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N. C. Narayanan

Professor and Head, Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies


N C Narayanan works on water, sanitation and climate studies with a focus on the policy and governance aspects. At IIT Bombay, he currently heads the Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies that offers Masters and PhD programmes in public policy. He was also part of developing the Technology and Development program at CTARA and the interdisciplinary program on climate studies at IIT Bombay. He is an Adjunct Professor at the National Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore; was a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley and Visiting Faculty at the Universities of Lausanne, Switzerland; and Monash, Australia. He has served as member of government committees including working groups of the National Planning Commission and Kerala State Planning Board.

He started his career as a hydrogeologist and was part of an interdisciplinary team for land use planning through remote sensing studies. Later he received an M Phil in Applied Economics from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (CDS) and PhD in Development Studies (ISS, Erasmus University, The Netherlands). He has been faculty at the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA), Senior Fellow and Executive Director of the South Asia Consortium for Water Resources Studies (Saci WATERs) Hyderabad.

NC Narayanan’s work spans issues of local governance, technology and institutional choices in urban sanitation, drinking water reforms and governance, water conflicts, uncertainty and climate change, environmental governance, scaling up technology alternatives, development theory etc. His work is collaborative, interdisciplinary and grounded in empirical contexts, to trigger conversations between academia, society and policy, especially local governance institutions. Such an experiment (CANALPY) involving his students and volunteers for the past five years has now coalesced into a start-up – Technology and Governance Support (TAGS) Forum

Research Areas

Topic A: Water Sector Reforms: A Study of Policy Process in India

Research Area: Environmental Services

Specify Topic: Both for PhD/MPP

Description: The reforms in the water sector are essentially about reimagining the role of the state, buttressed by the discourse of state failure and the associated ill effects on the sector when the state is the service provider. The power of the legitimizing discourse that comes with reforms – advocating more market and less state – and understanding the particular ways in which pertinent issues came to be framed is critical to understand how the process of policy change unravels on the ground. Taking as its starting point a critique of linear version of policy making, Asthana (2009) illustrated how and why particular types of knowledge, practices and values get established in policy as well as the complex interplay of knowledge, power and agency in water policy processes. Gautam Ganapathy’s PhD study (CTARA) identified two approaches that are predominant among existing studies of water sector reforms: (a) that adopts a neo liberal perspective that attribute failure in achieving desired outcomes to the “sluggish” pace for reforms in the sector and (b) that views reforms as an enterprise of capital accumulation, with multinational interests from the global North foraying into the drinking water sector in the third world. While this critique is useful and much necessary as it mobilises popular action, it lays all the blame on the apparently omnipotent and irresistible force of neoliberalism.

A more useful approach was to map the ‘governance in practice’ at the sub-national level, especially how the state public utilities negotiate the reforms. Along with that, the agency of several non-state actors and the modalities through which they derived it required to be studied. Thus, understanding governance changes demanded a focus on the process dimensions of policy where the various global and domestic economic interests interacted with the existing institutions to mainstream policy priorities associated with reforms. Taking cue from these studies, the proposed study will map the policy process since 2011, especially the paradigm shifts (Shah, 2014) imagined in the XII Five Year Plan and its aftermath. It will particularly look at how the normative concerns, institutional imaginations, data gathering/analysis/availability has all shifted in the past seven years. The insights and shared framework of Asthana (2009) and Ganapthy (2020) will be refined to understand the water policy process in the last decade.

Topic B: Non-Sewered Sanitation for a Cyclical Economy: Policy and Local Governance Challenges

Specify Topic: Both for PhD/MPP

Research Area: Environmental Services and Local Governance

Description: Increased urbanisation of Indian cities has resulted in augmented demand for water and 80% of this is turned to wastewater. With only 37% of the wastewater treated in the country, apart from environmental pollution, we are also losing valuable usable nutrients. Since the colonial period, the centralised approach – centralised infrastructure, control and planning – has been a preferred choice of policymakers to manage the wastewater. The official discourse highlights the Government of India’s commitment to a centralised approach through funding, capacity building, designing administrative routines, and promoting institutional practices. Such measures are the result of a technocratic policy analysis that overlooks normative concerns of inclusion, affordability, and sustainability due to the continued preference of contextually divorced ‘one-size-fits-all’ centralised infrastructure in urban sanitation. Questioning the dominance of the centralised approach, alternatives first emerged as small scale natural technologies in the context of marginalised settlements in urban areas and private institutions in the early 1990s. Later it emerged as an alternative approach integrating principles of subsidiarity, city level participatory sanitation planning, decision making by urban local bodies, and range of technology options etc. These got mainstreamed into policy documents like the National Urban Sanitation Policy (NUSP)-2008, Eleventh Five-year Plan (2007-2012) and the approach paper to Twelfth Five year Plan (2012-17). However, in practice such alternatives failed to scale-up to city level. Neelam Rana’s PhD thesis (CTARA) examined the policy process of the dominance of the centralised approach with the influence, especially funding priorities of international financial institutions in ensuring such continuance until 2014. The proposed study will map the deepening of the process in the last seven years with target-oriented flagship programmes with massive financial outlay that raises sustainability of the infrastructure created from technical, financial, institutional and social grounds. Simultaneously there are experiments rooted in local governance and a cyclical economy that brings out possibilities of inclusive and sustainable sanitation options. A close look of the policy process at local, state and national levels of these is needed for a transition to a more inclusive and sustainable sanitation governance in the country.

