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Rahul Suresh Sapkal

Assistant Professor, Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies


Dr. Rahul Suresh Sapkal is an Assistant Professor at Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies at IIT Bombay. He holds a Ph.D. in Law and Economics from the European Doctorate Program in Law and Economics (Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands; University of Bologna, Italy; and University of Hamburg, Germany). He works broadly in the areas of Applied Econometrics, Economics of Inequality, Institutional Economics, Child and Bonded Labour, Labor Economics, Law and Economics, Empirical Legal Studies, and Development Studies. Previously, Dr. Sapkal worked as an Assistant Professor (Economics) at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai. He is the recipient of the Faculty Research Fellowship 2017 of the Reserve Bank of India, the Azim Premji Research Foundation Grant for the academic year 2018-19, and IMPRESS-ICSSR Major Research Grants 2019-20. He is Visiting Research Fellow at the Rotterdam Institute of Law and Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and Berlin School of Economics and Law, Germany. He is also an expert nominated member of the Drafting Committee for Indian Labour Standards Leveraging the Human Capital of Brick Kilns Workers, under the Social Responsibility Sectional Committee of the Bureau of Indian Standards and Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India. He is a member of the National Advisory for Informal and Migrant Labour with NHRC, New Delhi, and a Member of the National Productivity Council the FICCI Economic Advisory Committee He has published widely in leading International Journals and Policy Briefs.

Research Areas

Topic A: At Risk of Precarity? Exploring the Moderating Effect of the Legal Infrastructure on Health and Wellbeing of Platform Economy Workers in India
For both PhD/MPP

Research Area: Structural Inequalities

Description: The world of work is changing rapidly. A drive for greater flexibility has triggered the growth of “atypical” forms of employment and new app-based work arrangement. These new forms of work arrangements are posing serious challenges to workers’ health and his/her wellbeing in both developed (King, 2019) and developing (Samant, ILO 2019) countries. In India, app-based workers (including drivers and delivery workforce) are working under dangerous conditions and low income (Allman, 2021). Classified as “business partners”, they are nevertheless subjected to algorithmic management, technological control of the labour process and ratings system and the policies of platform companies that may result in the termination of their engagement agreement (Anwar and Graham, 2020). Despite the apparent harsh working conditions, the platform economy attracts an increasing number of drivers and ride-hailing services. The impact of job-loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic have led to more people turning to this form of atypical employment for some form of income support (Feng, 2020). The precarious working conditions of app based workers appear to have been contributed by uncertainty in whether the Labour Law applies to this group of workers. The app-based workers do not fit neatly within the existing legal definition of employees, as the degree of control and subordination of drivers by platform companies is not absolute as that in a traditional employer-employee relationship. As pointed out by Sapkal and Sundar (2017), precarious employment falls outside the purview of the SER. In almost all economies precarious work has been able to take root because of weaknesses, omissions and gaps in both national and international labour law (ILO, 2011). Moreover, lack of effective enforcement of labour law pushes vulnerable groups into the margin of precarity, increasing health and social security risks due to its accompanying financial insecurity, worsened social relations, social status, and career paths, and physical and psychological hazards (WHO, 2008). Policy makers have made some efforts to recognize precarious work as an employment category and to consider its negative health effects at an international level (ILO, 2015). However, at the national level the effort to understand the negative impact of precarious employment on health is rather slow (Vosko, 2010 and Sapkal and Sunder, 2017). This has resulted in an important knowledge gap, since there are some indications that the governance of globalizing economies is to a large extent dependent on the legal infrastructure in both developed and developing countries (see, for example, Berliner et.al., 2015; Distelhorst et.al. 2015). Therefore, this study focuses on the extent to which the legal infrastructure in India and Australia moderates the negative health and wellbeing effects of precarious work performed by platform economy workers in the context of developing countries. This means that despite knowledge on the negative health and wellbeing effects of flexible work arrangements, three questions remain unanswered: what is it about precarious work that generates negative effects, what are the most vulnerable categories of workers, and to what extent does the impact of precarious work on health and wellbeing depend on the legal context in which it is embedded. The goal of this study is to answer these three questions.

