Author:Natesan, Sarabjeet Dhody


The Directive Principles of the Constitution define India as a welfare state in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. Formulated on the triad of 'provision of equality, opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth along with social responsibility of those not able to provide for themselves', it runs concurrent with how Marshall (1950) identified welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism. To promote 'inclusive growth', Indian policymakers have tried to bridge the ever widening income inequality gap by improving social protection of the poor through policy prescription. India currently spends approximately $60 billion per year on welfare (Economic Survey, 2015). Being a resource challenged country, the allocative trade-offs of this welfare and its opportunity costs are rather high to other avenues of governance.

The Government of India in enabling and enacting MGNREGA, a flagship rural employment guarantee scheme in 2005, fulfilled a longstanding demand of the agricultural sector and the social activists. MGNREGA design made it obligatory for the government to provide on demand, one hundred days of unskilled, manual employment to one adult member of a registered household seeking employment, at the then starting minimum wage rate of INR 100 (roughly $1.50) per day--currently linked to the cost of living index. Thus, creating a social safety net via an employment option that would stave off economic distress (Hirway, 2006). MGNREGA also hoped to prevent migration to urban centers by rural population unable to find sustenance in villages during lean agricultural seasons. It hoped to usher in social equality in the rural landscape mired with caste and gender inequality. It aimed at strengthening the environment as well as the resource base of agriculture. To do this, it provides basic manual works that can be undertaken for the purpose of creating wage employment for unskilled workers. It was designed as a 'bottom up' policy with the guidelines coming from the top and democratic implementation from the bottom (Ravallion, 2008).

Extending social protection on equity, empowerment, economic, social and cultural rights as a transformative social policy (Devereux and Sabates-Wheeler, 2004), MGNREGA has received critical scrutiny for the promises it made and the extent to which they have and have not been realized. Being a rural scheme, it faces challenges because both implementers and beneficiaries confront political and power obstacles. The complex mechanics of the scheme, involving the central, state and three tiers of local government, encourages its decentralized implementation (Rabbe et al, 2010). The three tier local administrative divisions of India are a nested hierarchy of subdivision of districts, blocks and villages. States are divided into Districts which are sub divided into blocks. Blocks are the next level of rural subdivisions after the districts and are followed by the village. Blocks are administered by Block Development Officers (BDO's) who work for the state government. The village level governance units (Village (Gram) Panchayat) is an elected body at the lowest democratic level and controls five or six villages. Village Panchayat heads are elected and are called Village Panchayat Presidents (VPP). A smaller body of panchayat and non-panchayat members constitute a 'Gram Sabha'. Every village with a population of 200 or more has a Gram Sabha. It consists of all the eligible voters living in the area of the Gram Panchayat. Gram Sabha has the highest importance quotient as its members elect the members of the village panchayat. Dependent on the requirements of the village, the Gram Sabha helps in planning the works to be undertaken under the MGNREGA scheme. Along with the district, block and village, it is an important stakeholder in MGNREGA's decentralized implementation process (MGNREGA Operational Guidelines, 2013; Jain, 1997).


Policy implementation often interrupts achieving policy objectives and delays its impact (Pressman and Wildawsky, 1973). Many well designed policies meet their nemesis at the implementation stage. This study has tried to unravel the importance of implementers on policy implementation. The literature on implementers primarily identifies them as: top-level leaders-policy designers and framers (Brugha and Varsovsky, 2000, Hupe and Hill, 2007; Sinclair, 2001); mid-level managers and implementers (Tadlock et. al.2005); and frontline workers or street-level workers (Lipsky, 1980).

Policy framers and designers were seen by Top Down theorists as central actors, doling out proactive advice (Matland, 1995) that required and emphasized consistency in behavioural patterns. The assumption inherent was that of a self-implementing policy. However, designers started to take refuge in legality of words and put too much emphasis on the administrative process, often at the expense of political immediacy (Berman, 1978; Saetren, 1996). Bottom Up theorists credited the target population and service deliverers and providers with a better grasp of the implementation process (Cline, 2000). Dividing policy implementation into macro level (central actors) and micro level (local level), Berman (1978) pointed out that policy implementation variations arose due to 'local contextual factors' that policy designers were unable to control. Lipsky (1980) coined the term 'street-level bureaucrats' and emphasized their importance in micro implementation, using this term for 'schools, police, welfare departments, lower courts, and legal service officers'. Further, Hupe and Hill (2007) opined that the street-level bureaucrats were the most suited for the policy implementation process as they had the discretion of choice making and found ways to manage work. In between the stakeholder-ship of the policy framers and the street-level bureaucrats were the mid-level implementers. Tadlock et al. (2005) focused on the role of effective mid-level leadership in implementing welfare schemes and examined demographics and the contextual factors affecting it. While they found the leadership skills of mid-level managers affecting project implementation success, May and Winter (2007) observed that politicians and managers play a limited role in comparison to the street-level bureaucrats or the case workers in implementing employment policy reforms.

A scan of the MGNREGA literature (too huge to document here) reveals that is has diffused to micro studies and geographic area specific work on gender, wages and income factors. Studies of MGNREGA have focused heavily on its effect on incomes, migration, wages and gender equality, environmental convergence, leakages of the scheme, corruption, and beneficiary profile among other issues. Literature has also focused on micro level implementation in various geographical areas of India.

Macro challenges facing MGNREGA implementation and evaluation studies (documented below) on MGNREGA can be broadly categorized into three: governance (administrative), planning, and resource utilization. The governance challenge--defined in terms of administration ability and the role of implementers--is felt in numerous ways, such as the absence of 'sufficiently large number of trained support staff' (Hirway, 2006; Raabe et al. 2010). The vacant posts of Program Officers (Districts) who were intended to helm MGNREGA implementation illustrate this shortfall (MGNREGA Operational Guidelines, 2013). Most of these posts remain open and the work is being done by junior level Block Development Officer (BDO). The BDOs are already implementing multiple state- and center-sponsored welfare schemes and their workload affects program results. Research has also documented how structural deficiencies and procedural lapses affect ground level implementation by gram panchayats and program outcomes (Chakraborty, 2014).

A major implementation hurdle cited in the literature is the beneficiary demand expectations versus the implementers' provision of work (Chopra, 2014). This echoes 'major problem cited in implementation is the matching of the demand for work to supply of work' (Hirway, 2006; Chakraborty, 2007). The assumption that 'all those who need employment will come forward, get work within fifteen days or receive an unemployment allowance in lieu of work, [and] will get wages paid every week on a regular basis' requires 'quantum jump in planning and administrative commitment' (Hirway, 2006).

'Low organizational capacity, low funds utilization, low existing institutional arrangements in smaller poorer low performing states paradoxically get pushed back even more as the budget outlays are based on planning and implementation outcomes and low performing states in need of better planning and resources get significantly less of these' (Chakraborty, 2007). States in need of better planning and resources are caught in a vicious circle because their budgets are determined by their already low performance and relatively poor implementation outcomes, while better planned states appropriate a larger share of the MGNREGA funds. Planning is inextricably tied to resource usage as better planned states appropriate a larger share of funds, thus creating a vicious cycle of sorts. The role of proper planning in ensuring the success of MGNREGA found echoes in many studies (Hirway, 2004; Chakraborty, 2007; Raabe et al. 2010).

Not much work has been reported on the role of implementers in implementing MGNREGA other than the literature cited (Hirway, 2006 and Rabbe et al. 2010), and this paved the way for this study which was to assess the importance of the implementer and the factors important to them in the implementation of the MGNREGA.


The initial impetus for this research came from Tadlock et al. (2005) which studied implementation of social welfare schemes and...

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