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Areas of Research
Institutional Reform in Indian Irrigation
Indian irrigation sector, plagued with several challenges, has witnessed institutional reforms, at least since the early nineties. One standard template followed in states after states is devolution of operation, maintenance and management of tertiary systems to the users – water user associations, beneficiary committees, lift irrigation cooperatives, to name a few. Some states experimented with higher level institutions formed from these tertiary user organisations. Associated with it was an intention to financially reform the sector by breaking what has been often described as a nexus of underperformance. The practice of devolution found resonance in the burgeoning work on collective action and decentralisation, particularly in the context of the common pool natural resources. From an institutional point of view it resonated with the literature within new institutional economics particularly those relating to principal-agent theory, transaction cost and incentives. Since then more than two decades have passed. What is the experience of irrigation reform in various states? What have been the learning within states and among various states? What has worked and what has not? Can we draw some causal inference from the experience, in hindsight, and relook at the theoretical literature on collective action? The research work under this theme would explore some of these questions.
Water, food, energy, environment are interlinked in the sense that activities within any of this sectors would have cross-sectoral implication both in terms of cross-sectoral cost and co-benefits. Typically plans tend to be made sectorally without realising the cross-sectoral implications. However in recent years, largely after the Bonn Conference in 2011 which focused on nexus approach and after international organisations like the Global Water System Project have global research initiatives on nexus, there is a body of academic work that have taken a nexus approach whereby requirement of integrated plans are espoused in order to maximise co-benefits. The research under this theme would focus on aspects of integrated plans in Indian context. Potential co-benefit generating interventions – like microirrigation technologies, solar pumpsets, reviving traditional flow irrigation systems – their adoption rate, constraints, equity and efficiency aspects will be the focus of this theme.
Causality Research and QCA
Social sciences research, particularly of the qualitative comparative social science kind, explicitly or implicitly makes causal inferences. The robustness of those inferences - often without distinction between the type and configuration of the cause - have long been an area of contention between the researchers working with large-N and small-N (KKV's book and subsequent works of Charles Ragin, James Mahoney etc. as a response to KKV's book), between case oriented and variable oriented research designs. The inferences are sometimes explicit, often implicit. To bridge this divide Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) have been developed by people by Charles Ragin, Benoit Rihoux and others. Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) uses set theory to trace out necessary, sufficient, SUIN and INUS causes. QCA can be used in studies that plans to follow a medium-N comparative case analysis research design. I would be interested to partner in any other researcher who is undertaking some amount of causality analysis as part of their study. The objective would be to implement this evolving methodology (which have matured in the last decade) in different setting.
Water sector reforms, more particularly irrigation reforms, are underway in several states in the country. It is widely believed that a more advanced approach to water management is necessary and critical, as mere engineering solutions to water resource management cease to provide effective results. States like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have made significant progress in reforming the legal and institutional aspects of the water sector, with Maharashtra being the first to introduce the concept of water entitlements. The introduction of this new paradigm of water entitlements requires closer examination and mapping to understand its wider implications to the water rights discourse.
Regulation of Network Industries or Public Utilities
Network industry forms a special category of infrastructure and service-based enterprises, both government-owned and privately-owned, that provide utility services essential for life and livelihood. These are services, such as water, electricity, gas, transport, that are produced and supplied in mass-scale to individuals and organizations by laying a network from the plant to the premises. Building and operating such a network involves huge capital investment that has high fixed cost component and is generally seen as sunk and specific cost. The economies of scale and scope are such that natural monopoly is the preferred mode of production and supply. Hence, such industries, with its monopolistic network characteristic, come under varying degree of regulatory purview, depending on the level of monopoly imposed by the nature of the network. Challenge of regulating such industries is around the conflicting interests of multiple stakeholders, mainly the investors and consumers. Regulatory reforms have been undertaken in India to address the challenges of regulating such network-based public utilities. Establishment of independent regulatory agencies, tariff rationalization, market-based allocation regime, regulation through contracts are some of the reform measures underway. It is necessary to understand the implications of such reforms and evolve strategies for betterment of utility services. Apart from understanding the political-economy of such regulatory institutions and instruments, there is need to undertake comprehensive study on the complex interactions and interrelations of efficiency, equity and sustainability in the effort to provide utility services to all.
Food Safety Regulation
Food is a basic necessity for survival. Post industrial revolution, the focus has been on how to maximise food production with limited available resources such as land. To acheive this, humanity has continued to evolve practices to increase agricultural production (e.g. green revolution and genetically modified crops) and shelf life of food (e.g. use of preservatives). The food systems in developing country like India is also undergoing huge transformation in agricultural practices, production, storage, processing and distribution. However, there are concerns about the impact of these developments on human health and environment. As a result, there is growing realization that a robust regulatory system is required to protect the consumer from the food-borne risk. Establishment of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in 2006 is a major regulatory reform in India that is expected to consolidate food safety governance in the country. However, ensuring food safety is an overwhelming challenge due to the sheer magnitude of the food chain which involves numerous actors starting from the primary producer to the consumer. In the context of India, the challenge is compounded due to various factors such as a highly fragmented food sector with huge number of unorganized food business operators (FBOs), public hygiene perceptions and low awareness among the consumer. This indicates the need to undertake comprehensive studies to understand the regulatory challenges and evolve appropriate strategies and instruments to strengthen food safety regulation.
Social, Political and Environmental Rationales of Regulation
The typical rationales offered for regulation are economic rationales. However, social, political and environmental rationales for regulatory intervention are an integral part of all regulation. Equity, equality, non-discrimination, social harmony, environmental sustainability, privacy are other rationales that also inform regulatory interventions. Looking beyond the economic, it is important to unpack and explore the social, political and environmental rationales for regulation in the Indian context.
Transparency and competition remains a challenge in public procurement in India. Cartelization and collusive bidding are practices that add to the costs of procurement. Competition law seeks to regulate the procurement process along with several other miscellaneous guidelines by relevant Ministries. However, there is no clear legislation that enables the procurement process. The weak legal framework leaves much to be desired. The Public Procurement Bill was introduced in 2012 but is yet to be enacted. The role of regulatory institutions in democratizing the procurement process is an important area of study.
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