Academic Background

  • Ph.D. (Development Studies), International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands (part of Erasmus University, Rotterdam).
  • M.Phil. (Applied Economics), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
  • M.Sc. (Geology) University of Kerala, Trivandrum, India.
  • Publications

    Journal Articles:

  • Tankha, Sunil; Fernandes, Denise; Narayanan, N.C, 2019, Overcoming Barriers to Climate Smart Agriculture in India. International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCCSM-10-2018-0072.
  • Argade, P. and Narayanan, N.C. 2019. Undercurrents of participatory groundwater governance in rural Jalna, Western India. Water Alternatives. Vol 12, Issue 3. Pp 869-885.
  • Lalita Joshi, NC Narayanan, Jayendran Venkateswaran, Chetan Solanki, Praveen Kumar , 2019, Adoption of solar photovoltaic lighting in rural India: Role of localization strategy , Energy & Buildings 202 (2019) 109370. Elselvier.
  • Gautham Ganapathy and NC Narayanan, 2019, Between financial viability and access to drinking water provision: Tracing the path dependence from an early gravitation scheme in a regional Indian town, Water History (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12685-019-00232-5.
  • N.C. Narayanan, 2019, Exacerbated Flood Damage in Kuttanad in 2018, Causes, Consequences and Caution for the Future, Social Science in Perspective, Vol. 11 No. 1. pp 610- 636.
  • Jeffrey Immanuel, Anshul Singh, NC Narayanan, 2019, CRZ 2018: Yet another toss into the Sea of Coastal Regulations, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol LIV, No. 10. 57-60.
  • Shibaji Bose, Upasona Ghosh, Hemant Kumar Chauhan, Narayanan, NC, and D Parthasarathy, 2018, Uncertainties and Vulnerabilities among the Koli fishers in Mumbai: A Photo Voice Study. Indian Anthropologist, Vol 48, No.2. pp 65-80.
  • René Véron, Nishara Fernando, N. C. Narayanan, Bishnu Upreti, Babu Ambat, Ranga Pallawala, Sudarshan Rajbhandari, Swetha Rao Dhananka, Christian Zurbrügg, 2018, Social processes in post-crisis municipal solid waste management innovations: A proposal for research and knowledge exchange in South Asia, Research Ideas and Outcomes, e31430. doi: 10.3897/rio.4.e31430.
  • N. C. Narayanan, Isha Ray, Govind Gopakumar and Poonam Argade, 2018, Towards sustainable urban sanitation: A capacity-building approach to wastewater mapping for small towns in India, Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development, Volume 8, Issue 2. IWA Publishing.
  • Youngmee Tiffany Jung, N.C. Narayanan, Yu-Ling Cheng, 2018, Cost comparison of centralized and decentralized wastewater management systems using optimization model, Journal of Environmental Management, 213 (2018) 90-97. Elselvier.
  • S. Thrikawala, M. I. Sudasinghe, L.W. Galagedara, E.R.N. Gunawardena and N.C. Narayanan, 2016, Applicability of decentralized, small scale Vs centralized, large scale Sewage Treatment Plants for Urban Sanitation: A case study from Sri Lanka. Journal of South Asia Water Studies ( SAWAS) Vol 5, Issue 3. Pp 85-97.
  • Sheila Bonde, Clyde Briant, Paul Firenze, Julianne Hanavan, Amy Huang, Min Li, N. C. Narayanan, D. Parthasarathy, Hongqin Zhao, 2015, Making Choices: Ethical Decisions in a Global Context, Science and Engineering Ethics. ISSN: 1353-3452 (Print) 1471-5546 (Online). http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11948-015-9641-5#page-2.
  • Solanki, C.S., Narayanan, N.C., Jayendran, V. (2015). Million solar urja lamps programme: An initiative towards ‘Right to Light’. Renewable Energy Akshay Urja. Vol. 9, Issue 2, p 36-40.
  • N C Narayanan and Nitin Lokhande, 2013, Designed to Falter: MGNREGA Implementation in Maharashtra, Economic and Political Weekly, vol xlviii nos 26 & 27, Pp. 61-66. http://www.epw.in/special-articles/designed-falter.html.
  • N C Narayanan and Sunil Trikhawala, 2011, Aid, Technology and Project Dependence: A Case of Institutional Weakening of Water Sector from Sri Lanka- Journal of South Asia Water Studies ( SAWAS), volume 2, issue 2. Pp. 60-74. www.sawsjournal.org.
  • N C Narayanan and Anju Helen Bara, 2012, Enhancing Drinking Water and Sanitation Access to Poor: Lessons of NGO-Government Collaboration in Eastern India. Journal of Governance and Public Policy, VOL 1, Issue 2. Pp. 28-46.
  • N C Narayanan and Lalitha Kamath, 2012, Rural Water Access: Governance and Contestation in a Semi-Arid Watershed in Udaipur, India; Economic and Political Weekly, VOL XLVII, No.4. Pp. 65-72. http://www.epw.in/specials/rural-water-access-governance-and-contestation-semi-arid-watershed-udaipur-rajasthan.html
  • N C Narayanan et Jean-Philippe Venot, 2009, Échelle(s) communes(s) ou échelles multiples Pour une gouvernance démocratique des ressources naturelles : Les zones humides en Inde. Vertigo, Vol 9, Numero1, Mai.
  • N C Narayanan and Jean-Philippe Venot, 2009, Drivers of Change in Fragile Environments: Challenges to Governance in Indian Wetlands. Natural Resources Forum (A United Nations Journal for Sustainable Development), Volume 33. Pp 320-333.
  • N C Narayanan, 2006, For and Against Grain Land Use: Politics of Rice in Kerala, India, International Journal of Rural Management. V 2, No.1: 123-144 http://irm.sagepub.com/content/2/1/123.abstract
  • N C Narayanan, 2002, Technical Fixes and Social Relations: The Case of Group Farming in Kerala, India. Review of Development and Change. Vol. VII, No.2, July-December. http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/1061134
  • Book Chapters:

