This presentation draws upon findings from the research project ‘Small cities, urban environments and governance’ that examined environmental governance and politics in selected small and medium urban agglomerations (with 100,000-500,000 inhabitants) of Gujarat and West Bengal. Through the example of the governance of different elements of the urban environment, understood in a large sense, we attempt to explore the flows of information, ideas and resources that characterize urban governance in these two states with contrasting political trajectories in terms of neoliberal reform and decentralization policies.
Our analysis starts at the local level with a description of networks that poor and middle-class urban dwellers access in order to solve different environmental problems or improve the quality of their immediate urban environment and amenities (e.g., water supply, waste disposal, green spaces). While elected ward councilors appear to play an important role (besides political party workers and neighborhood clubs) in West Bengal, political society plays a much reduced role in the studied small cities of Gujarat where the administrative apparatus seems much more important in grievance redressal.
Furthermore, we examine the complex relationships between governance actors at the municipal level, including bureaucrats, elected officials and civil/political society that are often nested in governance practices at larger scales. Our analysis suggests that small municipalities in both Gujarat and West Bengal have relatively little autonomy in governing their environment. This is in part due to financial constraints, and in part due to national and state-level schemes that prescribe certain solutions. Disparities between municipalities are however very large as efficiency in tax collection varies enormously, leaving the cities in vastly different financial situations. In Gujarat, several initiatives are taken by the state level to further strengthen its control of the municipalities.
René Véron is Professor at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). His current research centers on questions around urban development, environment and governance. He is interested in developing alternative, post-structuralist and policy-relevant approaches within Urban Political Ecology.
Natasha Cornea is a PhD candidate with the Institute of Geography and Sustainability of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). Her research interests center on the ways in which relationships of power manifest in and continually reshape cities as lived environments. Her PhD research explores practices of everyday environmental governance in small cities in West Bengal, India.
Anna Zimmer is a Postdoc Research Fellow at the Institute of Geography and Sustainability of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) and lives in New Delhi (India). Her PhD investigated the everyday governance of Delhi’s waste waterscapes. She currently works on the urban political ecology of India’s small cities, attempting to contribute to theory building from the ‘South’.
This is the seventieth in a series of Urban Workshops planned by the Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), New Delhi and Centre for Policy Research (CPR). These workshops seek to provoke public discussion on issues relating to the development of the city and try to address all its facets including its administration, culture, economy, society and politics. For further information, please contact: Christine Ithurbide at email@example.com, Partha Mukhopadhyay at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marie-Hélène Zerah at email@example.com