Photo feature

Photos: MNREGA hasn’t just generated jobs – it has created forests, ponds, wells and changed lives

Thanks to the law, workers have built roads where there were none, replaced scrublands with forests, levelled lands and made them cultivable.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act envisages that the works undertaken under it will strengthen natural resource management and address causes of chronic poverty like drought, deforestation and soil erosion, thereby encouraging sustainable development. However, the fact that it is not simply a work creation programme but derives its legitimacy from being an asset creation programme is often overlooked.

Contrary to the notion that people are paid for simply standing around at work sites or that the MGNREGA merely involves some digging, workers have built roads to farms and fields where there were none. They have replaced scrublands with forests, built earthen structures for collecting water and preventing soil erosion, cleared lands and levelled them to make them cultivable.

Several research studies have indicated that assets created under the MGNREGA are beneficial in terms of reduced soil erosion, increased water availability, groundwater recharge, biomass, and savings in diesel costs due to increased availability of water.

In this photo essay, we share a few examples of these assets, mainly from Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. These are examples of what the MGNREGA can achieve and has achieved. The photos and text presented here were collected over two years by researchers from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research and their collaborators during field visits focused on learning about the MGNREGA. This photo essay has been compiled by Krushna Ranaware.

MGNREGA as a stepping stone

There are several instances where the MGNREGA assets have served as a stepping stone for building livelihoods. A farmer from the hilly part of Nashik built a pond on his land, and despite not being able to get it down to its planned depth (he hit a boulder while drilling, rendering the work technically incomplete), this enabled him to bring an additional three acres under cultivation which were previously inaccessible as they were located uphill and at a great distance from any source of water. Thirty-five labourers, besides the farmer, worked on this for a week.

With the help of the pond, he has been able to cultivate paddy on all nine acres of his land, revive a dying cashew and mango orchard, and plant a vegetable patch on which he grows brinjal and other vegetables. He says the pond has reduced his dependency on the monsoon for sowing paddy and has helped increase yields. He plans to try his hand at cultivating wheat next season as the pond allows him to draw water till January. Apart from his land, around four to five acres belonging to two other farmers have benefited from this pond.

Or take the case of a farmer who relocated to another village in Nashik in the early 2000s after he lost his land to a big river valley project in Gujarat. Since then, he has managed to not only buy three acres of land but has also converted a barren piece of land into a productive farm. His efforts to make a living, he asserts, were aided by the rollout of the MGNREGA.

Over the last four years, he has improved agricultural productivity by taking advantage of the opportunities to create assets – a well, embankments and land levelling on his fields – created under the Act. He uses the water from the well to cultivate rice, finger millets and onion, and has recently included brinjal to the list of produce. He also shares well water with his neighbours for non-farming purposes. He says that the well, along with other water conservation work, has allowed him to more than double his rice yields over the last three years. He also has a nursery set up under the Act next to his house.

In another part of Trimbakeshwar in Nashik, a young farmer built a farm pond under the MGNREGA, sacrificing a portion of his productive land to do so. He had seen his acquaintance in a neighbouring village farm fish and was inspired to do the same. At the time of our visit, he was into his first season of pisciculture and the entire village was waiting to see if he would succeed. If he does, “more of us will do the same,” exclaimed a villager. The farmer explained to us that this time he had chosen not to buy expensive commercial fish feed because he was still experimenting and learning, but the next time he would. The main problem, he said, was that it was hard to get a loan to run a commercial fish farm, even if the MGNREGA had provided him a stepping stone.

Water conservation and harvesting

Soil barrier and trenches on slopes, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh
Photo credit: Krushna Ranaware

Farming in the tribal areas of Trimbakeshwar (Maharashtra) and G Madugula (Andhra Pradesh) is rain-fed. Farmers rely almost entirely on soil moisture for cultivation due to limited access to irrigation facilities. In the monsoon, rain water runs off the vast, rolling terrain, carrying off the top soil, thus allowing very little water percolation while exposing boulders in the fields.

To address these issues, farmers in these regions have taken to land levelling and constructing loose boulder structures and mud barriers.

Loose boulder structures that impound water for farming, Nashik, Maharashtra
Photo credit: Sudha Narayanan

These works are found on both individual as well as public lands, and are often perceived as the toughest to work on but the most useful by beneficiaries.

A study of completed wells in Jharkhand reported that MGNREGA wells are useful assets for not only their owners in terms of diversification of crops and diets and increased availability of water, but also for others who use the water free.

