The Political Economy Determinants of Policy Implementation: The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in India

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is India’s largest and best resourced social welfare programme (with a budget of 8.91 billion USD or 1.3 per cent of total central government spending), and the world’s largest social security intervention in terms of household coverage (55 million households in 2010-2011).

The NREGS was implemented from 2006 onwards, and was initially offered to 200 of the poorest districts in the country. It was gradually scaled up and now covers all districts in the country.

There has been significant variation in the success of the implementation of the MGNREGA both across and within states in India, as measured by the proportion of households who are seeking work in the MGNREGA who are not able to obtain work as well as by the average number of days that households have worked on the scheme.

What explains the wide variation in MGNREGA implementation across states and across villages and gram panchayats within states in India? Past research has highlighted the role of local and state level political factors (De Neeve and Carswell 2011, Manor 2012, Mukhopadhyay 2012a), but systematic evidence on which political processes and drivers are important, and how they affect implementation across the country is lacking.

In this project, we examine the role of two specific political variables – state capacity and elite commitment. Our working hypothesis in the proposed research is that state capacity at the sub-national and local levels and the nature of commitment of local and state elites to social welfare programmes for the poor can explain in large part the variations that we observe in the implementation of the NREGS across and within states in India.

This research is funded under the DFID funded Research Programme Consortium, Effective States and Inclusive Development (ESID).

The IDS led strand will address the role of state capacity and elite commitment in explaining NREGS implementation through qualitative methods at two different levels of analysis. The first will be at the level of the sub-national state, with Indian states as units of analysis, which we call the ‘macro’ level of analysis. The second will be at the level of the village or Gram Panchayat, which we call the ‘micro’ level of analysis.

The macro-qualitative part of the project comprises of a set of case studies of 9 major Indian states to understand whether structural differences between states (reflecting both capacity and commitment of the states) explain varying outcomes of the NREGS.

The micro-qualitative component seeks to understand the political drivers of intra-state variations in NREGS implementation, but within the same district and block, so as to hold state capacity at the block/district level constant. Four GPs will be selected, two in Rajasthan, a state where the NREGS has been implemented reasonably successfully, and, two in Gujarat, a state where the NREGS has been implemented poorly

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Project details

start date
1 October 2012
end date
30 September 2014


About this project