Topic B :Identity, Job Search and Discrimination: Evidence from India’s Urban Labour Market
For both PhD/MPP
Research Area: Structural Inequalities

Description: The economic reforms of the 1990’s and rapid penetration of Information and Communication Technology in the early 2000’s and the mobile data explosion from the year 2015 onwards have brought about significant changes in the nature of employment opportunities, job search matching and hiring practices of employers in India. In order to ensure efficiency, quality and productivity, employers employ several methods of disseminating information for job hiring to get the best human resources at competitive costs. As a result, hiring/recruitment practices at the firm level have undergone drastic changes, accompanied by increasing use of labour market intermediaries such as online job search portals, private place agencies, staffing companies and manpower consultants, recruitment process outsources and social network platforms. Employers commonly argue that they apply highly competitive recruitment processes wherein they hire employees only on the basis of merit, and that factors such as caste, region, gender and class are irrelevant. However, various studies have shown that in the past, information on job opportunities has been inaccessible to workers in general, remaining the privilege of a few insiders. The recruitment and sorting processes have been far from transparent in Indian industries, which have been highly informal and personalized. Despite much economic progress, India’s labour market has largely been segmented on the basis of caste, gender, ethnicity and class (Thorat and Deshpande, 2009). These social identities reinforce labour market stratification based on these social markers; produces inefficient labour market outcomes, restrict social mobility and perpetuate discrimination. Hence, it is imperative to ask the following questions- Do these new labour market intermediaries are neutral to social identities? Do these mechanisms make job search more transparent with easy access to job information? Are these new mechanisms egalitarian in serving the weaker sections and marginalized social groups and those with relatively better socio-economic background? Or do these intermediaries add new dimensions to labour market segmentation and further perpetuate the new forms of discrimination and social exclusion in India’s digitized labour market? Earlier empirical studies by Banerjee and Knight (1985), Madheswaran and Attewell (2010); Siddique (2008); Thorat and Newman (2010) have explored the processes of caste and religion based segmentation and associated exclusion and discrimination in employment, reasons thereof and consequences on income, mobility and social status of workers. Earlier attempts by the aforesaid studies, have documented the identity based discriminations in the labour market through audit and interview call back studies. However, in this paper we would like to add a new dimension through exploring the impact of online labour market intermediaries and platforms in search-matching process, social networking for reference and access to information on the observed discrimination in India’s urban market. Our research design will allow us to document the process of labour market discrimination across social, ethical and gender groups through controlling for their qualifications and skill sets etc. While uploading the resumes, we will also conduct the audit studies with the online platforms such as Monster.com; Shine, Naukari.com and Quicker.com. This study will use mix methods to examine the research questions through conducting interactive field based surveys, audit studies and focus group discussions with the respondents.

Topic C: Do Institutions Matter for Firm Performance? Empirical Evidence from India’s Organised Sector
For both PhD/MPP

