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Beyond Normative, Technocratic And Economic Perspectives

Rapti Mishra

Satyajit Singh
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2016, Pg xiv 261, Rs. 895

VOLUME XLI NUMBER 2 February 2017

The work under review studies the primacy of ‘politics’ in the political economy of institutional design for environmental governance and its impact in shaping the institutions and outcome. The book holds that decentralization cannot be reduced to institutional arrangements for local governance, rather it should be seen as a dynamic process, highly contingent upon the larger political economy of the local, where, interplay between the state’s formal institutions and informal traditional local arrangement plays a vital role in shaping its architecture. For the author ‘architecture’ is a useful term as it encapsulates everyday politics at the local level which could be reshaped and redesigned to meet future concerns. The author explains why there is a need for bringing in the idea of politics to understand the different architecture of decentralization, thereby giving a boost to a better policy design which would be based on processed knowledge. It explains why it has taken a sectoral route which includes the forest and water sectors. The work uses qualitative research complimented by the structured interview. As a participant observer, the author successfully attempts to study local practices, cultural and bureaucratic behaviour (p. 29). Though inspired by various methodology, the work has significantly taken much from Ostrom’s work which deals with the problem of managing ‘common pool resources’ (such as mountain meadows, fisheries, irrigation systems and ground water basins) by emphasising on the durable cooperative institutions, organised and governed by the resource-user themselves and also from James Scott’s idea of ‘infrapolitics’ which highlights everyday forms of formal and informal local politics (p. 27). One important point the author emphasizes is that the outcomes of centralization should not be compared to that of a badly designed decentralization programme as in most of the cases despite the 73rd Amendment, many States (like Madhya Pradesh) chose the path of only functional decentralization while holding on to the financial and administrative functions. This means a lack of political, fiscal and administrative autonomy for decentralization programmes in most of the States. This work helps one to recognize why bad decentralization designs are implemented, why some well meaning designs are unable to deliver and why one should think of decentralization not as a one time policy exercise but as a medium to long term process. The second chapter takes the historical route to look at decentralization of forest management of Uttarakhand, presenting a brief sketch of the region, society ...

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