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Lessons and Insights

Gayatri Sahgal

Edited by Reetika Khera
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 307, 595.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 12 December 2011

The Battle for Employment Guarantee is a collection of seminal articles that trace the genesis of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGA), evaluate its implemen-tation, and provide a commentary on the extent to which the Act has been successful in fulfilling the entitlements that it was required to guarantee and uphold. Edited by one of the strongest proponents of the Act, the book nevertheless presents a balanced perspective of the challenges and impediments constraining the scheme's implementation. Jean Dreze traces the chronology of events leading up to the enactment of the MGNREGA. In doing so Dreze provides profound insights into the black box that constitutes the policy making process. The picture that is painted challenges standard theories of policymaking by high-lighting the role played by individual leaders and what can only be described as a provi-dential sequence of events that ultimately coalesced for the translation of the draft proposal into a bona fide piece of legislation. So while the narrative of the events that led up to the enactment provides little material for drawing broader policy lessons, there are still some interesting insights offered by Dreze in his analysis of the barrage of attacks that have haunted the Act since its formulation. Drawing upon Chomsky's notion of the idea of 'flak' the NREGA according to Dreze represented a 'dangerous' idea in that it challenged the interests of established power. The idea of providing guaranteed employment to rural households is seen as an idea that is in direct confrontation with the capitalistic logic that has driven much of state policy since the 1990s. In response to the criticisms that have been levelled against the scheme, Jean Dreze and Christian Oldiges provide a careful scrutiny of the performance of the scheme in districts included in the first and second phase of implementation. Quoting official data, the authors find impressive achievements in the number of person days of employment generated (approximately 34 million), the average wage rate (increased by 15% from 2006-07 to 2007-08) and the share of wages in total expenditure. The authors however note the challenges that continue to remain especially with regard to the number of person days created per household which at an all India level was reported as 16. But there are however important state specific differences with states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh and the North East performing relatively better than Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana and Maharastra. ...

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