In the recently concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament , the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development released a report on the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Development Act, 2005 (MGNREGA).  This blog provides a brief introduction to the key provisions of MGNREGA , followed by an overview of the major findings and recommendations of the Standing Committee.

I. MGNREGA: A brief introduction

A. Objectives: MGNREGA, which is the largest work guarantee programme in the world, was enacted in 2005 with the primary objective of guaranteeing 100 days of wage employment per year to rural households.  Secondly, it aims at addressing causes of chronic poverty through the 'works' (projects) that are undertaken, and thus ensuring sustainable development.  Finally, there is an emphasis on strengthening the process of decentralisation through giving a significant role to Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) in planning and implementing these works.

B. Key features:

  • Legal right to work: Unlike earlier employment guarantee schemes, the Act provides a legal right to employment for adult members of rural households.  At least one third beneficiaries have to be women.  Wages must be paid according to the wages specified for agricultural labourers in the state under the  Minimum Wages Act, 1948, unless the central government notifies a wage rate (this should not be less than Rs 60 per day).  At present, wage rates are determined by the central government but vary across states, ranging from Rs 135 per day to Rs 214 per day.
  • Time bound guarantee of work and unemployment allowance: Employment must be provided with 15 days of being demanded failing which an ‘unemployment allowance’ must be given.
  • Decentralised planning: Gram sabhas must recommend the works that are to be undertaken and at least 50% of the works must be executed by them.  PRIs are primarily responsible for planning, implementation and monitoring of the works that are undertaken.
  • Work site facilities: All work sites should have facilities such as crèches, drinking water and first aid.
  • Transparency and accountability: There are provisions for proactive disclosure through wall writings, citizen information boards, Management Information Systems and social audits.  Social audits are conducted by gram sabhas to enable the community to monitor the implementation of the scheme.
  • Funding:  Funding is shared between the centre and the states.  There are three major items of expenditure – wages (for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled labour), material and administrative costs.  The central government bears 100% of the cost of unskilled labour, 75% of the cost of semi-skilled and skilled labour, 75% of the cost of materials and 6% of the administrative costs.

MGNREGA was implemented in phases, starting from February 2006, and at present it covers all districts of the country with the exception of those that have a 100% urban population.  The Act provides a list of works that can be undertaken to generate employment related to water conservation, drought proofing, land development, and flood control and protection works.  Table 1 provides information regarding employment generation and expenditure under MGNREGA.

Table 1: MGNREGA: Key indicators


Number of households provided employment (in crore)

Average number of person days of work per household

Total Expenditure (in lakh)





























Source: Standing Committee on Rural Development; PRS. Note: *Provisional ** As on 31.01.2013

II. Findings and Recommendations of the Standing Committee on Rural Development

A. Achievements: The Standing Committee highlighted several achievements of MGNREGA in the seven years of its implementation, especially:

  • Ensuring livelihood for people in rural areas.
  • Large scale participation of women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs) and other traditionally marginalised sections of society.  SCs/STs account for 51% of the total person-days generated and women account for 47% of the total person-days generated.
  • Increasing the wage rate in rural areas and strengthening the rural economy through the creation of infrastructure assets.
  • Facilitating sustainable development, and
  • Strengthening PRIs by involving them in the planning and monitoring of the scheme.

B. Challenges: However, the Committee found several issues with the implementation of the scheme. As Table 1 (above) shows, the average number of days of employment provided to households has been lower than the mandated 100 days, and has been decreasing since 2010-11. Key issues that the Committee raised include

  • Fabrication of job cards: While as many as 12.5 crore households have been issued job cards out of an estimated 13.8 crore rural households ( as per the 2001 census), there are several issues related to existence of fake job cards, inclusion of fictitious names, missing entries and delays in making entries in job cards.
  • Delay in payment of wages: Most states have failed to disburse wages within 15 days as mandated by MGNREGA.  In addition, workers are not compensated for a delay in payment of wages.
  • Non payment of unemployment allowances: Most states do not pay an unemployment allowance when work is not given on demand.  The non-issuance of dated receipts of demanded work prevents workers from claiming an unemployment allowance.
  • Large number of incomplete works: There has been a delay in the completion of works under MGNREGA and inspection of projects has been irregular.  Implementing agencies were able to complete only 98 lakh works out of 296 lakh works.  As Table 2 shows, a large percentage of works remain incomplete under MGNREGA and the work completion rate appears to be decreasing in recent years.

