India’s criminal wastage: over 10 million works under MGNREGA incomplete or abandoned  

Since April 2014, the rate of work completion has been declining at rapid pace, indicating that crucial assets for villages are not getting created

By Richard Mahapatra
Last Updated: Friday 13 October 2017
Majority of the incomplete works are in the states that have witnessed drought in the last three years or currently reporting drought-like situation. Credit: Vikas Choudhary / CSE
Majority of the incomplete works are in the states that have witnessed drought in the last three years or currently reporting drought-like situation. Credit: Vikas Choudhary / CSE Majority of the incomplete works are in the states that have witnessed drought in the last three years or currently reporting drought-like situation. Credit: Vikas Choudhary / CSE

In the last three and half years, the rate of work completion under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has drastically declined, leading to wastage of public money and leaving villages more prone to drought. This could also be a reason for people moving out of the programme.

At a time when more than one-third of India’s districts are reeling under a drought-like situation due to deficit rainfall, here comes another bad news. The works started under the MGNREGA—close to 80 per cent related to water conservation, irrigation and land development—are increasingly not being completed or in practice, abandoned.

Going by the data (as on October 12) in the Ministry of Rural Development’s website, which tracks progress of MGNREGA through a comprehensive MIS, 10.4 million works have not been completed since April 2014. In the last three and half years, 39.7 million works were started under the programme. Going by the stipulation under the programme, close to 70 per cent of these works are related to water conservation, irrigation and land development.

Completion rate is the most robust indicator of whether the programme is performing, as it is related to employment demand and other benefits envisioned by the programme. These works are also crucial assets for villages to fight drought and water scarcity, thus, having an impact on agriculture.

Since April 2014, the completion rate has been declining at rapid pace. In 2014-15, the work completion rate (defined as works started and finished) was 97 per cent. It came down to 71.24 per cent in 2015-16. In 2016-17, it further declined to 41 per cent. This financial year, till October 12, the completion rate is an alarming 8 per cent.

Going by an analysis of Down To Earth, majority of the incomplete works are in the states that have witnessed drought in the last three years or are currently reporting drought-like situation in many districts. For example, Maharashtra has been in news for severe drought and consequent farmers’ suicides in last few years (including this year). In the last three and half years, the state started more than 1.3 million works, 80 per cent of which are related to water conservation and irrigation. But 40 per cent of the works are not completed. A total of 235 districts in the country are currently facing drought-like situation due to rain deficit in the range of 20-60 per cent. They account for more than 90 per cent of the works not completed in the last three and half years.

In 2007, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) was the first to point out this trend of starting more and more works but not completing them. A nationwide survey conducted by CSE pointed out that due to lack of completion of works, people didn’t find the programme beneficial beyond the daily wage. Under the programme, creation of village assets is a key objective to regenerate local ecology and thus, ensuring long-term benefits. For example, a water conservation structure created under the programme ensures irrigation to at least four hectares of land. This focus is an incentive for people to participate in the programme. Besides, under the programme, communities belonging to BPL, SC and ST categories can take up works in their private lands. This is the reason why the programme always had greater participation from these sections of population.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has been inconsistent with programme. Immediately after coming to power in May 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discarded the programme as an unproductive wastage of public money. But within two years, there was a perceivable change in heart and MGNREGA, at least, was not abandoned. But it is eminently visible that it doesn’t enjoy the political support it got in the earlier government that brought in this legislation.

But the fact is MGNREGA is the only public wage programme that takes care of people’s income during lean period. The declining rate of work completion is both a sign and warning of where the programme is heading to. First, due to droughts in the last three years, governments have opened up works under this programme to mount drought relief. This shows that the programme still remains the most important instrument of survival for people in distress. Second, if these works are not completed, its long-term objective of drought-proofing is defeated. Government would anyway open up works to meet the demands of distressed rural people to ensure basic minimum earning through wage. But delay in wage payment and without the benefit of creating productive assets that ensure irrigation and insurance against fluctuating monsoon, people might not find the programme lucrative. Wage in urban areas is always higher than the rate under MGNREGA. Does this mean the drastic fall in completed work is an indicator of people already abandoning the programme? The jury is out.

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  • More ground level factual study is needed.

    Posted by: The Actual Ground Level Fact Is Some Thing Different. As Per Present Norms Every Agencies Have To Submit An Detail Action Plan For MGNREGS Work. Accordingly On Basis Os The Local People Reprentative Sub The DAP On Their Interest Basically Ther Owne I | 2 years ago | Reply
  • I wouldn't agree to most of what is inferred by this article. The major shift in the way MGNREGA work is evaluated has been the reason for this reduction jn percentage of completed works. The GeoTagging of work in various stages of completion is a reason for it. Although there was provision for GeoTagging in REGA works earlier also, but its strict implementation has been for the past few years.
    GeoTagging, which includes photo of the current status of works makes it mendatory for the work to be completed in actuality to be given the completion status. But earlier due to lack of this method, the REGA tracking of status of work depended on what was reported by the field officials. And as we know, the field officials always try to portray a positive picture of their work and thus an overly positive picture came out.
    What I would say is, currently the status as shown in the MIS is similar to the actual picture on ground. And whatever High completion status reported earlier might have a degree of wrong data in them.

    Posted by: Dipankar | 2 years ago | Reply
  • What is the decline in money spent on MGNREGA? According to, the total expenditure was Rs 26K lakh in 2013-14, 21k lakh in 2014-15, 30k lakh in 2015-16, 53k lakh in 2016-17 , 32k lakh so far in 2017-18. Except for 2014-15 there was no decrease on MGNREGA total expenditure. Where did the money go if there is 80% fall in work completion? Most of the earlier works done under MGNREGA was just unemployment relief, not asset generation and even wealth destruction. For example, in Kerala, the the workers were paid to cut down the plants growing on roadside. This has just lead to destruction of plants like Mukkutti, Thumba and many others. Instead of such destructive work, it would have been much better to just pay them unemployment allowance. Ordinary farmers too faced severe problem of lack of labourers. That is why Union Agriculture Minister (2011) Shri Sharad Pawar had called for halting MGNREGA in the sowing and harvesting season. NDA has reworked the work plans under MGNREGA and work wasted in unproductive non-asset generating projects would surely have come down. In Kerala I can see that workers under MGNREGA and Kudumbasree have taken to contract farming in a big way. They cultivate vegetables in somebodies land, pay the land owner 10 to 15 % of their products, and market the rest. Thus the state is improving its agricultural produce. The reorientation of the MGNREGA under NDA has to be analyzed with due regards to where the money has gone and not only on the works from where the money has been withdrawn. If you can show that the money expenditure has increased, lot of work has reduced and little work has increased, then definitely the NDA has not only destroyed MGNREGA but is also in a scandal. Otherwise, if you just ignore the increased funding and productive work done under MGNREGA, you are just like a political party seeking votes and power.

    Posted by: K Vinod Kumar | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Dear
    What the future of nrega employee I. E apo employee. their life spoil.. As they high qualified and they work under more then 6yr across India.. What govt think about the employee.. Salary is very low. Their carrier 1class. But they get salary below peon salary. So I requested to govt secretary to see positively and take positively...

    Posted by: Ajit Kumar Misra | 2 years ago | Reply
  • Agree with your inference. But not able to relate with Completion % figures..
    I believe you divided Completed by 'Taken Up' in the data set from NREGA website?
    For example drought proofing completion at 13% in 13-14 (1.29 lac on 9.89 lac) came down to 1% (0.12 lac on 10.08 lac) in 16-17.

    Posted by: Rahul | 2 years ago | Reply