Research Area: Markets and Governance Processes

Description: Recently, the Global Wage Report 2016-17 of International Labour Organization (ILO) has argued that the persistence of wage inequality within a firm is driving the total wage inequality in India. Among other factors, the rise in wage inequality has been largely attributed to the behavior of a firm and its responses towards various institutional challenges they face. However, the behavior of a firm, in terms of its ability to grow, its scalability and efficient utilization of resources are largely constrained by the level of financial market development and the complex institutional mechanism of labour and product market regulations. Earlier approaches, beginning with a seminal paper of Schumpeter‘s (1911), the relationship between the financial system and economic growth have been extensively analyzed. It was argued that financial development fosters economic growth both at the macroeconomic and microeconomic level. Recently, at the micro level, the impact of development in the financial system on the growth of firms has been studied widely. Although a large literature suggests that financial development fosters economic as well as firm growth, considerably less research has examined the cross- firm, cross-industry distributional effects of financial development combined with product and labour market regulations. The bulk of these studies analyze the financial development effects in an isolated way, not paying attention to product market competition and labor market flexibility are also considered to be key factors that affect economic performance as well as firm growth. For a period between 2010-16, the World Bank‘s Ease of Doing Index has observed that despite enjoying high GDP growth rate, the Indian economy performed slowly due to lack of incentives provided by the existing institutional framework. Similarly, the World Bank‘s Enterprise Survey (2014) finds that around 63 percent and 27 percent of Indian firms reported to have access to external finance and labour and product market regulation are major constraints respectively. Hence, the institutional environment affects the firm’s ability to perform.Existing literature identifies at least three channels through which the access to finance may affect firm growth. Firstly, it can restrict capital expenditure (Fazzari et al. 1988). Secondly, it can hinder technological innovations (Bottazzi et al. 2010). Finally, it may restrict acquisition of information important for risk management, resource mobilization, amelioration of transaction costs, etc. and thus influence growth of firms (Rajan and Zingales 1998). Empirically, since finance constraints are not directly observable, characterization of the relationship between finance constraints and firm growth is fraught with difficulties. Cabral and Mata (2003) argues that due to dynamic business cycles and tendency to have extreme growth in selective sectors, allows a disproportionate growth in the firm size. On contrary, in case of stable economic growth and fiscal policies, firms are able to grow more faster in developing and emerging market economies (Garnsey et.al. 2006).The goal of this paper is to assess the relationship between financial market developments, labor and product regulation on firm growth and to understand, which microeconomic channel either the financial effect or labour and product market regulation affect the growth of firm. The policy inference drawn will be of great importance to formulate financial development plans and credit policy for firms considering the intersecting and convoluted nature of product and labour market regulations in India. This will also add to understanding of behavior of firms in an emerging economy like India.

Topic D: Dirt Work, Caste and Urban Precarity
For both PhD/MPP

Research Area: Structural Inequality

Description: In 2018, an inter-ministerial task force reported the presence of 53,236 manual scavengers nationally and 5,75,000 municipal waste-workers across 205 municipal corporations (Bajpai, 2018). These numbers exclude the undocumented informal waste-workers. Yet, the existing scholarship on urban waste in India continues to focus on two concerns: environmental effects and sustainability, and efficiency in waste-management and governance, while overlooking how caste-based division of labour operates in the urban waste sector and its impacts on the waste-workers. This project aims to fill this lacunae in existing research by: 1] documenting how the historical relationship between caste and waste-work operates in the formal and informal waste system and 2] analysing the impacts of caste-based wastework on the socio-economic and health conditions of wasteworkers. By waste-workers we refer to both formal and informal workers, including sweepers, waste-worIndian historians have focussed on two issues related to waste: 1] How cultural differences between the British colonizers and Indians have produced different notions of garbage across different classes in modern India [Chakrbarty and Kaviraj]; and 2] How the British government in Indian cities used the existing caste-based approach to waste to institute an urban waste management system in colonial Indian cities [Masselos, EPW]. Indian scholarship from the fields of public policy, city-planning, and development studies scholarship has focussed on four issues: 1] Debates between public, private, and public-private waste-management on grounds of efficiency and democratic participation [Baud]; 2] Effects of informality on waste-workers []; 3] The best systems to reduce, reuse, and recycle solid waste; and 4] The impacts of privatization of waste-management on informal waste-workers [Gidwani]. A small scholarship has focussed on three themes relevant for this research: 1] The institutional linkages between different actors in the plastic recycling industry in Delhi and their relationship to caste identities [Gill, 2004, 2006, 2008]; and 2] An ethnographic study of waste-workers in Mumbai [Shinde]; and 3] The negligence of caste in waste-work by governmental policies [Teltumbe and Ghatade]. In addition, there exists a plethora of journalistic accounts on the debased working conditions of lower-caste manual scavengers and their resultant deathsDrawing on the existing scholarship in different disciplines, we argue that the issues of waste in general, and urban waste in particular, is located at the junction of four themes: 1] waste as a cultural construct, 2] formal and informal economies of waste recycling, 3] waste-work as stigmatised labour under caste-system, and 4] the impacts of these three on the economic, political and health mobilities of waste-workers in both formal and informal systems. However, most existing scholarship on waste and urban waste-management focuses on the first two themes, while overlooking its relationship to the later two themes. Our research aims to fill this gap in current scholarship by looking at the interrelatedness of all the four themes.

