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The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) provides 100 days of employment in a year to every rural household at the legal minimum wage. At the national level this programme has been highly successful in providing an income safety-net to small peasants and landless workers. However, in the poorer states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand the provision of public employment under NREGA has been inadequate. Using evidence from field research in the Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh, this paper aims to study how awareness among programme beneficiaries about their legal entitlements and at various levels of government determines the provision of NREGA employment in one of the poorest regions of the country. Further, we discuss the impact of NREGA on agricultural productivity and wage bargaining by landless workers who are the intended beneficiaries of NREGA. Our findings suggest that patron-client exchanges between the local elite and NREGA beneficiaries determines the provision of public employment and generates rents for the local elite. Therefore, there is urgent need for increasing transparency in NREGA provision and creating mechanisms to hold elected representatives and government functionaries accountable to NREGA beneficiaries.



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