National mission on biodiesel: a study of science, development and policy processes in India
Biofuel has caught the imagination of countries worldwide as a tool for providing energy security, advancing rural development, promoting environmental sustainability, mitigating climate change, and enhancing international trade. Developing countries in particular are said to have much to gain from biofuel. Testimony to the belief in its ability to deliver a multitude of societal benefits, a number of developing countries have initiated large-scale biofuel projects. Among them is the Indian National Mission on Biodiesel. However, the global tide of enthusiasm behind biofuel is turning. Biofuel has been named as a culprit in recent and rapid increases in the price of staple foods. Its environmental credentials have also come under scrutiny, and there are claims that biofuel will exacerbate, as opposed to mitigate, climate change. The impacts of international trade in biofuel are also said to be ambiguous. Existing trade regimes are unable to provide clear guidelines as to how biofuel trade should be governed. There are suggestions that under current circumstances, biofuel-exporting developing countries – and small-scale producers in particular – are likely to be disadvantaged This MPhil thesis is a study of science, policy and development processes around the National Mission on Biodiesel in India. Empirically, it adds a qualitative account to an emerging, and largely quantitative, knowledge base on biofuel. Theoretically, it contributes to the growing convergence of social science disciplines. Science and Technology Studies (STS), itself an interdisciplinary field of scholarship, provides the starting point for the research. It also draws upon concepts from other subjects – notably those from Development Studies that explore environmental and natural resource issues – to augment the analysis. In the process, the thesis provides inputs for the further evolution of theoretical concepts that span multiple academic traditions. The aims of the thesis are threefold. Firstly, it seeks to understand and critically comment upon the vision of technology and its relationship to society that underpins biofuel in general, and the National Mission on Biodiesel in particular. Secondly, the thesis attempts to identify the narratives that are dominant in the National Mission on Biodiesel, and to explore the processes through which they have become stabilised given the contention around biofuel. The National Mission on Biodiesel intends to rely on a complex network of local governance institutions that exists in the Indian countryside to deliver its rural development benefits. The final aim of the thesis is to cast the ambitions of the National Mission on Biodiesel against past experiences of implementing development projects through these institutions. This is in efforts to make tentative statements about the likelihood of the Mission achieving its goals. The research reveals a seemingly unquestioning conviction in the ability of biofuel to transform societies towards pre-defined ends – even in the face of claims to the contrary. Although such ‘technological determinism’ has been largely discredited by Science and Technology Studies, the paradigm shows remarkable staying power. With its tradition of ‘development through modernisation’, the Indian policy context has been particularly conducive to expert-led, technocratic interventions. One of the rationales for establishing local governance institutions was to erode this elitedominance of development initiatives. Despite their intentions, however, such institutions have proved less than effective in enrolling a wider range of stakeholders – particularly marginalised communities – into development processes. Set against this backdrop, the ‘pro-poor’ outcomes of the National Mission on Biodiesel appear elusive.