IDS Working Paper 196 Making policy in the “new economy”: the case of
biotechnology in Karnataka, India
INSTITUTE OF DEVELOPMENT STUDIES
Brighton, Sussex BN1 9RE
© Institute of Development Studies, 2003
ISBN 1 85864 509 3
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.
viii 1 Introduction 1 2 The political space for biotech policy 6 3 Bureaucratic contexts 11 4 Creating credibility 16 5 Forming a new discourse coalition 19 6 Contexts for policy-making 21 7 Channeling dissent 24 8 Selling the vision 27 9 From “fashion politics” to “real politics” 30 10 Conclusion 33 References 36
www.ids.ac.uk/biotech Preface Biotechnology Policy Series
This IDS Working Paper series emerges from a series of three interlinked projects. They involve
collaboration between IDS and the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development
(FIELD) in the UK and partners in China (Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP) ), India (Centre
for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi; Research and Information Systems for the Non-Aligned and
Other Developing Countries (RIS), Delhi; National Law School, Bangalore), Kenya (African Centre for
Technology Studies, Nairobi) and Zimbabwe.
Three key questions guide the research programme:
• What influences the dynamics of policy-making in different local and national contexts, and with what
implications for the rural poor?
• What role can mechanisms of international governance play in supporting the national efforts of
developing countries to address food security concerns?
• How can policy processes become more inclusive and responsive to poor people’s perspectives? What
methods, processes and procedures are required to “democratise” biotechnology?
The work is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DfID) (‘Biotechnology and
the Policy Process in Developing Countries’ and ‘Globalisation and the International Governance of
Modern Biotechnology’) and the Rockefeller Foundation (‘Democratising Biotechnology’).
This paper is a product of the ‘Biotechnology and the Policy Process in Developing Countries’ project.
Other papers in the Biotechnology Policy Series are listed inside the back cover. Also available ‘Democratising Biotechnology: Genetically-Modified Crops in Developing Countries’ Policy Briefing Series
Issues covered in the series include: food security and biotechnology, trade, IPRs, the role of the
corporate sector, science and decision-making, biosafety regulation, biotech in Africa and China,
Bt cotton, rights-based approaches to biotech, and the use of citizens juries to expand participation
in biotechnology policy-making.
The briefings can be downloaded free of charge from www.ids.ac.uk/biotech
Hard copies of the set can be obtained free of charge for those in non-OECD countries from
Oliver Burch, email email@example.com or purchased from
the IDS bookshop
The research for this paper has been funded by DFID under the ‘Biotechnology and the Policy Process in
Developing Countries’ project. Much of this paper is based on several hundred interviews conducted in
August 2000, December 2000–April 2001, January 2002–March 2002 and February 2003 largely in
Bangalore. I would like to thank the many people who spent time discussing their views on policy, politics
and biotechnology in Karnataka. Shiv Visvanathan and Chandrika Parmar of CSDS provided much
encouragement and inspiration at various points. In Bangalore (and particularly at Koshy’s coffee shop)
various conversations with Narendar Pani were especially illuminating for a total newcomer to the
intricacies of the Bangalore setting. I would also like to thank the Department for IT and BT of the
Government of Karnataka for extending invitations to various events while I was in Bangalore. During
this period, I had an affiliation with the Centre for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management,
Bangalore. The views expressed here are those of the author only, and in no way reflect the positions of
the funder, IDS or IIM-B. Finally, I would like to thank IDS colleagues Anu Joshi, James Keeley, James
Manor, Peter Newell and Mark Robinson for comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The final result,
though, is my responsibility alone.
This is a story of the making of a policy, one that included many different players, located at 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 policymakers? What is a policy? What are the technical, political and bureaucratic inputs to policy-
making? These questions are asked in a particular context: 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.1 This presents particular challenges for assuring a democratic and inclusive
approach to policy-making, one that allows the promotion of new technologies, such as biotechnology, in
response to wider societal needs.
