A study on inclusion of vulnerable sections in the MGNREGA of Karnataka

Empowerment of the socially disadvantaged, especially, women, Scheduled Castes (SCs), and Scheduled Tribes (STs) is one of the goals of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA (MORD&CWEPA, 2014). The MGREGA Sameeksha and other assessments note that SCSTs have participated in the scheme beyond their share of the population (MoRD, 2012).  However, it is argued that there is inequitable participation of SCSTs in both employment creation and asset creation components of the scheme in Karnataka. Their study shows that the percentage of rural households having job cards is lower for SCSTs compared to other communities in the state of Karnataka. 
Therefore, in the study commissioned by MGNREGS, Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Government of Karnataka,  
the true extent of SCST, women, and senior citizens' participation in MGNREGA will be examined besides studying the barriers affecting the same. 

Project Snapshot:

Project Name A study on inclusion of vulnerable sections in the MGNREGA of Karnataka
Project Sanction Date 18 Oct 2022
Project Period Oct 2022 to Dec 2023
Project Location Karnataka
Project Supported By
Project Team

Project objectives:

To assess the extent of participation of SCSTs in the scheme compared to other communities

To assess the state of participation of SCST women (who are doubly deprived) and SCST senior citizens in the scheme.

To assess the state of participation of Persons with Disability (PWDs) in the scheme (irrespective of social category) and understand the effect of circular issued by the department for inclusion 

To assess the magnitude and duration of MGNREGA employment obtained by vulnerable sections such as SCSTs (including women and senior citizens) and PWDs compared to their expressed demand for employment and the reasons in any noticed gap between demand for and provision of employment

To examine the enablers and barriers that influence SCST (including SCST women and senior citizens), PWDs, and transgenders’ demand for and participation in MGNREGA, including the implementation processes which shape the extent to which these groups participate in and benefit from the scheme.

To examine the perspectives of different stakeholders regarding the enablers and barriers that are faced in providing the benefits of the scheme to the SCSTs. 

To make policy and implementation recommendations for enhancing the participation and benefits from MGNREGA to the SCSTs.

Project Result / Accomplishments:

Summary of Key Findings


The importance of this Impact Study on the MGNREGS is to ascertain the inclusion of the vulnerable communities in Karnataka – the SC, ST, PWD, Senior Citizens and women, especially in these groups or even amongst non SCSTs. The study results therefore try to find out differences in the way MGNREGS has impacted the lives of these communities as compared to those who are not vulnerable. The main findings of the study are summarized below basis this backdrop.


The study shows that the highest degree of participation in the MGNREGS can be witnessed by members of the SC community, followed by Non – SC/ST, ST, Senior Citizens and finally PwDs. Much larger percentages of women - 54.48% surveyed responded in the affirmative regarding participating in the MGNREGS program, as compared to 45.52% of men. A very high percentage of 96.39% of women and 95.81% men across social categories are satisfied with the nature of work.


The benefit of locally available jobs, especially during the lean agricultural season is the main point of attraction for MGNREGS. The essence on local makes it more appealing to the women in the village who are in need of jobs but do not want to travel to far of locations for work.


The manner in which MGNREGS has impacted the different vulnerable groups are further summarised below:


SC and ST


It is important to note that there is no difference between the nature of application processes selected by members across different social categories. More than two – thirds of both men and women across social categories have mentioned that they are in possession of their job – cards. However, it is critical to note that the survey found out that more non SCST respondents had their job cards to themselves as compared SCs and STs; the later’s job cards were primarily with the GP functionaries.


In terms of awareness, the vulnerable communities like SC and ST were more aware of the MGNREGS as compared to the non-vulnerable communities, primarily because their need for work under MGNREGS was more, given their poorer socio-economic condition compared to the non- vulnerable communities. Gram Sabhas are the main source of awareness generation for both vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups, as both groups are generally present in the Gram Sabha meetings, even though the vulnerable groups have explicitly mentioned that they are never provided any follow up of such meetings.


