Summary: In 2006, India embarked on an ambitious attempt to fight poverty by attempting to introduce a wage floor in a setting in which many unskilled workers earn less than the minimum wage. The 2005 national rural employment guarantee act (NREGA) creates a justiciable "right to work" by promising 100 days of wage employment in every financial year to all rural households whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. In attempting to fight poverty in poor places with weak administrative capabilities, the idea of "rights" has often been invoked. This book aims to contribute to the understanding of the efficacy of poor states in fighting poverty using an ambitious rights-based program - the largest antipoverty public employment program in India, and possibly anywhere in the world. The program authors study is India's Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which was launched to implement the NREGA. This book presents survey-based estimates for India as a whole as well as results for Bihar. Results for India are based on the 2009-10 national sample survey. Two surveys were carried out in 2009 and 2010 and spanned 150 villages spread across all 38 districts in Bihar. These data are supplemented by qualitative research in six districts to better understand supply-side challenges. A distinctive feature of the methodology is that the authors identify the key counterfactual outcomes of interest - that is, what Bihar Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (BREGS) participants will have done in the absence of the program - by directly asking individual BREGS participants. The advantage of this approach is that it produces an individual-specific estimate of impact - exploiting the information available for each participant - rather than delivering only a mean impact. The authors find compelling evidence that the scheme is reaching relatively poor families. It is important that reform efforts for MGNREGS work on both of these aspects - a stronger, more capable, local administration, plus more effective participation by civil society.
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