In the third trimester, MPP participants were divided into six groups, each of which explored the regulatory landscape and challenges in a particular sector. The six sectors chosen were Electricity, Water, Banking, Health, Higher Education and Media. Students analysed regulatory institutions, policy instruments and their implementation and the roles politics and business played in creating the regulatory regimes. They further examined conversations around whether the state was too activist and stifling free enterprise or retreating from its responsibilities. Each group led a half-day workshop in which external facilitators were invited to discuss their experiences working in the sector and outline the most pressing policy challenges that exist today. This format for the course was novel and highly engaging and the class is deeply grateful to the CSSEIP and course facilitator, Pradeep Ramavath.
In the first workshop, participants examined regulatory challenges in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity along with Mr. M.R. Srinivasa Murthy, IAS (Retd) Chairman, Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC). They outlined the central and state agencies with a role to play and discussed the growing role of private players. Due to the natural monopoly and moral hazards at work, national policies can only go so far towards managing a central power grid. For his part, Mr. Murthy emphasized the Government objective of 24×7 power supply and looked into our current installed capacity, with a special turn towards utilizing ‘stranded capacity’. Moreover, access to electricity can be highly inequitable between regions depending on installed capacity and also what the dominant source is (i.e. during times of drought, areas that rely on hydropower experience load shedding). Given the financial difficulties faced by DISCOMS, the participants also discussed the UDAY scheme and how it has begun to revitalize the power sector value chain. Participants focused on international agreements to develop cleaner and more environment friendly energy sources, the Draft National Renewable Energy Act 2015 and two regulatory instruments in India to promote renewable energy – Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and Renewable Power Obligations (RPOs). They concluded by highlighting the legal status and market position for RECs and RPOs as well as what can be done to make them more competitive.
For the second, the students worked with water activist S Vishwanath from Biome Environmental trust to arrange a field visit to Jakkur Lake. The lake is maintained by a local citizen’s group, Jala Poshan, which took responsibility for maintaining it from the BDA and has adopted an Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) approach that recognizes diverse values of the lake from economic, ecological, sanitation and public health, recreational, etc. They engage as many stakeholders as possible in identifying its problems, liaising with government agencies and sustaining Jakkur lake as a local asset that recharges ground water. Given the overlapping urban development and public utility mandates exercised by various bodies (such as the BDA, BBMP, BWSSB, Lake Development Authority, etc.), local governance becomes crucial to keep watch and ensure necessary functions are being carried out. During the visit, participants also observed how the lakes in the region are connected in a chain and how effluents and algae that enter into one of them leads to environmental hazards such as the flames in Bellandur Lake. The students then led Vishwanath Sir in a discussion with the class which touched on the tangled bureaucracies that regulate water and sewage, political disputes over water, the conflict between water as a productive resource and as a human right and the technical and economic costs of using water in a sustainable manner.
The third workshop focused on reforms in the banking sector and was coordinated by Mr. Mohan Mani. After an orientation on the history of banking laws in India, participants examined the implementation of Basel norms and their role in the post-liberalisation banking scenario. They looked at the divergent goals of private banks and public banks in the context of India’s history of bank nationalisation and reviewed the lack of a clear policy to manage non-performing assets. The group also discussed how the role of a regulator is simultaneously played by the RBI and the Finance Ministry, which has a detrimental impact on the nation’s macroeconomic policies. The presentation was followed by a lecture by Mr. C. H. Venkatachalan, who outlined the major achievements and current demands of the All India Bank Employees Federation (AIBEF). The workshop was also attended by other guests from the Karnataka Pradesh Bank Employees’ Federation.
In the fourth workshop, the class discussed the state of public and private health and the lack of regulatory body in the health sector. The students worked with Dr. Akhila Vasan and Vijaya Kumar Seethappa from Karnataka Janaarogya Chaluvali, an NGO which fights for health rights, dignity and well-being of all citizens, with a focus on the most disadvantaged and marginalized communities. In the past few years, the NGO has been in direct discussions with the state government of Karnataka and has advocated to the control of unabated privatisation of the health services in the state. The students and the resource persons used a narrative style of presentation, which was filled with discussions, case studies and anecdotes in order to emphasise the detrimental effects of the withdrawal of the state from the health sector in the post-liberalisation era and the subsequent mushrooming of the private health care which, presently, is largely unregulated. The privatisation of health care has also led to increasing cost of access to healthcare which a has led to large portion of the population being excluded from provision of quality healthcare. A few legislations like Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act 2007, Clinical Establishments Act 2010 and West Bengal Clinical Establishments Act 2017 were analysed and discussed in depth. The scenario of having health services replaced by the health insurance also was discussed in the session.
In continuation to the workshop, students in this group attended a public meeting on proposed amendments to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act, 2007, which helped them better understand the regulatory challenges faced in the health sector.
Higher Education Workshop
In the fifth workshop, regulation within the higher education sector was examined with the help of Prof. Sudha Rao and Dr. Chetan Singhai from NAAC. Higher education is an extremely diverse field which serves a wide range of institutions, courses and students and the sector has been growing steadily in India. Participants argued that norms must be set in place that ensure institutes of higher education have a clear mission, are accountable to their students and adequately prepare them for jobs in their field. The main focus of the workshop was on how quality can and should be assessed in such a context, questioning whether standardisation is a worthwhile goal or it can stifle innovation and progress. They discussed the parallel roles played by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in measuring quality and closely reviewed how these are subjectively measured through self-assessments and peer team visits. As both the guests, Prof Rao and Prof Singhai work closely with NAAC, they shared their experiences on the campus visits and participating in delegations to observe how other countries assess quality in their higher education sphere. The workshop concluded by studying the politicization of ‘quality’ in India as neither the state nor the market is fully equipped to determine the goals of higher education.
In the final workshop, participants looked at regulation of the media sector along with Mr. Krishnaprasad (current Member of Press Council of India) and Mr Ravindra Kumar (MD and Editor of “The Statesman”, former President of Indian Newspaper Society). Participants began by highlighting the corporate incentive to get into media, which leads to creation of monopolies by mainstream media businesses. While this is a trend that has been taken to the extreme in the US, the Indian media still has a healthy degree of competition especially including Hindi and regional language media. Students discussed horizontal and vertical ‘cross-media ownership’ through print, online, television and radio as well as DTH and streaming or broadband services and looked at contemporary issues including the influence of TRPs and advertising, role of social media in spreading fake news and political biases of certain journalists. There was particular interest in the social and political role media could play in what is increasingly being described as a “post truth society” and where regulation could induce media houses to be more responsible and where it restricted the freedom of the press. Both Mr. Kumar S and Ms. Anitha spoke about their personal experiences as print journalists in the Kannada press and what inspired them to take up the profession in the first place. The session ended with Mr. Ravindra Kumar joining in via videoconference to add his insights on the contemporary scenario of ‘media divergence’ or segmentation in the market and take questions.