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

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Through Narega's Lens

Rural Employment and Economy

Right to Work and Rural India: Working of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme edited by Ashok K Pankaj, New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2012; pp viii+382, Rs 1,195.

It is difficult to say much that is original or new on a subject as well-researched as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA; colloquially referred to as narega) or the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) as the programme is now officially called. This scheme has received unprecedented attention from researchers, much of it under the aegis of the central Ministry of Rural Development. The wider debate on the MGNREGS however resembles nothing short of a bitter “propaganda” war (Drèze 2011). Much anti-MGNREGS vitriol has been spilled onto the public domain, often backed by shallow arguments, and as Jean Drèze, a leading MGNREGA advocate and scholar remarked, “reasoned critiques of the Act” have been “few and far between” (2011: 14). There is indeed serious need for well-evidenced research on the MGNREGA, and this thick compendium of articles titled Right to Work and Rural India is a welcome addition to the literature.

In my view, this book makes an important new contribution to the scholarship on the MGNREGS because it asks a pertinent question that is not addressed seriously enough: What is the desirability of a state-sponsored programme for employment guarantee in the era of economic liberalisation? Prima facie, this may appear to be yet another expression of concern commonly expressed by fiscal conservatives outraged by the expansion of public spending.

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