  • Neelam Rana and N C Narayanan (2019), The centralized approach to wastewater management and implication for sanitation governance: an analysis of the intent and practice of the national urban sanitation policy in India, In S Janakarajan and KJ Joy (Ed), India’s Water Futures: Emergent ideas and Pathways. London and New York: Routledge Sage. Pp. 119 – 148.
  • D. Parthasarathy, Yash Shethia and N.C. Narayanan (2018). Cross-Scale Institutional Linkages in Climate Change Responses: An Indian Perspective In Chandra Venkataraman, Trupti Mishra, Subimal Ghosh, Subhankar Karmakar (Ed), Climate Change Signals and Response. Singapore: Springer Nature.
  • Neha Singh, D. Parthasarathy and NC Narayanan, 2018, Contested Urban Waterscape of Udaipur, In Sustainable Urbanization in India. Singapore: Springer Nature.
  • N C Narayanan, (2015), Pollution Abatement Strategies in River Ganga: A Review of GAP and Gaps in Emerging Institutional Models, In Iyer Ramaswamy (Ed), Living Rivers, Dying rivers. New Delhi: OUP. Pp. 77-100.
  • Neha Singh and N C Narayanan (2014), Rural Urban Water Transfers: Conflict over the Mansi Wakal Dam in Udaipur, Rajasthan In Joy, K.J., Suhas Paranjape and Sarita Bhagat, Domestic Water and Sanitation: Cases, Issues and Prospects. Pune: Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, Pp. 131-150.
  • N C Narayanan, S. Parasuraman and Rajindra Aryabandhu, (2014), Paradigm Shifts in Water Governance in South Asia: A Review In N C Narayanan, S. Parasuraman and Rajindra Aryabandhu(ed), Water Governance and Civil Society Responses in South Asia. New Delhi: Routledge. New Delhi: Routledge. Pp. 1-30.
  • N C Narayanan and Sunil Thrikawala (2014), Foreign Assistance, Dependence and Debt: Sanitation Case Study, Kandy, Sri Lanka In N C Narayanan, S. Parasuraman and Rajindra Aryabandhu (ed) Water Governance and Civil Society Responses in South Asia. New Delhi: Routledge. New Delhi: Routledge. Pp.144-169.
  • N C Narayanan and S. Mohammed Irshad (2014), Institutional Changes, Public Provision and Drinking Water Supply in Kerala In N C Narayanan, S. Parasuraman and Rajindra Aryabandhu (ed) Water Governance and Civil Society Responses in South Asia. New Delhi: Routledge. New Delhi: Routledge. Pp.170-200.
  • N C Narayanan and Jayati Chourey, 2012, Environmental Governance: Concept, Complexity and an Illustration in E.R.N. Gunawardena, Brij Gopal and Hemasiri Kottagama (ed) Ecosystems and Integrated Water Resources Management in South Asia. New Delhi: Routledge. Pp 302-337.
  • N C Narayanan, 2010 Multiple Uses, Conflicts and Challenges to the Integrated Management and Governance of Wetlands: Evidence from the East and West Coasts in India. In Hoanh, CT, B Szuster, Pheng, A Ismail, and A Noble, Tropical Deltas and Coastal Zones: Food Production, Communities and Environment at the Land–Water Interface: Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management, No. 9. Oxfordshire: CABI Publications.
  • N C Narayanan, 2008 State, Governance and Natural Resource Conflicts: Background Paper in N C Narayanan (ed), Where to go from here? State, Natural Resource Conflicts and Challenges to Governance. New Delhi: Academic Foundation. Pp.15-38.
