As a first step in evaluating the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (MGNREGA), the Independent Evaluation Office held a one day consultation in New Delhi to brainstorm on how this massive work programme delivers on its objectives. MGNREGA, which was launched in 2005, has grown to become India’s largest flagship program, with an expected outlay of Rs 33,000 crores in 2013-14. It is also one of the world’s largest social protection programs and there is keen international interest in assessing its outcomes.
At the start of the consultation, Mr. Ajay Chhibber, Director General of IEO pointed out that "The MGNREGA has at least seven objectives - guaranteed employment, better livelihood and poverty reduction, providing a social safety net, empowerment of women and SC/ST, improving local administration, deepening democracy and drought management. There is no clear metric on any of these objectives so it's almost impossible to evaluate its success. Therein lies the challenge.”
The IEO will study the MGNREGA from two perspectives - a systematic review of existing evidence and by collecting primary data for an evaluation focused on key evidence gaps.
Organized jointly with 3ie, the workshop participants brainstormed on the 'theory of change' underlying the programme. The workshop helped identify evidence gaps around this causal chain. It was found that there was extensive evidence from certain states and districts while others were woefully underrepresented in the relevant surveys.
Participants also discussed previous studies that have found both positive results as well as serious short comings in the programme. For instance, some studies have found that MGNREGA has set a floor on rural wages – especially important in states where rural wages were below MGNREGA wages and it has affected labour migration patterns in the country as local guaranteed employment has reduced the incentives to migrate. Other studies have shown that MGNREGA has mixed results so far due to poor implementation, corruption and leakages of funds as well as delayed payments. There are also questions on the quality of assets constructed under MGNREGA schemes and their coordination with other rural development schemes.
PAHELI, a survey conducted by Pratham/ASER found that in 2011, almost 72% of rural respondents in seven Empowered Action Group states – Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh - were not even aware of the programme. Uptake on the programme has been high in the largely better off southern states. Lately, in order to help convergence, MGNREGA programs have been made more flexible to allow for work on housing and toilet construction as well as for one time land development on the land of SC/ST and BPL families. The IEO’s evaluation will also assess how such flexibility has helped build greater rural productivity and welfare.