Environment, Energy and Natural Resources

Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies, IIT Bombay > Research > Environment, Energy and Natural Resources

The staggering challenges of protecting the ecology from climate changes seem to grow bigger as market-centric solutions have primacy in setting the policy agendas. CPS re-imagines the concerns of the ‘environment’ as trigger for holistic attention to cross-cutting policy issues such as water, health, energy, migration & urbanization. CPS intends to create a platform for nurturing inter-disciplinary approach to develop policy solutions based on the principles of care and inclusion.

Research is presently being undertaken in the following areas:

Water and Sanitation

Managing the water resources for a country the size of India presents a complex and difficult challenge. There is evidence to suggest that with each passing year, water stress levels are increasing across the length and breadth of the country. Sanitation is a further challenge to the governance landscape. Given the context, the Water and Sanitation research group will build on the substantive past research and newer questions, such as: How does one design flexible water and sanitation management systems for the rural and urban populace? With further rural-urban migration, are our governance mechanisms able to adapt to the new demands?
How can we create newer models of transparency, accountability and participation in the creation of ‘liveable’ cities?

Health Policy

One of the aims of this research group is to understand public health in the context of a changing welfare state and greater reliance on private providers, economic growth in some sections of the country and increased precarity in others. The emergence of new technologies for large scale data gathering and computation offer opportunities to create unified data bases which can offer new insights to disease trends and provide evidence for the design of interventions, while such systems can also become a vector for surveillance and control. The research group on health policy aims at an involved understanding of these and other issues at the level of policy formation, implementation and evaluation in conversation with other disciplines such as sociology, history, psychology, engineering and environmental science.
Research initiatives focus on history of policy for communicable and non-communicable diseases in India, gender and health, sexual health, mental health, access to health care, urban healthcare, and challenges and possibilities of integrated health informatics system.

Energy Policy

India’s energy sector is in the midst of a transition from fossil to renewable, in response to the climate change and urban air quality problems. The challenges of providing clean energy –24/7 electricity and clean cooking fuels, sustainable transport, sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy sources for industry need strategic policy interventions backed by evidence and analysis. A systems perspective with be used to develop an understanding of issues related to technology, systems, sustainability and impacts. The impacts of disruptive technologies on employment and the economy as well as the equity impacts of policy implementation will be the prime focus.
The attempt will be to develop new tools and techniques that combine quantitative with qualitative approaches. New frameworks for linking micro and macro perspectives will be developed. Some topics of interest are green buildings, smart grids, electric vehicles, zero carbon futures, sustainable biofuels, direct benefit transfer. The effectiveness of market based approaches versus legislation and mandates and hybrid approaches will be examined. Policies that can spur innovation and support competitiveness and energy security need to be identified and articulated. The attempt will be to catalyse collaborations with faculty in Energy, Climate Studies and the several engineering and science departments and regulators, Governments and think tanks.

Circular Economy

Waste from one life-form often becomes food for another, thereby resulting in a circular system that rejuvenates and sustains various life-forms. Circular Economy (CE) is a regenerative system in which resource input, waste emission and energy leakage are minimized by slowing, closing and narrowing material and energy loops. This can be achieved through long lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacture, refurbishing and recycling- the idea is to use the products and materials to their maximum value and functionality.
The Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) is focusing on conceptualizing and developing a Circular Economy framework. Nearly 62 million tonnes of solid waste are generated annually in India and about 70-75% of this waste remains untreated. Millions of waste pickers and scavengers work in hazardous conditions to salvage a livelihood. Attempts at de-segregation are becoming increasingly complex given the introduction of new packaging techniques and an increasingly large volume of online sales. The effort at CPS will include creation of ‘tools’ that can help to facilitate life-cycle tracking of MSW from cradle to grave. We look forward to engaging with several stakeholders deeply involved in the waste value chain.

Research Topics

N C Narayanan
Topic: Water Sector Reforms: A Study of Policy Process in India
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: Non-Sewered Sanitation for a Cyclical Economy: Policy and Local Governance Challenges
Both for PhD/MPP

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.