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deliberative democracy; electricity; governance; India; isomorphism; Regulation


India has a decade-long experience with independent regulatory agencies in public services as an institutional transplant from the industrialized world. Introduced at the behest of international donor agencies, regulators in India are intended, somewhat naively, to provide an apolitical space for decision making to assuage investor concerns over arbitrary administrative actions, and thereby stimulate private investment. In practice, regulators have had to negotiate a terrain over which the state has continued to exercise considerable control. Regulators have also been been shaped in their functioning by national and sub-national political traditions and by administrative and political practices. The result is a hybrid institutional form that combines politics as usual with intriguing new, and unanticipated, opportunities for political intervention. This paper will explore the origins of electricity regulation as a form of institutional isomorphism. It will then compare the regulatory experience in India's electricity sector across two Indian states to understand the implications of transplanting regulatory agencies in the global south. An examination of the process through which regulatory decisions are reached illustrates how existing bureaucratic and technocratic networks, transplanted procedures, and administrative cultures combine to conservatively manage long-standing political tensions around electricity. In seeking to manage those tensions, regulators often take decisions - on tariff setting, for example - based on a political reading that belies the technocratic narrative on which institutional credibility rests. At the same time, civil society groups ranging from residential associations to professional associations to individuals are using newly created regulatory spaces to structure a more deliberative decision process.