IDS working papers;196

Making policy in the “new economy” : the case of biotechnology in Karnataka, India

Published on 1 January 2003

This paper is a story of the making of a policy, one that included many different players, located across a variety of sites. By tracing the origins of the millennium biotechnology policy in Karnataka state, south India, examining the content of and participants in the debate that led up to it, and analysing the final result and some of its consequences, the paper attempts to understand what policy-making means in practice. Who are the policy-makers? What is a policy? What are the technical, political and bureaucratic inputs to policy-making? These questions are asked for a much hyped, hi-tech sector – biotechnology – seen by some as a key to future economic development, and central to the “new economy” of the post-reform era in India. The paper argues that a new style of politics is emerging in response to the changing contexts of the “new economy” era. This is particularly apparent in the hi-tech, science-driven, so-called knowledge economy sectors, where a particular form of science-industry expertise is deemed essential. The paper shows how the politics of policy-making is a long way from previous understandings of the policy process in India, based on the assumptions of a centralised planned economy where states danced to the centre’s tune and the private sector was not a major player. Biotechnology with its global R and D chains, its internationalised market for products or contract research, its multi-million dollar venture capital requirements and its need for top-level scientific expertise is worlds away from this earlier context. The new politics of policy-making, the paper argues, is characterised by the involvement of an influential business-science elite, able to push their demands through groups, task forces and commissions. Being associated with success in a global, competitive economy, key individuals provide iconic symbols of great value to politicians, and become important policy entrepreneurs in the new space opened up by the post-reform, federal politics of India. But such individuals, while projecting the assured image of global success, are also local, and great play is made of their Bangalore roots. Biotechnology in Karnataka, this paper argues, has got intimately wrapped up in such a new politics of policy-making, and this has some major consequences for how biotechnology is seen in the context of the economic development of the state, and the policy prescriptions that flow from this.

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published by
Scoones, Ian


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