State-produced inequality in an Indian city

By Patrick Heller and Partha Mukhopadhyay
India Seminar, 1 August 2015

THE city is often celebrated as the fullest expression of citizenship, a politico-spatial zone in which traditional rural barriers to participation weaken and public legality is at its strongest. But, concomitantly, cities of the global South are breeding inequality. Much of the hand-wringing on urban poverty and inequality in international and Indian policy documents deals with this tension by treating inequality as a residual problem, i.e., a problem that will go away with time, more growth and of course, the new elixir of ‘good governance’. But what if this inequality is not residual, but produced? What if inequality is not something that happens to people, but results from what is done to them? What if government policies are producing inequality not because they are bad or inappropriate or corrupt but precisely because that is their purpose; because they reflect how state power is organized and how institutions serve specific interests?

To answer this question, we draw on some of the work from an ongoing research project – the ‘Cities of Delhi’ – at the Centre for Policy Research.1 This project was initiated to ask why housing and delivery of basic services such as transport, water and sewerage was so unevenly distributed across the city. The project closely examines the workings of various state agencies, researches the rules, laws and actual practices of a number of key state interventions – in particular regularization of unauthorized colonies and slum removal and relocation – and has gathered extensive field data from twelve settlements of different types, viz. unauthorized colonies (UACs), regularized unauthorized colonies (R-UACs), resettlement colonies (RCs) and jhuggi jhopdicolonies (JJCs).