensuring timely wage payments
Accelerate recruitment of technical staff at Gram panchayat and Block level.
Fill up vacancies for Junior Engineers and Technical Assistants in a time-bound manner. States should make adequate budgetary provisions for hiring and retaining this staff.
Consider expanding the pool of barefoot technicians in Gram Panchayats to undertake measurement of work and assist Junior Engineers and Technical Assistants. This could ensure greater leverage for technical staff authorized to approve measurements and generate FTOs.
Faster measurement of work could speed up the process of Fund Transfer Generation Order and approval at the Gram Panchayat and Block level.
Supporting women’s participation in MGNREGS
Make more work available for women.
Expand the types of work available or introduce exclusive categories of work available for women to help them gain employment under the scheme. Ensure these are incorporated in the annual work plan for Gram Panchayats.
For example, Jharkhand has introduced the Didi Bagiya scheme under convergence with MGNREGS to train women SHGs for the creation of nurseries that support plantation activities in the state. The scheme has demonstrated early success and other states could seek inspiration from it.
This measure has the potential to impact an estimated 1.5 million women across the five study states who were not able to get MGNREGS work due to lack of available employment for women.
Leverage female role models to help overcome prejudices against women’s employment.
Female role models and support from self-help groups (SHGs) can help women overcome social norms (e.g., burden of running a household) that keep them from applying for MGNREGS employment.
The union government promoted measures to increase the proportion of female mates (head worker of a MGNREGS site crew) and barefoot technicians (semi-skilled workers supporting MGNREGS works). States like Karnataka that have adopted these measures reported that more women accessed MGNREGS.
SHGs in several other states such as UP have successfully supported women in navigating challenges and completing their job card applications.
This could help an estimated 4 million women across the five study states who want to avail MGNREGS work.
Improve Gram Panchayat level work planning and data entry for better implementation and accountability
Strengthen work-planning capacity at the local level through training or specialist support.
Andhra Pradesh and other states have invested in targeted training for both local staff and MGNREGS beneficiaries to support work planning. Workers receive regular training conducted by the state governments on tools and techniques to estimate demand for work and for mobilizing community participation. At the same time, groups of 15-20 top MGNREGS workers in each Gram Sabha receive training to support the planning efforts, and exercise agency during meetings to ensure the community voice is heard.
Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and other states have formed Cluster Facilitation Teams (CFTs) comprising experts in different fields, including community mobilization, to support local staff.
Capture all data, especially applications for employment.
Currently, MGNREGS applications for employment are often not accepted or recorded if no work is available in many Gram Panchayats. Entering all applications into the system (and providing a dated receipt) would provide a truer picture of demand for MGNREGS work and help applicants access their unemployment allowance when no work is available.
These improvements have the potential to enable an estimated 14 million rural households across the five study states to receive more entitlements under the scheme.