Expanding Freedoms and Improving Commons through Labour: A Study of Kerala’s Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme

India faces an urban unemployment crisis and a crisis of declining life quality in urban spaces due to a lack of public services and the stress on urban commons. An urban employment guarantee scheme, such as Kerala’s Ayyankali Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme (AUEGS), has the potential to address this twin crisis. Although well envisioned, AUEGS has underperformed since its inception, warranting attention.

This study uses the capabilities approach to human development to assess AUEGS’ impact on urban commons and on beneficiaries’ well-being understood as human freedoms. By employing fieldwork drawing on qualitative methods in Kerala, India, the study shows that although AUEGS guidelines aim to improve beneficiaries’ functionings and capabilities, structural and implementation issues hinder their realisation. While urban commons see improvement, beneficiaries experience a limited expansion of freedoms, and in some instances, further unfreedoms are created. This study also provides certain recommendations that target the identified issues of the scheme.