Enquiring into India’s state capacity

April 29, 2021

India’s COVID-19 crisis has resulted in unprecedented levels of demand on its public institutions, demands they have comprehensively failed to meet. Scholars have generally been in agreement when characterising India’s state capacity, or its ability to effectively deliver services and enforce regulations, as weak and unprepared for the demands of the 21st century. Characterised by over-bureaucratisation, high levels of corruption and under-staffed departments, the need for reforms is more pressing than ever.

Understanding state capacity in the Indian context requires careful and detailed inquiry into critical yet understudied sectors through empirically grounded research. NLSIU aims to contribute to this growing discourse on state capacity using its expertise in governance, public law, political science and constitutional law in India.

We began by identifying some pressing questions related to the modernisation of India’s state capacity:

  1. The principles governing the adoption of technology by the government
  2. Ensuring accountability in a fragmented regulatory space
  3. Administration of public health

Initiatives and Objectives:

  • The Regulatory Governance project is the first research project under the State Capacity programme, supported by Omidyar Network India. This two-year project aims to study regulatory bodies, the specialised institutions set up to govern and regulate key sectors such as banking, real estate, and electricity. Besides generating original cross-cutting research in this area, the project aims to assist regulators in developing stronger principles and frameworks to keep up with contemporary developments
  • Technology plays a critical role in streamlining public institutions. Reforms are necessary to ensure greater transparency and accountability, given technology’s increasing role in delivering public services. In this context, we are undertaking the ‘Digital Public Records’ project to enable open and public access to government data. We will conduct a comprehensive interdisciplinary study that establishes best practices towards an open and digital government.
  • Public health is another one of our key focus areas especially in light of the severe impact the recent pandemic had on India. The success of public health infrastructure relies on a multitude of factors including socio-economic considerations, the capacity of public health care, access to reliable information, and the regulatory ecosystem of drugs, medical professionals, etc. We will investigate the role of law and public health institutions by opening up positions for PhD candidates. Through their doctoral research, we hope to address issues that lie at the interface of law and public health while developing the research capacities of early career researchers.