Agartala: Three northeastern states lead the table in providing rural jobs while another two are at the very bottom of the table, official figures show.
While the rest of the country lags, Left-ruled Tripura retained its top position for the seventh consecutive year in providing jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) - a staggering 94.46 person days per household - in just ended fiscal 2015-16 against the national average of 48.51 days.
(One hundred days makes for a perfect 10.)
According to a performance report of the union rural development ministry, Mizoram and Sikkim were second and third by providing 68.55 and 66.97 days of jobs in the fiscal.
In sharp contrast, two other northeastern states - Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur - were at the very bottom among India's 29 states by providing only 27.47 and 15.65 days of jobs.
The MGNREGA is considered a pioneering rights-based legislation in the world.
"The recent UNDP Global Human Development Report refers to the MGNREGA as one of the milestones in social protection measures in the world, comparable cohort schemes - Rural Employment for Public Assets in Bangladesh, Jefes De Hogar in Argentina and the limited Karnali employment programme in Nepal," the ministry's report said.
The programmes in Bangladesh and Nepal are limited in scope in terms of their inclusion criteria of beneficiaries.
"The MGNREGA, with average annual expenditure of Rs.34,000 crore (over $5 billion), is the largest workfare programme in the world," the report added.
Tripura and other northeastern states' repeated success in providing jobs is attributed by experts to the lack of any other such scheme in these states.
"Tripura and most of the northeastern states have no state government-run rural jobs schemes to provide viable employment to the needy workforce," Tripura (Central) University's Rural Management and Development Department head Jayanta Choudhury told IANS.
"In Tripura, due to good governance, efficient implementation and work-wise and ward-wise good monitoring also contributed to the success of MGNREGA," he added.
Choudhury, who has written books on rural development in the northeastern states, said that implementation of centrally sponsored schemes (CSS) is also good in some of these states.
India's northeastern region, comprising eight states and home to 45.58 million people (2011 census), has limited employment opportunities due to the absence of medium and big industries.
Timely allocation and release of the central share of funds under MGNREGA is also a big issue in the northeast.
"If the central government allocates and releases its share of fund timely, the success in implementing MGNREGA would be greater. Despite our repeated requests, the union rural development ministry never releases funds in time," Tripura Rural Development and Forest Minister Naresh Jamatia told IANS.
The MGNREGA was introduced in February 2006 by the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.
It mandates 100 days of work in a financial year to at least one member of each rural household - but this has never been achieved in any state. The scheme aims to generate rural assets and create rural infrastructure like roads.
According to the central government's performance report on MGNREGA, of the 257,847 gram panchayats under 6,858 blocks and 661 districts across the country, around 40,000 did not provide any job to any worker in fiscal 2015-16.
These 40,000 panchayats are mostly in Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
As per union rural development ministry data, the average days of employment provided per household in 2014-15 were only 40.17, significantly lower than in 2013-14 when the figure was 46.
If 2014-15 was the worst performance year, 2009-10 was the best performance year at 54 days in the 10 years since the scheme was introduced.
Of the total jobs created across the country, those for females are always two to three percent higher than males.
Various political parties, including Tripura's Communist Party of India-Marxist, has been demanding that the persondays be increased from 100 to 150 in a year.