SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Chhotray, Vasudha (2003) Decentralised development: State practices from India's watershed development programme. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

[img] PDF - Submitted Version
Download (14MB)


Decentralisation is now central in the theorisation and practice of contemporary government. Within the contemporary mainstream discourse, decentralisation is projected as a policy move to localise as well as reduce the domain of state intervention. This discourse is supported by the new institutionalist, communitarian and New Political Economy (NPE) theories. However, the concept of decentralisation, as underpinned by these theories, rests on highly questionable assumptions regarding the relationships between individuals, communities, markets and states. In the process of defining decentralisation simplistically, as 'less of state', the critical relationship between decentralisation and the state remains ill theorised. This is the principal problem addressed in the thesis. The particular context of study is India. The recent restructuring of the national Watershed Development Programme (NWDP), in 1994, encompasses the key issues confronting decentralisation in India today. The major elements of such policy reform embody familiar tensions between planning, politics and participation. Moreover, they appear to skirt panchayat reform, which has been long contested. In general, the 1994 watershed guidelines mirror the broader Indian development strategy, and bear a strong thrust towards viewing development apolitically. This is of consequence given the postcolonial context of development as the principal basis of state power in India. Based on empirical research in two Indian states, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the thesis reveals a strong association between the extent to which development can be depoliticised, and the political context of decentralisation in each state. This context is informed by the contingent relationship between panchayat reform, bureaucratic reorganisation and participatory watershed development. The analysis shows how different actors engaged in programme implementation interpret the guidelines, and their development discourse, differently. In the process, they adapt ruling development ideas according to their own interests and institutional histories. The thesis argues that these are influenced by the prevailing political context of decentralisation. The principal conclusions thus establish the important relationship between decentralisation and the state. First, decentralisation can vitally impact the use of the development discourse as the basis for state power. Moreover, decentralisation increases the interface of the development discourse with regional and local actors, who shape the discourse further in innumerable new ways. Second, decentralisation reveals and enhances the disaggregated nature of the Indian state. The blurred boundaries between 'official', 'local' and 'popular' power contribute both to the fluidity of decentralisation processes, as well as their positive potential for change. Far from being 'less of state', as dominant theoretical positions might conclude, the thesis shows that decentralisation augments the many dimensions of the state, its power, authority, effectiveness and accessibility.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:02

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item