Construction of this well under the MGNREGA enabled this farmer to increase the area under cultivation for onion in Solapur, Maharashtra
Photo credit: Christian Oldiges

In a study [LINK] of assets in Maharashtra, users reported that replenishing and desilting of old wells under the MGNREGA led to timely and increased availability of water for agriculture, drinking and other purposes.

Land development

Land is the basic material asset in rural India. Farmers from the Maharashtra study report that the planting of nitrogen fixing trees such as gliricidia sepium under the MGNGREGA has rejuvenated soil health.

In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, julliflora clearance has been one of the major types of works. Often of dubious usefulness, we did come across good examples where soon after clearing plots of land of julliflora, a farmer had begun to grow fodder, using the land for the first time in his life. We met an old woman in Mahbubnagar on whose land jullifora clearance had been undertaken and she looked forward to growing cotton, a crop she had not grown so far.

Afforestation and horticulture

Mango trees planted by the road in Surguja, Chhattisgarh
Photo credit: Krushna Ranaware

Trees on and around farms are some of the most durable assets, even as they provide a host of environmental services like nutrient recycling, carbon storage, resilient cropping environments, and enabling agricultural land to withstand extreme weather events.

A mango plantation on private land in Mahbubnagar, Telangana
Photo credit: Sudha Narayanan

The study in Maharashtra documented self-reported benefits of Rs 3 for every rupee spent on horticultural works within just three years of completion and reported that six out of 10 trees planted survived, which compares favourably with many afforestation projects worldwide.

A nursery on Gram Panchayat land in Nashik, Maharashtra

Photo credit: KK Wagh College of Agriculture, Nashik


A farm road stands where there was none, to bring harvests out to the main road in Akola, Maharashtra
Photo credit: Sudha Narayanan

The primary purpose of roads built under the MGNREGA is to establish connections to places that were previously inaccessible, seasonally or otherwise. The difference such roads can make in lives of users is tremendous. The farm road in Akola pictured above has enabled farmers over a five kilometre stretch to take their harvests home on a vehicle or tractor, saving on time, costs and effort. Until then, they had to carry headloads with great difficulty.

In Nashik, where a hamlet was rendered virtually inaccessible from all directions but one by a steep slope that led to a river, that was their sole source of water. The path to the water was treacherous. The villagers turned the trail to a path using the MGNREGA. A farmer had come forward to offer his private land and the path from the hamlet cut right through his plot. This was not all. The villagers explained this was the first step. The plan was to eventually extend the path over the next couple of years, using the MGNREGA, to cut through to the location where the community could access public transport. This would cut short their travel time by half an hour.

In Raigad district of Maharashtra, things were different. Most of the Gram Panchayats in Roha block are well connected. But at the same time, villagers faced challenges getting from one place to another within the village. In Sarsoli, for example, the community secured a kaccha road under the MGNREGA that skirted a temple and led to the river, which was the main source of water. In another part of the village, the MGNREGA road, also kaccha, ensured that there was an easy and safe access to the cremation ground. For as long as the villagers could recall, the cremation ground was inaccessible, filled with scrub and thorny bushes. The community decided to use the MGNREGA to remove the scrub and level the ground around it to make it a safer place for funeral gatherings.

‘Durable’ assets

A chief criticism of MGNREGA works has been that they are not durable. Our research found that where the community has a role in choosing which assets to build, they tend to be maintained well. Several assets have lasted and are in good condition beyond a year. Around 45% of respondents found the present quality of assets to be quite good or excellent while another 44% found it to be acceptable. Although brick-and-mortar structures are most easily recognisable as durable assets, far more valuable to the lives and livelihoods of small holder farmers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, herders and fisher folk are restored and well maintained natural resources.

There are other assets that, in the words of a government functionary, are “not meant to be durable”. Among these are boribundhs, temporary structures of sandbags across rivers and streams to hold water temporarily. We found that women valued this work because it provided water pools where they could rinse their utensils and wash their clothes. Many structures like these also provided water for livestock, we were told. While there is scope for better design, the idea that MGNREGA assets are non-durable seems to be a generalisation, not fully supported by evidence.

The examples we have shared here are testimony to what can be achieved under the MGNREGA and what is possible. These examples challenge the view that the MGNREGA is all about “digging holes” and “filling them”. Through improved design of assets, careful selection of works and local involvement in planning, the MGNREGA offers an ideal platform to support agriculture and adapt to climate change.

A longer version of the photo essay can be found here. For more information and reports go here.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.