This paper opens a window on the local state in eastern India. It studies the ways in which government officers in five districts of Bihar and West Bengal re-shaped one of India's major poverty alleviation programmes, the Employment Assurance Scheme (EAS). District and Block-level officials in Bihar converted a participatory programme of employment generation into a scheme for the construction of durable assets. Many poorer men and women obtained no work under the EAS. Outside Midnapore District, West Bengal, members of the rural poor were unaware of their right to demand work from the state. The acts of translation that we document were largely inspired by a fear of corruption on the part of junior officials. District and Block-level officials in Bihar worried that labour-intensive schemes would increase opportunities for rent-seeking and simple looting. That principals sought to constrain the actions of agents in this way suggests a weakness in the model of rent-seeking behaviour favoured by some economists. That the EAS was re-worked by well-educated, English-speaking government officials--and not by their subordinates--also suggests the need for refinement of a body of work on the 'vernacular' nature of the local state. No sharp distinction between elite and vernacular lifeworlds is evident in the field area
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