Academic Background

PhD (Magna-cum-laude) in Law and Economics, European Doctorate Programme in Law and Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2016).

MA in Development Studies, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (2009).

BCom in Finance and Accounts, University of Mumbai (2007).


Edited Book:

  • Sapkal, Rahul and K R Shyam Sundar (2019). Labour Laws and Governance Reforms in the Post-Reform Period in India: Missing the Middle Ground, Essays in Honour of Prof. K P Chellaswamy, Synergy Books Publication, New Delhi. ISBN: 978-93-5258-11
  • Policy Reports:

  • Sapkal, Rahul et.al. (2021). “Workers in the Time of COVID-19: Evidence from Round II”, published by ActionAid India. (Available at https://www.actionaidindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/WORKERS-IN-THE-TIME-OF-COVID-19-I-Report-of-Round-2_Final-V2.pdf )
  • Sapkal, Rahul et.al. (2021). “In Defense of Living Wages for Tea Plantation Workers: Evidence from Assam”, in collaboration with Oxfam India. (Available at https://www.oxfamindia.org/knowledgehub/workingpaper/defense-living-wages-tea-plantation-workers )
  • Sapkal, Rahul et.al. (2020). “Workers in the Time of COVID-19: A National Study on Informal Workers”, published by ActionAid India. (Available at https://www.actionaidindia.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Workers-in-the-time-of-Covid-19_ebook1.pdf )
  • Evidence-Based Policy Responses to COVID-19 Challenges:

    On Layoffs and Job Losses

  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020): “Saving Jobs and Averting Lay-offs amidst COVID-19 Lockdown”, Economic and Political Weekly, Available at https://www.epw.in/journal/2020/19/commentary/savingjobs-and-averting-lay-offs-amidst-covid-19.html
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020); “Safeguarding labourers during Covid-19”, The Hindu Business Line, published on 7th May, 2020. Available at (https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/safeguarding-labourers-during-covid-19/article31528449.ece )
  • On Labour Law Changes

  • Sapkal, Rahul and K R Shyam Sundar (2020): “Knee-Jerk Responses and Political Slugfests Won’t Solve the Problems of Migrant Workers” , The Wire, published on 1st June, 2020. Available at https://thewire.in/labour/migrant-workers-problem-knee-jerk-responses
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020): “Crushing Labour Laws Amidst Successive Industrial Accidents Is Serious Insult to Injury”, The Wire, published on 12th May, 2020. Available at https://thewire.in/labour/labour-law-reforms-industrial-accidents
  • Sapkal, Rahul and K R Shyam Sundar (2020): “Changes to Labour Laws by State Governments Will Lead to Anarchy in the Labour Market”, EPW Engage, Vol. 55, Issue No. 23, 06 Jun, 2020. Available at (https://www.epw.in/engage/article/changes-labour-laws-state-market-anarchy-labour-market)
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020): “The Road to Modern Serfdom”, The Indian Legal Magazine, published on 23 May, 2020, Available at https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/the-road-to-modern-serfdom
  • On COVID-19 and Lockdown

