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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Regulatory Policy in India: Moving towards regulatory governance

by Lalita Som.

Regulatory policy, a comparatively young discipline, is evolving in different ways across the world, reflecting the diverse range of legal, political and cultural contexts on which countries have built their public governance. Regulation, one of the key levers of state power, is of critical importance in managing the economy, in sequencing business behaviour, implementing social policy and influencing behaviour. Regulatory policy thus helps to shape the relationship between the State, citizens and businesses.

In OECD countries, policies to increase competition in markets, and to "roll back the frontiers of the state" in the 1980s and 1990s, broadened to become regulatory reform. Regulatory reform became an essential adjunct to structural reforms, reaching out beyond the network sectors to encompass product market reforms and the liberalisation of professional services. Independent regulatory agencies were developed to manage key aspects of economies and society at an arm's length from the political process. This became known as the regulatory state. The regulatory state paved the way for the idea of regulatory governance (OECD, 2010a).

In OECD countries. regulatory policy has made a significant contribution to economic growth and societal well-being - through its contribution to structural reforms, liberalisation of product markets, international market openness, and a less-constricted business environment for innovation and entrepreneurship. Regulatory policy has supported the rule of law through initiatives to simplify the law and improve access to it, as well as improvements to appeal systems. Increasingly, it has supported quality of life and social cohesion, through enhanced transparency which seeks out the views of the regulated, and programmes to reduce red tape for citizens.

Many OECD countries are concerned about distributional equity – to maximise the welfare of the most disadvantaged, paying attention to distributional consequence of policy actions, albeit not beyond the point at which they would impede on overall prosperity. These insights have had a strong practical influence on approaches to the impact assessment of regulations and especially, analysis of costs and benefits, including distributional aspects and under conditions of uncertainty (OECD, 2010a).

Regulatory reform can be viewed strategically, in both developed as well as emerging markets, as one of the core instruments at the disposal of policy makers. The modern State will have to utilise its regulatory power wisely if it expects to be smarter in order to face challenges like the growing fiscal burden for providing key public services such as health, education and social insurance schemes, in establishing governance arrangements and rationalising complexities to manage the consequences of decentralisation, in supporting the investment climate and in reducing the state's role as an active investor in the economy.

In fulfilling these objectives in an effective way the overall framework of the formulation of laws and regulations requires an explicit whole-of-government approach for regulatory policy, including: responsibility for co-ordination and oversight of regulatory policy; a commitment to assess the cost-benefit of new regulatory proposals and existing regulations, and; the effective implementation of the principles of transparency and public consultation in regulatory decision making (OECD, 2010a).

In emerging markets, extensive state ownership and interference have led to regulatory uncertainty and a business climate that is not conducive to fair competition in open markets. The state's dual role as an active investor and referee has meant that the government is uniquely positioned to shape the applicable legal regime with its interests as shareholder in mind. In many cases, state ownership has created conflicts of interest for the authorities and distorted or suppressed competition. Regulatory institutions and processes are still young in emerging markets, and often regulatory authority is fragmented across a number of bodies, some of which have conflicting mandates. Inadequate co-ordination among government bodies at the national and sub-national levels is a widespread problem, leading to unclear, duplicative, and often conflicting efforts in a number of areas. The lack of sound regulatory governance has meant that popular perceptions of endemic patrimonial politics have persisted, with vested interests and collusion being assumed to operate at the expense of the national interest.

A recent OECD Regulatory Policy Working Paper, Regulatory Policy in India: Moving towards regulatory governance, looks at India’s existing regulatory regime and its evolution in the last two and half decades. The mechanisms of regulatory governance have weaknesses, and in some cases have fallen short of expectations. The paper looks at India's uneven regulatory environment and how its legacy features constrain the evolution of regulatory governance.

Foremost is the difficulty in designing and implementing regulatory policies given the government's inclination to maximize its revenue at the expense of social welfare. This trade-off has compromised effective regulation in the country because of a lack of understanding of what constitutes the objectives of regulatory governance. The paper highlights how the dichotomy between the interests of governments and businesses, as well as that of citizens, has manifested itself over the years in four distinct sectors i.e. mining, hydrocarbons, power and telecoms.

Basic regulation in India is implemented via the concerned line ministries, which may proceed to create industry-specific regulatory authorities that have varying degrees of autonomy, functions, and power. There are significant variations in the structure of the governing bodies, tenure of the members, sources of finances, and interface with the government. A noticeable feature of many of the regulators in India is that they are charged with the promotion and development as well as the regulation of a certain industry. That can result in the regulator thinking of the interests of the industry rather than the users of the industry.

In sectors like insurance, coal, petroleum, telecoms, banking, regulatory strategies are hampered by the presence of State owned firms. The inadequate institutional distance between regulators and state-owned firms, especially when there are no firewalls between them, has meant that the regulators have not promoted enough competition.