Table 2: Work completion rate


Work completion rate (%)















Total                  33.22

Source: Standing Committee on Rural Development. Note: * As on 30.01.2013

  • Other key challenges include poor quality of assets created, several instances of corruption in the implementation of MGNREGA, and insufficient involvement of PRIs.

C. Recommendations: The Committee made the following recommendations, based on its findings:

  • Regulation of job cards: Offences such as not recording employment related information in job cards and unlawful possession of job cards with elected PRI representatives and MGNREGA functionaries should be made punishable under the Act.
  • Participation of women: Since the income of female workers typically raises the standard of living of their households to a greater extent than their male counterparts, the participation of women must be increased through raising awareness about MGNREGA.
  • Participation of people with disabilities: Special works (projects) must be identified for people with disabilities; and  special job cards must be issued and personnel must be employed to ensure their participation.
  • Utilisation of funds:  The Committee found that a large amount of funds allocated for MGNREGA have remained unutilised.  For example, in 2010-11, 27.31% of the funds remained unutilised.  The Committee recommends that the Department of Rural Development should analyse reasons for poor utilisation of funds and take steps to improve the same.  In addition, it should initiate action against officers found guilty of misappropriating funds under MGNREGA.
  • Context specific projects and convergence: Since states are at various stages of socio-economic development, they have varied requirements for development.  Therefore, state governments should be allowed to undertake works that are pertinent to their context.  There should be more emphasis on skilled and semi-skilled work under MGNREGA.  In addition, the Committee recommends a greater emphasis on convergence with other schemes such as the National Rural Livelihoods Mission, National Rural Health Mission, etc.
  • Payment of unemployment allowance: Dated receipts for demanded work should be issued so that workers can claim unemployment allowance.  Funds for unemployment allowance should be met by the central government.
  • Regular monitoring: National Level Monitors (NLMs) are deployed by the Ministry of Rural Development for regular and special monitoring of MGNREGA and to enquire into complaints regarding mis-utilisation of funds, etc.  The Committee recommends that the frequency of monitoring by NLMs should increase and appropriate measures should be taken by states based on their recommendations.  Additionally, social audits must mandatorily be held every six months.  The Committee observes that the performance of MGNREGA is better in states with effective social audit mechanisms.
  • Training of functionaries: Training and capacity building of elected representatives and other functionaries of PRIs must be done regularly as it will facilitate their involvement in the implementation of MGNREGA.

Recently, the Supreme Court collegium reiterated its recommendations for the appointment of 11 judges to certain High Courts.  It had first recommended these names earlier this year and in August last year, but these appointments were not made.  The Indian judiciary faces high vacancies across all levels (the Supreme Court, High Courts, and subordinate courts).  Vacancy of judges in courts is one of the reasons for delays and a rising number of pending cases, as there are not enough judges to hear and decide cases.  As of today, more than four crore cases are pending across all courts in India.   In this blog post, we discuss vacancies across courts over the years, delays in appointment of judges, and methods to determine the adequate judge strength required to handle the caseload courts face.

High vacancy of judges across courts

Vacancies in courts keep on arising periodically due to retirement, resignation, demise, or elevation of judges.  Over the years, the sanctioned strength of judges in both High Courts and subordinate courts has been increased gradually.  However, vacancies persist due to insufficient appointments (see Figures 1 and 2).  Between 2010 and 2020, vacancies increased from 18% to 21% across all levels of courts (from 6% to 12% in the Supreme Court, from 33% to 38% in High Courts, and from 18% to 20% in subordinate courts). 

Figure 1: Vacancy of judges in High Courts

Figure 2: Vacancy of judges in subordinate courts



Sources: Court News 2010-2018; Vacancy Statement, and Rajya Sabha replies, Part I, Budget Session (2021), Department of Justice; PRS.

