Working Papers

India’s Regulatory Shift: An Examination of Five Agencies of the Post- Liberalisation Era

Centre For Policy Research

February 2, 2023

This paper explores the design of Indian regulatory agencies established post-liberalisation from an administrative perspective. Regulatory agencies were set up to replace state inefficiencies, and to discipline profligate state agencies, even as much as they were a response to state-market reorganisations and the challenge of privatization. Regulation provided an opportunity for upper levels of the Indian bureaucratic state to recast their power, with the idea that it would provide a framework for economic rationality, independence and technical specialization to take centre-stage. In actual practice however, the design of each of the regulatory agencies is shaped largely by pre-existing legal frameworks and institutions, and the agencies have remained quite tied in with their counterpart departments and on retired bureaucrats. However, in spite of these limitations, these agencies have some common features imbued by legislative mandate and organisational design which are unique in the context of the Indian state. They have focus and stability, a degree of functional independence, and most importantly, a concentration of power, which enables them to think through and implement complex policy transitions from multi-year and context-specific perspectives. The paper builds on learnings from a series of conversations with regulatory agency chairpersons in order to identify what regulatory governance is, in terms of the powers and mandate of the regulatory agencies and what makes them distinctive from the rest of public administration.