Sixth Foundation Day Lecture
The Sixth Foundation Day Lecture on “Redefining Reform New Paradigm of Water Governance in India,” was delivered by Dr Mihir Shah, Distinguished Visiting Professor, Shiv Nadar University, at the CDS on December 4, 2017.
Prof Sunil Mani, Director, introduced Dr Shah as a very distinguished alumnus of the centre who was an MPhil and PhD Student and also a member of the faculty in the early 1980s. He went on to say that CDS is now into its 47th year, and that the annual Foundation Day is celebrated by a lecture which is usually delivered by a distinguished alumni or a well-wisher of the CDS. This day is also set aside as the convocation day of the MA students. Describing Dr Shah he pointed out that he was Member of Planning Commission, Government of India, where he was chiefly responsible for drafting the paradigm shift in the management of water resources enunciated in the 12th Five Year Plan. He also instrumental in initiating a makeover of MGNREGA.
Outlining his very brilliant academic record at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi School of Economics and his stint at CDS, where he did his MPhil and PhD, Prof Mani pointed out that it is a noteworthy fact that every member of that particular batch had done exceedingly well and have reached positions of repute. Presently, Dr Shah is Distinguished Visiting Professor, Shiv Nadar University and also Visiting Professor at Ashoka University, where he teaches a course on the Political Economy of India’s Development.
Dr Shah started his lecture by saying that the seven years that he had spent on the campus were the most fruitful years spent along with his batch mates and with the illustrious faculty of the Centre. He felt that it was this intellectual platform that really acted as a base for all his further ventures.
He started the lecture by observing that the most unreformed sector in the last seventy year is water. It is essential to understand the meaning of reform. Reform as a concept has multiple meanings and therefore the focus needs to be on the question of governing reform in the water sector. Over the last 30 years, not just in India but all over the globe, reform has acquired a very specific meaning. It is generally used to connote a policy shift in the direction of privatisation and reducing the role of the state in the economy. In many respects, this has been a welcome move as the state has handed over sectors of the economy to the private sector and greater competition has led to increases in efficiency and cheaper availability of many goods and services to the consumer, at higher quality.
At the same time, however, the tragic fallout of this blind and dogmatic change in policy has been to further worsen access to basic services to the large mass of the population. Whether it is access to quality health and education or water, sanitation, nutrition, credit etc, a massive reform deficit has afflicted these sectors. For the reform required here is not the one proposed under the “Washington Consensus”. What is needed in each of these cases, is reform of government, which would make state systems more efficient and accountable to the people. To put it in a word, it is not a question of larger or smaller government: the way forward lies in the maxim “better government is better”.
It needs to be emphasized that each sector of the economy has some very specific features and reform needs to be defined with reference to these differentia specifica of each sector. Why has it become necessary to focus on reforming water governance in India today? What is it about the nature of the water crisis facing the country that necessitates such an emphasis? What are the dimensions that water governance reform needs to cover? And in which broad direction must this change occur, were some of the questions that were discussed in the lecture.
The floor was then thrown open for an informal interactive session with students, research scholars and those from the audience. At the end of the discussions, Prof Sunil Mani thanked Dr Shah for the really inspiring lecture and the interactive question answer session, and said that he looked forward to having Dr Shah back again at the CDS.