BOTTOM-UP METROPOLITAN PLANNING IN KOLKATA:
RHETORIC VS. REALITY
B.Arch., Barkatullah University, 2000
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Design and Planning
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
has been approved
Willem van Vliet
A f A t .
Pal, Anirban (Ph.D., Design and Planning)
Bottom-up Metropolitan Planning in Kolkata: Rhetoric vs. Reality
Thesis directed by Professor Willem van Vliet
This dissertation highlights the gap between the official rhetoric and political reality
about democratic decentralization and bottom-up planning using an in-depth study of
metropolitan planning process in Kolkata, India. The key question that I address here is
how do elected officials at different governmental levels, professional planners, and
ordinary citizens interact in the process of metropolitan planning, and which players
were dominant in the process 7
I focus on the dynamic interactions between planners and the operation of the political
process that shapes this reality. The empirical material for this case-study includes
interviews with actors involved in the metropolitan planning process in Kolkata,
documents in the form of study reports, master plans, minutes of meetings, and official
memos produced by the planning agency and by other organizations and individuals
involved with the metropolitan planning in Kolkata. Archival data from local and
national newspapers were also used to substantiate some of the information gathered
from other sources.
My analysis of the case illustrates that 1) there are differences in what the real motives
are for the state to pursue decentralization and what it claims to be behind its
decentralization policy; 2) The planning process is unlikely to be truly bottom-up if
power is concentrated within any one political party; 3) External funding either from
international agencies or higher levels of government has the potential to force change
in the local and regional structures of decision-making so that voices of ordinary
people can get inserted in public decision-making; 4) For an effective implementation
of bottom-up approaches to metropolitan planning, the planning bureaucracy needs to
be independent of the political class; 5) Bottom up planning requires planning capacity
to be built from the grassroots. This requires devolution of both responsibilities and
means/resources to carry out those responsibilities to the lowest level of planning; and
6) Politicization of decision-making along party lines limits planning from the bottom
up. Parties in Kolkata and West Bengal are hierarchical organizations where members
are accountable mainly to those above them. Therefore they are unlikely to become
advocates for multiple constituencies and effective agents of change for bottom-up
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
Willem van Vliet
This dissertation would not have been possible without the invaluable support of my
mentors, family members, colleagues and friends.
I would like to gratefully and sincerely thank Professor Willem van Vliet for his
guidance, inspiration, encouragement, and most importantly, his friendship during my
graduate studies. His mentorship was paramount in providing a well rounded
experience consistent to my long-term goals. He is and will remain a role-model for me
in both my academic and personal life.
I would also like to thank all members of my dissertation committee. Professor Fahriye
Sancar helped me see my own biases and prejudices during the writing of my
dissertation and offered valuable suggestions to address them. Professor Brian Muller
helped me identify critical aspects of the literature on planning theory and also in
organizing my thoughts. Dr. Anthony Phipps provided extensive comments on all my
earlier drafts and offered insights from development practices in Latin American and
Asian cities. Mrs. Banashree Banerjee provided invaluable support during my
fieldwork in Kolkata and helped me develop my empirical questions based on her
intimate knowledge of the ground realities in India.
Let me also say thank you to Mr. V. Ramaswamy, Dr. Mohit Bhattacharya, Mr.
Kalyan Roy and a number of others in Kolkata who agreed to talk with me and offered
important information during the course of my fieldwork. A special thanks to Ms. Kim
Kelly for her patience and support in resolving any administrative and bureaucratic
hurdles that I faced during my time at the University of Colorado.
My gratitude is also due to my parents who supported me all throughout my life to
pursue my dreams making important sacrifices on the way. And last but not the least,
this dissertation would not have been completed without the encouragement,
inspiration, and help from my wife, Yiping. Her expertise in formatting the text was
absolutely critical in successfully completing this dissertation.
