MNREGA: The source of livelihood of 27.76 crore rural populations

MNREGA workers at work

Historical Perspective of MNREGA

Under Article 41 of the Indian Constitution, the State (i.e. India) shall provide the right to work within the limits of its economic capacity and development. It is the Directive Principles of State Policy that has given rise to the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), 2005, which later christened to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA/MGNREGA) in 2009.

This Act was unique from all other poverty alleviation programmes (EAS, NREP, JRY, SGRY, NFFWP)  as it provided, for the first time, employment opportunities as a matter of legal right, thus placing a judicial obligation upon the state too.  Tagged as the world’s largest social-protection scheme, MNREGA aims to provide 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult member volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

Need of the Act

There are numerous schemes legislated for welfare and upliftment of the common public, yet they are volatile in nature too. Schemes can be trimmed and taken out of the provisions easily. But an Act like this is more durable and any changes to it can only be brought by amendments in the parliament only. In the long run, whoever hasn’t come across this act would eventually fall into it, thereby expanding the scope of its benefits to the deepest section of the society.  And therein lays the gem of MNREGA.

Approved Labour Budget (In Cr)
Approved Labour Budget (In Cr)

MNREGA has a multi-dimensional potential within it. Fighting against rural household’s poverty and hunger, reduction in the migration of people from rural to urban, creation of valuable assets in the rural areas, empowering women with economic independence, strengthening the bargaining power of unorganized worker- these are a few worth mentioning benefits that are achieved via MNREGA.

The Act stipulates that every state must frame its own rural employment guarantee scheme following the certain conditions mentioned in the Schedule I  of the Act.

Schedule I ( Categories of Work )
1Water conservation and water harvesting.
2Drought proofing.
3Irrigation canals including micro and minor irrigation works.
4Provision of Irrigation facilities.
5Renovation of traditional water bodies.
6Land development.
7Flood control and protection work.
8Rural connectivity to provide all weather access.
9Any other work which may be notified by the Central Government in consultation with the State government.
List of work that are supposed to be “focus of the scheme”

The Restriction within MNREGA

There are a few features that critics don’t share similar opinion with its founding fathers as well as with the present custodian of the act. To name a few:

  • The act prohibits work in urban areas.
  • The act doesn’t allow the addition of workers in any ongoing work.
  • The threshold limit to start new work is fifty person minimum.
  • Actual payment of unemployment allowances.


The sole responsibility of implementation of the scheme lies with the State government, with funding aid coming from the Centre. The Panchayats at the District, Intermediates and Village levels are the “principal authorities” for planning and implementation of the scheme. Block remains the basic unit of its implementation with a “Programme officer” in charge.


The workers are expected to register themselves once for a period of five years with the Gram Panchayat, whereas the application for work is submitted every time when the work is needed.  A job card is then issued that would then ensure a written record of the number of days worked, wages paid, unemployment allowances, and so on.

The unit of registration is “household”; and every nuclear family is treated as a separate family.

The minimum wage is decided by the State unless there is an intervention from the Centre overriding that of the State. Nonpayment of wages attracts compensation according to the Payment Wages Act of 1932. Facilities such as, safe drinking water, shade for children and periods of rest, first aid box with adequate material for emergency treatment for minor injuries, and other health hazards connected with the work, is supposed to be provided at the worksite.

Unemployment Allowance

There is an unconditional right to claim for an unemployment allowance if the worker is not provided with work within 15 days of applying for it. This acts as a buffer to their miserable conditions as it provides assistance during no work. It is also indicative of the failure of the State Government in providing timely employment.  It can then mandate the government to formulate incentives to provide work.

The Gram Sabha discusses and prioritizes the works to be taken up. It conducts regular social audits of all the works carried out in the Panchayat, and verify that all the relevant norms are being observed.       

This scheme has seen mixed results depending on the States. Spreading awareness campaigns, monitoring the work, organizing the work entitlements, etc are a few that could boost the scheme to more higher heights. Thus it clearly indicates that, it is the political will of the State government in accepting and implementing the scheme to its full potential.  

Article written by Nimai Ranjan Bibhar

This article is based on the authors own research on the Topic from various authentic sources and up-to-date government data.

Image Source : Google