Among the types of work demanded by the beneficiaries, it is community works that the respondents claimed to have worked more on. For instance, as high as 83.64% of female workers from ST groups followed by 79.83 % of females from SC women reported that they worked for community works under MGNREGS. However, there are differences between non-SCST respondents’ demand for individual asset creation – both in their own and in other’s land, as compared to the same for all categories of vulnerable communities – SC, ST, PWD and Senior Citizens. This is true for both male and female beneficiaries. This proves that there is a difference in the nature of work demanded and allotted to in the case of vulnerable and non-vulnerable communities. While the non-vulnerable communities were provided with more individual works, the vulnerable communities were provided more community-based works.


Operational delays come out as one of the biggest reasons for delays in sanctioning MGNREGS works as 45.05% of the respondents (highest amongst all listed reasons) have reported this. The survey did not find any major difference in reporting by the vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups regarding operational delays as cause of delayed start to projects under MGNRGES. The second important reason is the lack of planning, for which the non-vulnerable non-SCST workers (32.00% ) reported the highest incidence as compared to 24.07% of the SC workers. Similarly, the third important reason reported is being lack of funds which has been reported by the highest number of non-vulnerable groups as against the vulnerable groups.


With regards to completion of individual assets creation, among the male workers from the non-vulnerable sections, 90.63% of the workers agreed against 81.48% of the SC groups. Among the women workers, 84.62% of ST workers as against 69.74% of SC and 81.08% of non-SCST women agreed that their individual asset creation was completed. This shows that the non-vulnerable communities get funded in the MGNREGS more for individual asset creation than the vulnerable communities. About 40.0% of non-SCST group women as against 34.78% of the SC group women respondents revealed that lack of own funds has been the reason for their incomplete individual assets. In addition, 17.39% of the SC women workers also confirmed that unavailability of land documents as a reason for incomplete asset creation. 


PWDs and Senior Citizens


In the wake of making the MGNREGS more inclusive and more specifically, more participatory by including, women workers, PwDs and senior citizens, it is expected that women’s association with this program would eventually open up new vistas for the most vulnerable groups. The aim should be to also include more marginalized workers such as senior citizen, PwDs and transgender workers going forward.


Among the worksite facilities provided to these workers, it is only the drinking water facility that the respective local authorities have been able to provide. This is reported by the workers – as high as 75.98%, followed by first-aid medicine (40.67%) to be used to treat any minor injury or any mild illness at the workplace.


MGNREGS has helped the vulnerable households claim back their livelihoods during the distress times, especially for women folk who are both vulnerable and immensely under pressure to work within and the outside the households. This is very crucial given the significance of majority of female workforce contributing to the agriculture and allied activities in the rural economy.


It must be understood still that the MGNREGS is implemented like a supply driven programme, even though it is considered to be demand driven in approach and in its suggested implementation mechanism. Nevertheless, despite this purported drawback, it is still considered as one of the largest social security programs in the world, primarily given its scale and reach.


With specific reference to PVTG (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups):


·       PVTGs are not being given special job cards, even though this is envisaged by the MGNREG Act and the guidelines. The picture on the participation of STs other than PVTGs is mixed. Some STs are willing to participate in the scheme, while others are less willing. Unwillingness is shaped by reasons such as higher wage from other sources such as working on coffee plantations and the perceived inadequacy of the MGNREGA wage amount, lack of timely wage payment, and preference for forest-department work over MGNREGA work. For women, however, participation in MGNREGA was positively shaped by market rate wages being lower than the MGNREGS wage.


·       In the study, the members of the tribal communities largely said that there was no way for them to pro-actively ask for work or register demand. On the other hand, MGNREGA functionary responses indicated that people could indeed express and register demand, and that there were various demand registration channels available. ST villagers were unsure about whether they could ask for work, or get such work if they applied for it. They had a sense of dependence on the discretion of the GP. MGNREGA seems to be largely understood by the community as a supply-driven scheme and not a demand-driven scheme. The number of days of work made available was almost always far less that the stipulated minimum of 100 days per household.



