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MGNREGA in Tamil Nadu: a story of success and transformation?

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 16:49 authored by Grace CarswellGrace Carswell, Geert De NeveGeert De Neve
Social protection has emerged as a key driver of development policy at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is widely considered a ‘good thing’ that has the potential not only to alleviate poverty and vulnerability, but also to generate more transformative outcomes in terms of empowerment and social justice. Based on an ethnographic study of the implementation of the M ahatma G andhi N ational R ural E mployment G uarantee A ct (MGNREGA ), India's flagship social protection policy, this paper takes a critical look at what this policy's ‘success’ consists of. The study was carried out in T amil Nadu, a state widely presented as a ‘success’ in terms of MGNREGA 's implementation, and describes who participates in the scheme and how success is understood and expressed at different social and bureaucratic levels. In terms of MGNREGA 's outcomes, we conclude that the scheme is benefitting the poorest households – and D alits and women in particular – especially in terms of providing a safety net and as a tool for poverty alleviation. But the scheme does more than that. It has also produced significant transformative outcomes for rural labourers, such as pushing up rural wage levels, enhancing low-caste workers' bargaining power in the labour market and reducing their dependency on high-caste employers. These benefits are not only substantial but also transformative in that they affect rural relations of production and contribute to the empowerment of the rural labouring poor. However, in terms of creating durable assets and promoting grassroots democracy, the scheme's outcomes are much less encouraging.


India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme: livelihoods, gender and migration in Tamil Nadu; G0347; BRITISH ACADEMY; SG101559


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Journal of Agrarian Change









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