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‘Our power rests in numbers’. The role of expert-led policy processes in addressing water quality: the case of peri-urban areas in the national capital region of Delhi, India

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posted on 2023-06-08, 14:05 authored by Timothy Karpouzoglou
This thesis explores the role of expert-led policy processes in addressing water quality. It does so by drawing on the ‘peri-urban’ as a setting which exemplifies contemporary social and environmental challenges associated with river and groundwater pollution, as well as the health and livelihood implications for the poorest citizens in peri-urban areas. The peri-urban area of Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi, provides a good reference point for understanding those challenges, while India’s environmental regulatory agency (the Central Pollution Control Board) demonstrates how policy experts influence such a setting by enacting their institutional role and mandate. The thesis examines the ways in which problems associated with deteriorating water quality in peri-urban areas are often neglected in expert-led policy processes, and the consequent implications for peri-urban poor communities. It argues that expert-driven policy approaches to addressing water quality are formulated almost exclusively on scientific grounds, while underlying ‘non-scientific’ decisions and choices, emerging from actors operating at levels from policy framing to policy implementation, are not awarded the same importance, thus ignoring issues that pertain to the social, environmental and political implications of the problems. By drawing on qualitative research, the thesis focuses on two case studies. One examines the Central Pollution Control Board’s framing of policy initiatives while the other follows the implementation of such policies in peri-urban Ghaziabad. The thesis demonstrates how the scale of monitoring water quality is heavily biased towards national rather than local level priorities. This leads to an understatement of important water quality problems that affect peri-urban areas in favour of large-scale analyses of pollution in river basins. This has the effect of understating important water quality problems that affect peri-urban areas in poorer localities such as villages within the Ghaziabad district. The centrality of technical discourses in the articulation of and response to water quality problems makes it difficult for non-technical perspectives (derived directly from those people who are exposed to pollution) to feed into formal decision-making. This research also identified the key influence of a number of actors (municipal engineers, public health officials and district magistrates) in shaping and implementing policy outcomes on the ground in local contexts (i.e. peri-urban areas), even though their roles are often not recognised formally. The thesis is original in its attempt to merge insights from policy studies and science technology studies (STS) and apply them to the domain of water quality, a field that has not traditionally been subjected to critical social science inquiry. It also unpacks ethnographically the Board’s dual role as both a policy advisor and regulator, and further illustrates how the enactment of these roles can lead to contradictory outcomes on the ground, particularly for the poorest periurban citizens.


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  • SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit Theses

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University of Sussex

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