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Keywords:

  • [The state;
  • everyday bureaucratic practices;
  • paperwork;
  • documents;
  • transparency;
  • corruption;
  • development;
  • India]

This article examines an attempt by the Indian state to render its developmental operations “transparent.” It does so by tracking the implementation of India's ambitious social security legislation, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 (NREGA). NREGA is premised on the introduction of a vigorous transparency into a notoriously flawed state delivery system. On the basis of long-term immersion in the everyday world of government offices in northern India, I argue that transparent governance is, quite literally, made by documents. An ethnographic focus on “transparent-making documents” leads me to argue that they had the ironic and entirely unintended effect of making this particular developmental law extremely difficult to implement. I demonstrate my thesis on the crisis of implementation by attending initially to the overwhelming volume and forms of labor expected from lower-level development bureaucrats to produce the transparent-making documents. Subsequently, I turn to the kinds of work these papery artifacts were doing to argue that they were posing a hindrance to the regular working of the Indian state.