From Ambition to Actualisation: What Would It Take for Mgnregs to Transform India’s Rural Landscape?


Swetha Totapally


4 min read

Census India

Ensuring social protection for low-income households is crucial in India, with 65% of its population residing in rural areas, where economic opportunities may be thin. This is where the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) steps in—the world’s largest employment guarantee scheme that assures employment to every rural household with members willing to do unskilled manual work. While the budget allocated to the scheme has fallen short of demand over the years, MGNREGS continues to provide a safety net for the country’s poorest families. Fifteen years after the scheme’s launch, Dalberg has released a report on ‘The state of rural employment: A look at MGNREGS across 5 states in India’ supported by Omidyar Network India. While the report underlines the far-reaching impact of the scheme in providing livelihood security to millions of rural households, critical gaps continue to undermine the scheme’s welfare potential. The learnings from India on the importance of committed and continued government engagement to address gaps could serve as a roadmap for other countries with similar demographics.

MGNREGS employed every household that sought work, benefitted more women than men

The survey of nearly 4,600 low-income households and 1,500 MGNREGS administrators across Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh showed that 100% of households that applied for work received it and 95% of job card holders had received wages for their most recent employment in the past year. The scheme is also a step in the right direction in addressing gender disparities—women make up more than 50% of the beneficiaries, surpassing the 33% reservation set by MGNREGS, and their share of person days has been higher than that of men for the past 5 years. In addition, women received equal pay as men and nearly half of the employed women were previously unemployed, mostly as unpaid labourers on family farms.

Limited work and delayed wages mar scheme’s potential

An overview of the scheme’s performance shows a clear demand–supply conflict: while all applying households received work, 61% of them received less work than they applied for. In addition, 41% of administrators stopped accepting applications after the year’s labour budget was exhausted. Of the women who tried to but could not apply for employment, 28% (approximately 1.5 million) said this was because no work was available. Non-receipt of timely wages was another hurdle—only 37% of job card holders had received their wages on time in the past year.

Increased awareness, trained staff, and easy application process are immediate needs

Barriers reported in submission of application for employment highlight the need for training the MGNREGS staff and easing the application process. Among job card holders who tried but failed to submit their application, difficulty in filling the form was a major concern. Among those with successful form submissions, the foremost barrier was the difficulty in travelling to block offices. Meanwhile, lack of awareness about scheme processes hindered employment applications, particularly among women—26% of female job card holders did not seek work because they were unaware of the need to demand work. Targeted awareness drives can effectively mitigate this barrier. For instance, Andhra Pradesh successfully collaborated with CSOs to raise awareness in Gram Panchayats where uptake of the scheme was low, while Jharkhand leveraged support from empanelled CSOs to establish and operate help desks to support beneficiaries. These examples also point to how the private sector can pitch in to ensure seamless delivery of benefits — private funders could support CSOs in supplementing the government’s efforts and processes.

Effective digitalisation of data is necessary for accurate picture of work demand

Only 62% of MGNREGS administrators reported that all new job card applications in their Gram Panchayats were entered in the MIS and only 45% of job card holders received a dated receipt for their application, suggesting that data may not have been entered for others. It is imperative to enter all applications into the system for a true picture of demand for work and to enable eligible applicants to access unemployment allowance—the guaranteed minimum income for those who do not receive work.

Realising the role of MGNREGS as a safety net demands concerted efforts to plug the gaps

MGNREGS is inarguably a key social protection measure for India’s predominantly rural population and the onus lies on local government institutions to ensure its reach and effectiveness. Local bodies such as Gram Panchayats receive applications for and allocate job cards and work, conduct annual surveys to estimate work demand, prepare annual work plans, monitor workers’ attendance and work execution, validate the measurement of work, and undertake periodic reviews of implementation to monitor MGNREGS’s performance. The survey shows that exercises such as work demand surveys and annual work planning lag for want of adequate staff and technical expertise, which need to be addressed for the smooth functioning of the scheme’s decentralised planning and implementation model. In terms of furthering women’s participation in the scheme, involving female role models and support from self-help groups is pivotal; for instance, SHGs in UP have successfully supported women in navigating challenges and completing their job card applications. The learnings and recommendations in the report have the potential to extend the scheme’s reach—not only to an estimated 14 million rural households across the five study states but across the expanse of the nation.


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Swetha Totapally

Partner at Dalberg Advisors

Swetha Totapally, Partner at Dalberg Advisors is a leader of the firm’s gender equality and technology practice areas. She directs many of the organisation’s efforts on government entitlements and initiatives in India including the State of Aadhaar initiative.

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