Researching the politics of development



The political prioritisation of welfare in India: Comparing the Public Distribution System in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand

Working paper 111

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Vasudha Chhotray, Anindita Adhikari and Vidushi Bahuguna
The idea of state responsibility for ensuring food security has gained ground, with strong popular mobilisations for the Right to Food around the world; but important variations prevail, both in the articulation of demands around food security interventions and in political responses to these. This paper takes a close look at India’s Public Distribution System, a programme with a long history and clear national-level, legislative backing, but considerable differences in prioritisation at the subnational level. Through an empirically rich and innovative comparison of Chhattisgarh with Jharkhand – both created at the same time, in 2000 – it asks why the opportunities afforded by statehood allowed Chhattisgarh to politically prioritise the PDS, but not Jharkhand. The paper finds that the explanation lies in the interrelated dimensions of political competition, the nature of pressures exerted by electorally significant societal groups, and political enablement of bureaucratic capacity. Finally, the analytical framework at the heart of the paper contributes to the emerging literature on the political conditions that allow the deployment of state capacity for the promotion of welfare.