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Villagers work at a site set up under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act In 2005, India launched one of the most ambitious social-welfare programs in the world. Known as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the law promises at least 100 days of paid work to any household that wants it. In a country of 1.2 billion people, that is a big promise to make. In 2011, 50 million households took part in the scheme. Working for minimum wage, millions of Indians who would most likely otherwise be making less money or out of work build roads, dig wells and plant crops — mainly in the vast expanses of rural India. But is a project of this magnitude sustainable in the long term? Critics worry that the program will sap the government’s finances and undermine entrepreneurial initiative among a population that has long been economically stagnant. Even the project’s supporters say MGNREGA is inefficient and unfair, hamstrung by corrupt local officials and an ingrained caste system. For this week’s magazine story (available to subscribers here) about MGNREGA, TIME’s South Asia bureau chief Krista Mahr traveled to the predominantly rural northern province of Uttar Pradesh to see for herself the successes and failures of a program that has turned the Indian government into the largest employer in the world. (MORE: Open for Business? Why Indian Entrepreneurs Need a Hand) Mahr has been living in New Delhi for six months. She previously lived...