Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs


Cities of Delhi: Governance and Inequality in India’s Capital

Researchers: Patrick Heller and Partho Mukhopadhyay (Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi) 

India’s capital is marked by different settlement types, defined by diverse degrees of formality, legality, and tenure. As part of a larger project on urban transformation in India, Cities of Delhi seeks to carefully document the degree to which access to basic services varies across different types of settlement, and to better understand the nature of that variation. Directed by Patrick Heller (Brown) and Partho Mukhopadhyay, a team of researchers at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi, conducted research over a 2 year period with 3 objectives.  The first was to document as carefully as possible the quality and scope of access to basic services in the less privileged areas of the city. We focused on basic services such as electricity, water, sanitation, and solid waste removal because these are clearly constitutive of core capabilities, relatively easy to measure (as compared to health or educational services) and well within the reach of a city like Delhi under current levels of economic development, with a per capita Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of more than USD 8,000 in PPP terms. Our second objective was to map the distribution of these services and, in particular, to understand how they are unevenly spread across different settlement types. Of course, inequality of access to basic services is to some degree a result of income differences (class) and social status (community, caste). But we specifically wanted to focus on inequalities that are tied to legal and spatial categories, both because these have generally been less studied in the literature on urban inequality in India, but also because these drivers of inequality are much more amenable to policy interventions than class or status differentials. The third objective of the project was to identify the mechanisms through which inequality across settlement types actually works. This meant trying to understand the histories, the legal frameworks, and the institutional and political arrangements that have produced and reproduced highly unequal settlement types.

Through over a dozen reports the project provides a comprehensive picture of how the city is governed, and especially how this impacts the poor. The overview report Exclusion, Informality and Predation in the Cities of Delhi summarizes the findings from the project.  Other reports include case studies of various slums in Delhi, reports on governance processes (upgrading informal settlements, evictions and legalizing unauthorized settlements) and analyses of the role of different government agencies.  The project has also produced a number of media pieces, policy briefs and 3 publications.