Getting To Know Rural Madhya Pradesh through MGNREGA

by | Sep 20, 2018

MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) – I remember reading about this in civics class IX syllabus. Little did I know that years later, it would come back to me in a totally unexpected way. As a part of my India Fellow journey, I am placed with an organization called WISE in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, promoted by Chaitanya. WISE majorly operates in Indore, Ujjain and Umaria where we work on promoting women self-help groups through financial literacy as a tool for empowerment.

NIRDPR (National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj) undertakes research on certain issues to provide policy insights on rural development to the States and Government of India. A pan India study has been launched to understand and analyse the experiences and outcomes of MGNREGA. It is named, ‘MGNREGA: A Participatory Assessment and Way Forward’. To complete the study within six months, NIRDPR has partnered with premier institutions to assist in the data collection process, and WISE is one of them in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh (MP).

As a part of sampling process, we conducted surveys in 17 districts of Maharashtra and 16 districts of MP. I was in Umaria at that time and was asked to accompany the team to Jabalpur district, in order to work in two villages there. As soon as I was informed about it, I started reading up on internet about MGNREGA. With all the information I could gather, we set off for the study.

In last 6 months, it has been one of the highlights of my fellowship. It meant visiting villages of Madhya Pradesh, talking to various sarpanchs, rozgar sahayaks, various office bearers of Janpad Panchayat at block level and above all, meeting real stakeholders – the villagers. It meant working at the grass-root level.

Listening to their woes, understanding how government plans and schemes are of help to them or not. Since Jabalpur is known to be a poor performing district in terms of MGNREGA work, I was all the more curious to hear the locals’ side of story.

Day 1 was about gathering all the possible secondary information such as activities carried out in the village under MGNREGA, budget of the projects, number of beneficiaries, funds allotted and number of families that have availed the benefits.

Day 2 was spent with the Gram Panchayat, trying to understand the people, socio-economic composition, demographics, various MGNREGA works that have been carried out in last 3 years, literacy levels and more. Using PRA tools, social maps and resource maps are drawn with the help of villagers. This was interesting, mainly because we were taught this during our induction training at India Fellow.

PRA: Resource map of Bela Village

Day 3 and 4 were all about conducting FGDs (Focus Group Discussions) with various groups like job cardholders, non-job card holders, female workers and male workers. This helped us get an idea about what villagers think of the scheme, and the actual situation in the village. It was then followed by personal interviews as per a given set of thorough questionnaire covering detail from their personal information to MGNREGA work status. We also went around the village to see the work that has been completed.

Focus Group Discussions in Bela


A playground built outside a primary school in Jamunia village of Jabalpur, as a part of MGNREGA work


Shaanti Dhaam- cremation center built in Jamunia village of Jabalpur, as a part of MGNREGA work.

As tiring and challenging as this may sound, it was one of the best ways to know about the work being done at grassroots level. By interacting with the villagers, I got to know that there are workers who don’t even know the minimum daily wage they should get, and their right to ask the panchayat for work if there isn’t any. We got to know about cases where the payment has been given in cash instead of account transfer. A few weren’t even aware that they are entitled to 100 days of work in a year. Above all, the long and detailed questionnaire was annoying for almost everyone.

It made me wonder if there’s anything wrong with the way things are. Even though we went to help villagers by providing them the information they didn’t have, I doubt as to how helpful we were. I also thought that unless we aim to genuinely work with someone to get them rid of their misery, there is no point in showing them a ray of hope.

Unless people in rural setups are aware, I’m not sure how much of a progress can we really make in transforming India to become a developed country. What use are of government schemes if they aren’t benefiting the ones they are meant for. Why only a section of people get ignored or are missed out all the time?

Have you experienced any such instance where you felt that the actual beneficiaries of a scheme, rule or act are ignorant of the idea behind it? Do share in the comments below.

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