ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Caste in MGNREGA Works and Social Audits

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is known as a demand-driven programme introduced with the legislative backing of Parliament of India. It has contributed significantly to provide the “freedom of choice” of work and dignified work opportunities along with rights and entitlements especially for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, women, landless, and other marginalised groups that depend on traditional caste-based occupations and agricultural landlords in the villages for their livelihoods. This has largely contributed to protecting their self-respect and dignity in workspaces and helped control migration. However, the deep-rooted caste system as well as the caste-based political domination in villages affects the implementation of MGNREGA severely. This paper examines the caste-based exclusion in the implementation of MGNREGA, and the social audit and follow-up action taken by the vigilance wing.

The author would like to thank Jean Drèze, Sowmya Kidambi, Shaileshkumar Darokar, Ashwani Kumar, Eva-Maria Graf, Krupa R and Ashwini Survase for their guidance, reading drafts and comments.

Development is about expanding people’s freedom (Drèze 2018;1 Sen 1999). “Freedom of choice” (Sen 1999) of work is one of the important factors for rural labourers. There was hardly any “freedom of choice” of work in the caste-based hierarchical Indian society, where the majority of marginalised groups had been dependent on their traditional occupation or on dominant-caste landowners for their livelihood (Ambedkar 1945; Thorat 2018). The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA; now the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act [MGNREGA]) was introduced in 2005, to provide the 100 days of work guarantee along with rights and entitlements to provide livelihood security, control the rural labourer’s migration and ensure equal wages, irrespective of caste, class and gender, to the unskilled labourers from rural India.2 For the first time in the Indian rural unskilled labour market, this gave the opportunity of freedom to choose work.

MGNREGA is considered a demand-driven programme implemented with demand from the labourers and villagers. Section 16 (1, 2, 3 and 4) of the act defines the role of the gram panchayat to plan the work based on demand from the villagers and monitor it. To plan the work, the concept of “shelf of work of gram sabha” was defined in the rules. The idea of shelf of gram sabha was introduced to decentralise the power and planning process to fulfil the local needs through the implementation of the projects in MGNREGA with preference to the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), landless farmers, women, etc (Section 4[3]1.[iv] MGNREGA, 2005). It is also proved through various research on MGNREGA that the majority number of workdays have been given to labourers belonging to above communities/groups (MGNREGA 2014). Though, in theory, MGNREGA was designed to be participatory and ‘‘on demand” with a number of provisions to encourage participation from the workers (Khera 2011; Veeraraghavan 2017), the “demand” process in undivided Andhra Pradesh (UAP) and in Telangana is somehow institutionalised with the introduction of the Shram Shakti Sangh (SSS).3

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Updated On : 9th Jan, 2021
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