  • Smriti Das and NC Narayanan, 2008, Alloyed Projects, Metalled Resistance: A Case of Bauxite Mining in Orissa in N C Narayanan (ed), Where to go from here? State, Natural Resource Conflicts and Challenges to Governance. New Delhi: Academic Foundation. New Delhi: Academic Foundation. p 221-246.
  • N C Narayanan, 2008, Water Control Structures and Conflicts in Lake Vembanad: Governance as Mobilisation in N C Narayanan (ed), Where to go from here? State, Natural Resource Conflicts and Challenges to Governance. New Delhi: Academic Foundation. New Delhi: Academic Foundation. Pp. 91-116.
  • N C Narayanan, 2002 Sustainability in Dutch Agriculture In Barthelemy Honfoga, Marian Perez, Nozizwe Esther Chinkanda, Chhewang Rinzin and N.C.Narayanan The TINA and Milk: Southern Perspectives on Sustainability in the Netherlands. pp. 35-44. Utrecht: International Books.
  • NC Narayanan, 1997 Towards Operationalising the Concept of Sustainable Land Use – Amicro level study on valley land forms in Trichur, Kerala in Anil Agarwal (Ed), The Challenge of the Balance: Environmental Economics in India. New Delhi: Centre for Science and Environment.
  • N C Narayanan, 1996 Micro/Village Level Resources Survey with People’s Participation for Sustainable Development (with Srikumar Chattopadhyay) In R.B.Singh (Ed) Research in Geography – Land Use Changes and Sustainable Development Vol. I, New Delhi: A.P.H Publishing Corporation.
  • N C Narayanan and N. Bindu, 1996, Rudravanom- Despoiling a Pilgrim Centre in The Hindu-Survey of the Environment 1996. Chennai: The Hindu
  • N C Narayanan, 1995 Issues in Sustainable Land Use – A micro level study in Madakkathara area, Trichur District, p. 87-103 In P.P. Pillai and R.P Nair (Ed) Understanding Ecologically Sustainable Economic Development. Trichur: Institute of Planning and Applied Economic Research.
  • Books:

  • N C Narayanan, S. Parasuraman and Rajindra Aryabandhu (Ed), 2014, Water Governance and Civil Society Responses in South Asia. New Delhi: Routledge.
  • N C Narayanan, 2008, Where to go from here? State, Natural Resource Conflicts and Challenges to Governance. New Delhi: Academic Foundation.
  • N C Narayanan, 2003, Against the Grain: The Political Ecology of Land Use in a Kerala Region, India. Maastricht: Shaker Publications.
  • Barthelemy Honfoga, Marian Perez, Nozizwe Esther Chinkanda, Chhewang Rinzin and N C Narayanan, 2002, TINA and the Milk: Southern Perspectives on Sustainability in the Netherlands (English and Dutch editions). Utrecht: International Books.
  • Courses Taught

  • Development Theory (CTARA)
  • Water Resources Management (CTARA)
  • Public Policy and Governance (CTARA)
  • Social Science Research Methods (CTARA)
  • Technology/Development in Practice (CTARA)
  • Public Policy in Practice (Centre for Policy Studies)
  • Science and Technology for Development in India (Humanities and Social Sciences)
  • Making Choices: Ethical Dimensions of Scientific Endeavor (Humanities and Social Sciences)