  • Sapkal, Rahul, DivitaShandilya and K T Suresh (2020): “Workers in the Time of COVID-19: Evidence from A Rapid Assessment in Bihar”, Available at “http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/Workers-in-the-Time-of-COVID-19-l-Rapid-Assessment-in-Bihar-Final.pdf
  • Sapkal, Rahul, DivitaShandilya and K T Suresh (2020): “Surviving in the Time of Lockdown: Evidence from a Rapid Assessment in Bihar” The Wire, published on 30th May, 2020. Available at https://thewire.in/rights/surviving-in-the-time-of-lockdown-evidence-from-a-rapid-assessment-in-bihar
  • Sapkal, Rahul, DivitaShandilya and K T Suresh (2020): “Short-Term Economic Consequences of COVID-19 Lockdown: Empirical Evidence from India” (Revised and Resubmitted), World Development, Elsevier,
  • Lingam Lakshmi and Rahul Sapkal (2020): “COVID-19, Physical Distancing and Social Inequalities: Are we all really in this together?” The International Journal of Community and Social Development Sage Journals (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2516602620937932)
  • On Child and Adolescent Labour

  • Sapkal, Rahul and PritiMahara: “In Shattered Post-Lockdown Economy, Govt Must Keep a Strict Eye on Child Labour”, The Wire, published on 16th June, 2020. Available at https://thewire.in/rights/india-child-labour-lockdown-covid-19
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020): “Covid-19 & Child Labour: No Country for Children” (Special Story), The India Legal Magazine, published on 22nd June, 2020. Available at https://www.indialegallive.com/special-story/covid-19-child-labour-no-country-for-children
  • Exclusive Interview on Rising Incidence of Child Labour : Demand for Cheap Labour in Cities Post Covid-19 Could See More Children Being Forced to Work (Available at https://www.news18.com/news/india/demand-for-cheap-labour-post-covid-19-could-see-more-children-being-forced-to-work-tiss-professor-2642449.html) published on 29th May, 2020
  • Sapkal, Rahul, Upamanyu Sengupta and Ashok Chikte (2020): “India’s Digital Divide”, The Indian Legal Magazine, published on 5th June 2020, Available at https://www.indialegallive.com/special-story/indias-digital-divide
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020): “The Second Coming (Special Story), The India Legal Magazine, published on 5th July, 2020. Available at https://www.indialegallive.com/top-news-of-the-day/the-second-coming
  • On Reverse Migration

  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020): “ The Reverse Effect (Special Story)”, The Indian Legal Magazine, published on 11th September, 2020, Available athttps://www.indialegallive.com/column-news/migrant-workers-unhygienic-action-aid-survey-mgnregs-indian-economy-covid-19-outbreak-pandemic/
  • Published Research Articles in Journals:

  • Lingam Lakshmi and Rahul Sapkal (2020): COVID-19, Physical Distancing and Social Inequalities: Are we all really in this together? The International Journal of Community and Social Development Sage Journals (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2516602620937932)
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2020). Saving Jobs and Averting Lay-offs amidst COVID-19 Lockdown, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.55(9), pp. 25-28.
  • Sapkal, Rahul and K.R. Shyam Sundar (2019). Wage Disadvantage of Contract Workers in Indian Manufacturing Sector, The Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol 54(3), pp. 377-395. [ABDC- C]
  • Sapkal, Rahul and K.R. Shyam Sundar (2017). Determinants of Precarious Employment in India: Empirical Evidence from India, in Arne L. Kalleberg , Steven P. Vallas (ed.) Precarious Work (Research in the Sociology of Work), Vol. 31(1) Emerald Publishing, pp.335-361.[ABDC- C]
  • Shyam Sunder K.R. and Sapkal, Rahul (2017). Labour Law and Governance Reforms and Protests – Are They Legitimate?, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. LII (38), pp. 59-66. (Special Article)[ABDC- B]
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2017). From Mother to Daughter: Do Equal Inheritance Property Laws Reform Improves Female Labour Supply and Educational Attainments in India?, Asian Journal of Law and Economics, De Gruyter, Vol. 8(1), pp. 1-36. [ABDC- C]
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2016). Labour Law, Enforcement And The Rise Of Temporary Contract Workers: Empirical Evidence From India’s Organised Manufacturing Sector, European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, Vol. 42(1), pp.157-182. [ABDC- C]
  • Published Articles in Edited Books:

