Exclusion, Informality, and Predation in the Cities of Delhi

By Cities of Delhi Team
25 August 2015

Delhi is India’s richest city and as the capital of the nation has long enjoyed favourable treatment from the Centre. As the home to the country’s national bureaucracies, it also benefits from a large base of secure, well-paid, government jobs. Over the last decade the city has grown at an average real rate of 10 percent, and has benefitted from a dramatic increase in large-scale infrastructure development. Yet, despite these advantages, Delhi is a deeply divided city marked by layers of social exclusion. 

In the modern imaginary, the city represents the promise of freedom and opportunity. It marks a social space that is less constrained by traditional identities and one in which greater social interaction and density support economic dynamism. If development must, as Amartya Sen has so influentially argued, be based on strengthening basic capabilities, then the city can surely be a privileged site of capability-enhancement. Indeed, the migrants who flood the city often come in search of better livelihoods, education, health, and basic services. But as any resident of Delhi knows, the quality of such services varies dramatically across neighbourhoods, and the part of the city one lives in significantly impacts one’s ability to take full advantage of what the city has to offer. The Cities of Delhi (CoD) project starts with the simple recognition that India’s capital is marked by different settlement types,  defined by diverse degrees of formality, legality, and tenure, which taken together produce a highly differentiated pattern of access to basic services. 

This report provides an overview of the findings from CoD. It builds directly on the place, process, and institution reports available at citiesofdelhi.cprindia.org, but in no way substitutes for these reports, all of which stand on their own as original empirical contributions. This overview is instead a synthesis, an effort to tie together the findings from the reports, to paint a broad picture of patterns of unequal access to basic services in the city and to provide an analysis of how these patterns of inequality are linked to structures and practices of governance.