The Role of Legal Process in the Redesign of Indian Government-Business Relations

Working Paper

Published By

CDDRL Working Papers

October 2009

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The institutional context of economic activity in India has undergone tremendous change in the past 15 years. The Government of India's launch of market-based economic reforms in 1991 was a response to a macro-economic crisis emanating from a deficit in the balance of payments. The economic dynamism that ensued thereafter has surprised many observers. Though high economic growth rates have attracted the most attention, concurrent changes in economic institutions have been no less important. During the 1980s, the Indian economy was characterized by pervasive controls on all aspects of market- functioning of industrial enterprises-entry, capacity expansion, exit, pricing and distribution. During the initial phase of the reforms, policy attention focused on stabilization of the macro-economy. It would be fair to state that there was no coherent institutional road-map that Indian reformers had in mind when the process began. The overall policies were shaped by the "Washington Consensus" model. This meant focusing on reducing the fiscal deficit and downsizing the all-encompassing role of government in economy. The original intent of industrial and trade policies were abolition of controls and trade liberalization, and these were pursued vigorously. It was only during the mid-90s that institutional change relating to government-business relations came into the policy radar. The need for better regulation in several infrastructure sectors became apparent after the failure of efforts to disinvest in and to privatize some large public sector infrastructure enterprises. Policy makers began to refer to regulatory institution building and associated legislative enactments as "second-generation" reforms. Since then, there has been a steady focus on the institutional dimension-in particular with respect to the establishment of a number of regulatory institutions.

Our paper seeks to explain the ongoing process of regulatory evolution, and the crucial role of legal process. The institutional framework governing the regulation of business enterprises may well take a decade to attain mature stability. It is important to appreciate the fact that this process of institutional reform is not being driven by any particular political agenda. It has acquired a momentum of its own. Different political coalitions have ruled the Central government since 1991 without substantially reversing the direction of institutional evolution. This paper attempts to provide an explanation of the process of evolution of a regulatory framework. In this paper, we examine the case of the Indian telecommunications industry in detail, but we believe that our basic explanatory framework is valid more generally.

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