  • Shyam Sunder K.R. and Sapkal, Rahul (2019). Trade Unions and Globalizing India: Towards a More Inclusive Workers’ Movement?, in “Unions and Worker Representation in Asia in an Era of Globalisation” edited by Russell Lansbury, Byoung-Hoon Lee and Ng Sek-hong, Routledge UK. pp 183-214.
  • Sapkal, Rahul and Nilamber Chettri (2019). Precarious Work, Globalisation and Informalisation of Workforce: Empirical Evidence from India, in “Globalization, Labour Market Institutions, Processes and Policies in India Essays in Honour of Prof. L K Deshpande”, edited by K R Shyam Sundar Palgrave McMillan, Singapore, pp 143-164.
  • Sapkal, Rahul and DakshaParmar (2019). State, Market and Labour: A Dalit Perspective in “Perspectives on Neoliberalism, Labour and Globalization in IndiaEssays in Honour of Prof. L K Deshpande” edited by K R Shyam Sundar Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore, pp 299-322
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2018). A Note on Labour Market Flexibility Debate in India: A Meta-Analysis of Empirical Studies, in “Contemporary Reforms of Labour Market and Industrial Relations System in India: Ease of Doing Business versus Labour Rights”, edited by K R Shyam Sundar, Academic Foundation, New Delhi, pp: 162-198.
  • Sapkal, Rahul. (2017). To Conciliate or (not) to Conciliate: Empirical Evidence from Labour Disputes in India, in Ranita Nagar, P.M. Murali Prasad &PavanMamidi (ed.) “Law & Economics: Breaking New Grounds”, Ch.14, Eastern Book Company, pp. 245-272.
  • Published Book Reviews:

  • Sapkal, Rahul (2019). Book Review- Development with Global Value Chains: Upgrading and Innovation in Asia(Development Trajectories in Global Value Chains) Paper Back, edited by Dev Nathan, Meenu Tewari and Sandip Sarkar Cambridge University Press ( Accepted and Forthcoming in November 2019 in British Journal of Industrial Relations.
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2019). Book Review- Everyday Economics: A Guide to the Modern Economy by Steve Coulter Agenda Publishing, published in in British Journal of Industrial Relation, Vol 58(2), pp.461-465.
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2018). Book Review- Demand for Labor: The Neglected Side of the Market, (IZA Prize in Labor Economics) Hardcover Daniel S. Hamermesh (Author), Corrado Giulietti (Editor), Klaus F. Zimmermann (Editor) Oxford University Press (2017) published in British Journal of Industrial Relation, Vol 56(2), pp.454-456.
  • Sapkal, Rahul (2011). Book Review –Dalits in India: Search for a Common Destiny, by Prof. Sukhadeo Thorat Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 60(1), pp. 167-169.
  • News Paper/Media Writings:

  • Sapkal, Rahul and K R Shyam Sundar, “Few jobs, made worse by poor working conditions”, The Hindu Business Line, published on 19th July, 2019.
  • Sapkal, Rahul and K R Shyam Sundar, “The many misses of the Wage Code”, The Hindu Business Line, published on 14th March, 2018.
  • Shyam Sunder K.R. and Sapkal, Rahul, “Labour Market: Economic Surveys, Budget Legitimize Short-Term Illusory Gains” The Wire, published on 20th February, 2018.
  • Sapkal, Rahul and K R Shyam Sundar , “The Demonetisation of Minimum Wage Law’s”, Livemint Hindustan Times, published on 10th October, 2017.
  • Shyam Sunder K.R. and Sapkal, Rahul “Little about labour, less about jobs”, The Hindu Business Line, published on 2nd February, 2017.
  • Shyam Sunder K.R. and Sapkal, Rahul “Flimsy Argument to Justify Contract Workers”, The Hindu Business Line, published on 24th March 2016.