By analysing the details of a policy-making process, the paper aims to dispel some of the mystique
surrounding policy-making. For some policy-making is a simply technical process, separate from political
debate. It emerges, in this view, through a process of technical and bureaucratic decision-making guided
by the political priorities of an elected government. Thus policy and politics are clearly delineated, and
bureaucrats and technical advisors are seen to be simply responding to broader political demands through
applying their technical knowledge and administrative skills. This view, then, conjures up a simple, linear
view of policy-making.2 This contrasts, however, with a more complex and nuanced view which sees
policy-making as distinctly non-linear, and where the political and the technical are deeply intertwined in
processes of mutual construction. Policies are thus shaped by competing narratives, informed by divergent
interests, and articulated by different discourse coalitions. In this view, then, policy can be seen at one
time as a technical prescription, a symbolic device and a political instrument. The shaping of policy
emerges over time, both in its formulation and in implementation, by the interaction of a range of actors –
politicians, bureaucrats, technical experts, civil society players and so on – in a variety of networks. In
order to understand policy-making, then, one has to delve into this social and political melee, and to
contextualise the process with insights into particular political, bureaucratic and socio-economic settings.3
It remains an open question as to whether the patterns described in this paper are evident in other policy areas
such as social policy, agriculture etc.
2 See, for example, Hill (1997) and John (1998) for comprehensive reviews of different approaches to
understanding policy processes.
A huge and varied literature informs this approach, ranging from more discursive approaches to understanding
policy knowledge/power to more structural analyses of political interests to approaches looking at actor-
networks, agency and practice. This is brought together in Keeley and Scoones (2003, chapter 2). This draws on
a range of key concepts, including: policy narratives (e.g. Roe 1991), policy networks (e.g. Jordan 1990),
discourse coalitions (Hajer 1995), epistemic communities (Haas 1992), mutual construction (Shackley and
Wynne 1995), and policy space (Grindle and Thomas 1991), among others.
Much has been written about policy-making in India, but relatively little has focused on the emergent
dynamics in the post-economic reform era.4 The period since 1991 has seen some major changes in the
way the centre and states interact, the degree of fiscal independence of state governments, and the
importance of attracting external (often foreign) investment. With the decrease in state support, and
particularly centrally-directed state planning, has meant also that the private sector has taken on a new
significance. All these factors suggest the possibility of new styles of politics and policy-making. The term
“new economy” connotes a number of elements in the popular, and particularly media, imagination: a
neo-liberal turn (although, as many have pointed out, this has been fairly half-hearted in some sectors,
notably agriculture) and the encouragement of private sector investment to support economic growth are
usually defined as the major factors. The new economy is also driven by new industries – particularly
knowledge-based ones – and information technology and biotechnology are seen as very much part of the
piece. Thus understanding policy-making processes in the “new economy” era suggests some important
questions. Does the new economic and political dispensation mean a different politics of policy-making?
Does the “new economy” provoke alternative approaches? And what does this mean for processes of
inclusion or exclusion, the types of interest groups who mobilise, the levels of democratic accountability
and the role of different forms of expertise?
The biotechnology case provides a useful lens through which to explore these wider issues.
Biotechnology is seen as a prime exemplar of the “new economy”, offering products ranging from
transgenic crops to new forms of medical intervention. In India biotech entrepreneurs are aiming high,
with all sorts of claims being made about the potentials of the sector.5 Unlike in previous eras, where state
support and plan budgets were allocated by the centre, biotech is driven largely by the private sector, and
often through direct or joint venture arrangements with large, foreign multinational companies. As a
knowledge-based industry, requiring a highly skilled workforce, and a reliance on good infrastructural
support and the import of key materials, biotechnology requires a different type of backing from the state.
This paper looks at the biotechnology sector in general within Karnataka, but highlights in particular some
of the tensions between different applications, with agricultural products (notably Bt cotton) generating
much controversy, whereas health applications or those based on information processing (bioinformatics)
being less controversial. As a new industry, with a range of scientific uncertainties associated with
potential risks to health or environment, and one which has generated much public controversy globally,
For some of the classic treatments see Frankel (1978); Bardhan (1984); Rudolph and Rudolph (1987), for
example. These offer useful, though now somewhat out-dated assessments of the relationships between policy
and politics. However, they do not look extensively at policy processes, and the importance of science-
technology expertise in policy-making (although see Varshney (1989) for a rare exception). More recent
assessments focus to some extent on the post reform context: for example: Jenkins (1999); Corbridge and
Harriss (2000) and certain chapters in Sachs et al.
(eds) (1999) and Kohli (ed.) (2001). Also see, Rudolph and
Rudolph (2001a, b); Joseph (2001) for relevant commentaries on new patterns in politics and governance.
Again these works remain surprisingly silent on the key interactions between science, business and politics in
the new economy era. However, for a literature review/bibliography on policy process literature on India see
Mooij and Vos (2003).
See various releases from the Confederation of Indian Industries, www.ciionline.com. Also see:
www.bangalorebio.com/survey for a recent Karnataka-based assessment (see also Scoones 2002, and below).
- IDS Working Paper 196
- Biotechnology Policy Series