In these areas, the State is obliged to play a dual role: i.e. that of market regulator when it is also the owner of commercial SOEs, particularly in newly deregulated, often partially privatised industries. Whenever this happens, the State is inevitably conflicted in its opposing interests as: first, a major market player/firm owner in its own right, and second, as an arbitrator in the (supposedly) neutral, impartial, dispassionate role of regulator.

Regulators are expected to behave independently, and the challenge of independence is to avoid capture by interest groups who stand to benefit from regulation. It is equally significant to avoid regulatory capture by local politicians. Local politicians are attracted by the possibility of large economic rents in perpetuity. Too often, regulators have actively internalised political sentiments in their decision-making. In addition, the elite governmental bureaucracy has a ubiquitous presence in regulatory bodies. Regulatory independence from the executive is difficult to administer if regulators themselves come from a career backdrop of directing political decisions. This strain is exacerbated when regulators are appointed directly from senior governmental positions, requiring them to shift, from administering and defending government positions, to acting as an impartial referee (Dubash, 2008).

Many areas, such as agricultural markets, warehousing, or land, require coordinated approaches to regulation (both rule-making and enforcement) by the central government, and sub-national governments at the state and city levels. Economic liberalisation, coming on the heels of political federalisation, has transformed federal –state relations unleashing unintended and unplanned decentralisation (Sinha, 2004). Any regulatory reform agenda depends crucially on a close co-operation between different levels of government. Federal-state relations have been affected significantly with the rise of multi- party coalition governments and alliance politics in the 1990s. Coalition and alliance partners from states have become progressively more powerful at the national level and more capable of bargaining with the national government. That political reality has added considerable complexity to the environmental and social dimensions of economic decision-making which need the cooperation, and an explicit ethos for regulatory governance, of both national and state governments. The need for multi-level policy coordination has been felt making way for the creation of technical and regulatory agencies at various levels, at times adding to the complexity of policy processes, at others to the bypassing of traditional forms of accountability at all levels (Arora, 2014).

In addition to the legacy features of India’s regulatory environment, the country lacks a coherent policy on regulation. A whole of government policy towards "regulating" would provide the connectivity of different reform efforts and help the concerted effort towards regulatory governance instead of disconnected regulatory reforms. This may include a combination of creating or enabling institutions to embed good regulatory principles into their functioning, but also include the systemic implementation of good regulatory practices such as regulatory impact assessments, public consultation and administrative simplification in priority sectors.

Some sub-national regulators in the power sector and the airports regulator have embedded stakeholder engagement with discernible positive outcomes. the more active use of Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) and stakeholder consultation, can inform the government on the cost of some of the trade-offs that India faces in the design of its regulatory policy. Although there exists a certain consensus on the importance of RIA and half-hearted efforts have been made so far to implement it, lack of political will, capacity constraints and limited awareness amongst other stakeholders are impeding its further application. Experience with regulatory governance in the last two decades has resulted in the Regulatory Reform Bill 2013 which intends to legislate an overarching regulatory law to introduce further regulatory reforms and standardise some basic institutional features and processes across all regulatory bodies. The OECD would welcome the opportunity to engage with the NITI Aayog during the redrafting process of this bill.

In addition, India could learn from the experience of both mature and young regulatory governance countries in implementing its regulatory policies. Malaysia which has undertaken large market reforms leading to initiatives for greater regulatory coherence. Australia and New Zealand’s Productivity Commissions, show, most importantly, that the regulatory environment needs to be constantly evaluated to make sure it is keeping pace with the changing technology, business environment, and consumer needs and demands (OECD 2010b). The United Kingdom’s Regulatory Policy Committee provides opinions and scrutiny over the quality of analysis by government departments and are engaged in setting "regulatory guidance" across the government. Korea's Regulatory Reform Committee drives forward the regulatory reform agenda (OECD, 2015).


OECD (2010a). 'Regulatory Policy and the Road to Sustainable Growth', OECD Publishing, Paris.

Dubash, Navroz (2008). 'Institutional Transplant as Political Opportunity: E-Practice and Politics of Indian Electricity Regulation', Comparative Research in Law & Political Economy Research Paper No. 31/2008.

Sinha, Aseema (2004). 'The Changing Political Economy of Federalism in India: A Historical Institutionalist Approach', India Review, Vol. 3, No.1.

Arora, Dolly (2014). 'Trends in Centre-State relations', Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi.

OECD (2010b). 'Review of Regulatory Reform: Australia', OECD Publishing, Paris.

OECD (2015). 'Regulatory Policy Outlook', OECD Publishing, Paris.


Lalita Som has worked for the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris. She can be reached at

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