·       Even though PVTGs are supposed to be prioritized for individual asset provision under MGNREGA, such prioritization was not being done by all the GPs. Individual assets such as soak pits and cattle sheds were provided to some ST and PVTG families. However, delay in the arrival of funds meant that the impoverished beneficiaries had to bear the initial investment on individual assets out of their own pockets, and the delay also created the problem of incomplete assets. Some ST villagers and workers were not aware of how they could obtain individual assets. Land documentation issues also hindered access to individual assets for some members of forest-based tribes. Some ST villagers complained of not being given assets in spite of multiple requests to the panchayat. Such factors shape the perception of the STs towards the scheme.


·       The findings reveal a preference for forest-based work among the members of forest-based tribes such as the Soligas. However, there are some challenges in incorporating forest-based works under MGNREGA such as the fragile nature of forest ecosystem and the restrictions on making changes in the forest habitat through works. Furthermore, not all forest department officials are open and responsive to convergence with MGNREGA.



·       Notably, social audit was not specially or specifically examining the extent to which STs were benefitting from MGNREGA. Social audit functionaries faced obstacles in conducting social audits such as lack of cooperation from the GPs in organizing the social audit Gram Sabha and sharing documents/files for examination, political pressure from influential persons and limited capacity of Village Resource Persons to conduct social audit. In spite of such limitations, social audit was having positive consequences such as beneficiaries applying pressure for works completion, and questioning elite capture of scheme benefits.



·       Under MGNREGA, grievance redressal mechanisms such as the district level Office of Ombudsman and the toll-free helpline have been instituted. The study findings indicate that awareness of the office of Ombudsman among vulnerable sections such as STs, who live in remote areas, is low. It is also difficult for them to come to the headquarters of the district to register complaints at the Ombudsman’s office.



The overall reflections of the findings of the household survey conducted in the study districts indicate that there exist gaps in demand side aspirations as against the supply-side provisions under the study.


a)    Although the implementation of MGNREGS has been felt more beneficial to the target groups, the nonvulnerable groups have been dominantly reaping the benefits of wage labour

b)     The intended benefits of the program are generally in the short run and in the long run, the beneficiaries are left without any livelihood backup, which have been noticed through the FGDs and IDIs in certain districts, especially Kalyana and Kitturu Karnatak regions

c)      The environmental assets created have been truly beneficial to the beneficiaries, but most of the vulnerable households opted (or were provided) for wage works in community assets creation

d)     The impact of the wages paid to the beneficiaries has been felt useful and lifesaving, but there have been reports of frequent issues with both vulnerable and non-vulnerable beneficiaries not paid fully or on time (not paid fully especially with women SC groups in Kittur Karnataka regions)

e)      Execution of the program at the GP level needs to improve significantly. While both vulnerable and non-vulnerable communities have reported to be going to Gram sabhas, most often they do not know why they are in those meetings. Either due to social norms of not speaking in community meetings or due to non-comprehension of the issues discussed, vulnerable community members are not able to express their issues or suggestions in such meetings. Social audits do happen, but in the same manner the vulnerable communities are left out in essence, if not in physical presence. Methods of empowerment generation, grievance and complaints registration and redressal are either unavailable or are too little.

f)      The MGNREGS has to some extent enhanced the bargaining powers of women and their decision-making powers; however the same has not been consistent due to bad execution, enhanced gaps in wage payments, non-availability of works to the beneficiaries, among others


Overall, the notion of inclusion in the MGNREGS is not been felt as a preamble to carry forward but is an exceptional policy option that needs be taken forward and needs to be attached to the core principles of the program. While the existing research studies equally attest the significance of the benefits of the program on rural distress prevention and improvement of livelihoods, at the ground level, the demand side aspects are hugely influenced by the awareness levels of the beneficiaries, where the state needs play a big role. When it comes to the supply side system of the government functionaries, there exist certain lacunas, that the policy makers need to pay attention. The policy recommendations for the existing gaps found in the study forcefully highlight these issues.


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