Centre for Policy Research's Annual Report 2020-21

12 October 2021

Dear Friends,

As President, I have come to relish this annual ritual of writing the foreword to CPR’s annual report. This is my moment to bask in the glory of the awe-inspiring public service and high standards of scholarship set by my colleagues. I list here but a few highlights of CPR’s work through this year. I hope this will give you a glimpse of the depth and range of our intellectual and policy engagements and tempt you to go through the contents and publications in this report. In an increasingly chaotic and complex world, CPR scholars have valiantly sought to understand and interpret events through sober, evidence-based discourse. I am proud that through our work, we have stayed true to our fiercely independent spirit and commitment to democratic dialogue.

The reporting year 2020-21 will find its place in history. At every crucial moment, from the national lockdown in March 2020 to the deadly second COVID-19 wave in April 2021, the farmer protests, the significant developments on India’s borders and the geopolitical shifts in our neighborhood, to debates on net-zero targets and building a resilient climate-ready State, CPR scholars remained at the forefront, contributing actively to policy implementation, forging new partnerships with governments, civil society and academia and initiating new research to enrich the policy discourse and interpret the impact of this historical moment.

The health and economic consequences of the pandemic dominated much of CPR’s policy work in this period. Within weeks of the first national lockdown being announced, CPR faculty reoriented their work to respond to COVID-19. Two notable engagements with State governments include appointments of CPR scholars to the COVID-19 Global Advisory Council of the Government of West Bengal and to the Government of Punjab Group of Experts, tasked with developing a post-COVID economic strategy for the state. In addition, CPR scholars were appointed as members of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission India Task Force and the Lancet Citizens’ Commission on Reimagining India’s Health System. Alongside with working at the state and national government level, our COVID-19 response involved active engagement at the grassroots. Accountability Initiative was instrumental in anchoring an alliance called PULSE (Platform to Understand, Learn, Share and Exchange), that includes over 100 members from government, civil society, academia and the donor community. The alliance focuses on ensuring that grassroots experience makes its way into the policy discourse. In addition, they launched a series called Inside Districts, documenting the trials and tribulations of frontline workers in responding to the pandemic. We also undertook several research projects, in partnership with government and academia, to build an evidence base on how to respond to COVID-19. Key research themes included internal migration, urban livelihoods, understanding transmission dynamics and the preparedness of the health system.  

Beyond our COVID-19 response, the perils of work from home and tyranny of Zoom notwithstanding, 2020-21 remained a productive year for CPR. Our scholars continued the tradition of publishing path-breaking books, writing in the popular press and engaging in the everyday life of policymaking. We published two important books this year including, Shylashri Shankar’s masterful book, Turmeric Nation: A Passage Through India’s Tastes and Manju Menon and Kanchi Kohli's Beyond the Coal Rush Rush: A Turning Point for Global Energy and Climate Policy?. Our national level policy contributions ranged from engagements with the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the Finance Commission, the NITI Aayog, the National Commission of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, amongst others. We also launched new research and welcomed new faculty in areas such as the rural economy & agriculture, state capacity and regulation, health financing, Dalit politics, election studies, national security and foreign policy.

In the last few years, we have broadened our approach to work more closely at the sub-national level. This year, we deepened our engagements by entering into long-term partnerships with the Government of Punjab and the Government of Odisha to work with the urban development departments on slum upgradation. We also signed two different Memoranda of Association with the Government of Meghalaya to support the planning and finance department and the State Capability Enhancement Project. In addition, new partnerships have been initiated with governments in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka.

This has been an important year for climate action across the globe, particularly with the release of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and preparations for the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2021. CPR, through its Initiative on Climate, Energy and Environment (ICEE), as you doubtless know, is home to the country’s leading voices on the issue. We have also played an important role on the global stage, shaping debates on climate change. Continuing this tradition, Navroz Dubash is the lead author for the IPCC chapter on national and subnational policies and institutions to address climate change. In addition, ICEE remained at the forefront of key debates, including on climate institutions, net-zero targets, energy transitions and air pollution. This formidable team is truly at the cutting edge of one of the most pressing issues of our time.

In 2020-21, we welcomed several new colleagues to the CPR family but also suffered difficult losses. In June 2020, we lost Ved Marwah, a long-term associate with CPR and just as I signed off this year’s annual report, we had the devastating news of the sudden passing away of Keshav Desiraju, our governing board member. Both men were amongst India’s finest public servants, whose integrity and commitment were unparalleled. We learnt from them the value of public purpose and CPR remains committed to fulfilling their legacy by remaining true to the values and principles they stood for.

As always, I am grateful for the unflinching support we receive from our governing board under the leadership of Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, whose guidance and commitment to our scholarship has been a consistent source of strength. Our fabulous finance & management team, led by Alaknanda Jain and Anup Roy, who have navigated the chaos of COVID-19 to ensure that our faculty have the space to do their best, even as we become more 21st-century in our day-to-day administration, and our communications team, led by Hemali Sodhi, who have ensured that we transitioned from the seminar room to the Zoom room with ease, while pushing us to reach out to newer audiences. Finally, to our funders. whose trust and support has enabled us to adapt to the new circumstances and new challenges that we confront today. I remain deeply grateful.


With warmest thanks,

Yamini Aiyar,
President and Chief Executive,
Centre for Policy Research