As on November 1, 2021, the Supreme Court had a vacancy of one judge (out of a sanctioned strength of 34).  Vacancy in High Courts stood at 37% (406 posts vacant out of a sanctioned strength of 1,098).  Since May, 2021, the Supreme Court collegium has recommended more than 130 names for appointment as High Court judges.  In three High Courts (Telangana, Patna, and Calcutta), at least half of the posts are vacant (see Figure 3).  The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020) noted that every year, 35-40% of posts of High Court judges remain unfilled. 

Figure 3: Vacancy of judges across High Courts (in %) (as on November 1, 2021)


Source: Vacancy Statement, Department of Justice; PRS.










Appointments of High Court judges are guided by a memorandum of procedure.  As per this memorandum, the appointment process is to be initiated by the concerned High Court at least six months before a vacancy occurs.  However, the Standing Committee (2021) noted that this timeline is rarely adhered to by High Courts.  Further, in the final stage of the process, after receiving recommendations from the Supreme Court collegium, the executive appoints judges to the High Court.  No timeline is prescribed for this stage of the appointment process.  In 2018 and 2019, the average time taken to appoint High Court judges after receiving the collegium’s recommendations was five to seven months.

As of today, over 3.6 crore cases are pending before subordinate courts in India.  As on February 20, 2020, 21% posts for judges were vacant (5,146 posts out of the sanctioned strength of 24,018) in subordinate courts.  Subordinate courts in Bihar, Haryana, and Jharkhand (among the states with high population) had a high proportion of vacancies of judges (see Figure 4).  Note that the Supreme Court is monitoring the procedure for appointment of judges to subordinate courts.

For an analysis of the data on pendency and vacancies in the Indian judiciary, see here.

Figure 4: Vacancy of judges across subordinate courts (in %) (as on February 20, 2020)


Source: Report No. 101, Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020); PRS.


How many judges do we need?

The Law Commission of India (1987) had noted the importance of manpower planning for the judiciary.  Lack of adequate number of judges means a greater workload per judge.  Thus, it becomes essential to arrive at an optimal judge strength to deal with pending and new cases in courts.  Over the years, different methods of calculating the required judge strength for subordinate courts (where the backlog of cases in the Indian judiciary is concentrated) have been recommended (see Table 1). 

Table 1: Methods recommended for calculating the required number of judges for subordinate courts

Method of calculation

Recommendation and its status

Judge-to-population ratio: optimum number of judges per million population

The Law Commission of India (1987) had recommended increasing this ratio to 50 judges per million people.  This was reiterated by the Supreme Court (2001) and the Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002).  For 2020, the judge-to-population ratio was 21 judges per million population.     Note that this figure is calculated based on the sanctioned strength of judges in the Supreme Court, High Courts and subordinate courts.

Rate of disposal: number of additional judges required (to clear the existing backlog of cases and ensure that new backlog is not created) based on the average number of cases disposed per judge

The Law Commission of India (2014) proposed this method.  It rejected the judge-to-population ratio method, observing that filing of cases per capita varies substantially across geographic units depending on socio-economic conditions.

Weighted case load method: calculating judge strength based on the disposal by judges, taking into account the nature and complexity of cases in local conditions

The National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016) critiqued the rate of disposal method.     It proposed, as an interim measure, the weighted case load method, which addresses the existing backlog of cases as well as the new flow of cases every year in subordinate courts.     In 2017, the Supreme Court accepted this model.

Time-based weighted case load method: calculating the required judge strength taking into account the actual time spent by judges in different types of cases at varying stages based on an empirical study

Used widely in the United States, this was the long-term method recommended by the NCMS (2016) to assess the required judge strength for subordinate courts.  It involves determining the total number of ‘judicial hours’ required for disposing of the case load of each court.  The Delhi High Court used this approach in a pilot project (January 2017- December 2018) to calculate the ideal judge strength for disposing of pending cases in certain courts in Delhi.

Sources: Reports No. 120 (1987) and 245 (2014), Law Commission of India; Report No. 85, Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002); Note for Calculating Required Judge Strength for Subordinate Courts, National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016); Imtiyaz Ahmad vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, Supreme Court (2017); PRS.