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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

Implementers of law or policymakers too?


The literature on law and public policy in developing countries like India is robust in its appreciation of the policymaking role of legislators, the judiciary and upper echelons of bureaucracy. However, the lower rung of bureaucracy or the street-level bureaucrats who interact with citizens on an everyday basis, are often viewed as mere followers and administrators of existing laws. This chapter explores the potential of street-level bureaucrats to act as policymakers by studying their daily practices, particularly their interactions with the local population as well as with the policy text. This is done by examining the case of Tribal Resettlement and Development Mission (TRDM), a government policy for distributing land and undertaking developmental activities for adivasis (indigenous peoples) in Kerala, India.

By analyzing policy text and data collected from the field, the chapter throws light on practices of street-level bureaucrats as a function of their interpretation of policy text in the context of the local socio-political and administrative environment. It argues that street-level bureaucrats act as policymakers in the way they interpret policy text and re-present it to local people. The chapter also questions some common notions about the policy process and calls for a broader understanding of policymaking that recognizes the role of street-level bureaucrats in the process.

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