1. INTRODUCTION: PURPOSE AND DESIGN OF THE STUDY........................1
Why Do this Research?..........................................2
A Review of the Literature........................................7
The origins of'bottom-up approach' in the planning literature..7
Decentralization, Participation and Democracy.................21
2. CONTEXT OF METROPOLITAN PLANNING IN KOLKATA.........................30
Urban Demographic Trends in India and West Bengal.............35
The Local Economy.............................................39
Poverty in KMA: An Overview...................................41
Environmental and infrastructure context......................45
Planning Institution in India....................................45
Planning Institution in West Bengal...........................49
Capacity of Municipal and Community Institutions.............63
3. DECENTRALIZATION & METROPOLITAN PLANNING.............................65
Decentralization in West Bengal...................................68
Partisan politics and urban planning..............................72
Three-tier metropolitan planning...............................73
Agent of Change in the Decentralization Process..............78
Actors in planning at the Ward level.........................81
4. COMPARATIVE URBAN POLITICS...........................................89
Why study Comparative Urban Politics..............................89
What is the Framework for Comparison..............................90
A Comparison with Mumbai Revisited................................97
Political space for non partisan grassroots organizing.........97
Politically independent bureaucracy...........................101
5. LESSONS IN DECENTRALIZED PLANNING...................................104
Lessons and policies for civil society organizations..........117
Lesson and policies for the political class...................124
Lessons and policies for planners/bureaucrats.................127
Lessons for civic activists, NGOs, and international agencies.129
Future direction of research.....................................131
APPENDIX: LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS...........................134
LIST OF FIGURES
1- 1: Actors and Institutions of Urban Governance.............................20
2- 1: West Bengal State and the Kolkata Metropolitan Area.....................38
2-2: Institutional Framework of Kolkatas Decentralized Decision-making......59
5-1: Actors, Relationships and Outcomes: How Change Gets Induced within the
LIST OF TABLES
1-1: Types of planning...........................................................14
1- 2: National infrastructures of local government and politics: The three main systems
in the West.................................................................18
2- 1: Kolkata's planning practice: Key turning points...........................31
2-2: Number of state assembly seats won by CPI-M out of 294 total seats..........33
4-1: Jurisdiction and ownership of special authorities within metros in 1981.....94
4-2: Local government share of major public consumption functions................96
INTRODUCTION: PURPOSE AND DESIGN OF THE STUDY
In the planning literature there are quite a few examples of well-documented cases of
plan-making and formal decision-making (Altshuler, 1965; Benveniste, 1989;
Flyvbjerg, 1998, 1955) and substantive literature on implementation (Gualini, 2001;
Mastop & Faludi, 1997; Pressman & Wildavsky, 1984; Wildavsky, 1979). There are
not many cases that analyze planning processes from the perspective of
intergovernmental relations and political class.1 Therefore political decision-making
often seems like a black box to planners (Albrechts, 2003). Planning needs a fine-
grained analysis of what actually takes place in formal decision-making and
implementation, in the transition from plan to formal adoption of the plan and in its
actual implementation, as opposed to what politicians and public officials normatively
would like to see happen (John Friedmann, 1987). Research by Flyvbjerg (1998)
makes clear that critical analysis of cases is needed to discover the whys and
wherefores of how elected representatives or other actors influence the planning
process and why and how executive officers depart from the formally approved plan.
1 The political class here denotes the group of politicians who come to occupy public office through an
The key issue that I address here is the gap between the official rhetoric and political
reality about democratic decentralization and bottom-up planning using an in-depth
study of the process of metropolitan planning in Kolkata (earlier called Calcutta), India.
I focus on the dynamic interactions between planners and the operation of the political
process that shape this reality (Albrechts, 2003; Forester, 1999; Kitchen, 1997;
Krumholz, 1982). Through the analysis of this case I illustrate that metropolitan
planning processes have to focus on the design of institutional mechanisms through
which to address common problems, values and images of what a society wants to
tackle and achieve (Gualini, 2001; Healey, 1997). The case also demonstrates that
these processes need expertise skilled in communicative people-centered practices
(Forester, 1989; Habermas, 1984; Healey, 1997; Innes, 1996) and shrewd strategic
actors understanding the power dynamics of the wider political context (Flyvbjerg,
1998; Forester, 1989; Huxley, 2000; Logan & Molotch, 1987; Yiftachel, 2000). In
addition, it questions the unchallenged dominance of partisan political actors in public
decision-making at the local level and suggests a greater role of non-partisan and
locally based civil society organizations instead (Evans, 2002; Mitlin, 2004a). In the
following section I discuss the weakness of Kolkatas non-state actors in the planning
process compared to their counterparts in Mumbai which first led me to the research
question I address in this dissertation.
Why Do this Research?
There is a growing awareness among development institutions and scholars that at the
most basic level, there is the need to empower individuals and households through
what Arjun Appadurai (2004) calls capacity to aspire conceived as a cultural
capacity, in order to go beyond relationships of patronage between local elites and
ordinary citizens. In a detailed ethnographic account of a pro-poor alliance of housing
activists based in Mumbai who are building a global coalition to serve their vision,
Appadurai (2001) sees a kind of grassroots globalization that has replicated itself in
more than a dozen countries in Africa and Asia (notably in India, South Africa, and
Thailand). He points out:
In this ongoing exercise, which is a textbook case of what
empowerment could really mean, important segments of Mumbais
slum dwellers are exercising collectively the sinews of the capacity to
aspire, while testing their capacities to convince skeptics from the
funding world, the banking world, the construction industry, and the
municipality of Mumbai that they can deliver what they promise,
while building their capacities to plan, coordinate, manage, and
mobilize their energies in a difficult and large-scale technical endeavor.
It would be expected that in a country where such a successful case of empowerment
evolved and then spread elsewhere, other cities will have the same propensity for
similar grassroots participation in decision-making. It is reasonable then to ask the
question: If such a grassroots mobilization of the "poor in Mumbai can be so
successful in empowering marginalized communities to participate in metropolitan
planning, why has it failed to make a similar impact in Kolkata? Indeed, there have
been studies on grassroots movement for urban development that point to the failures
of civic activism in the area of urban planning in Kolkata (KUSP Design Team, 2003;
E. Magcli, 2004; Sarkar, 2006). This is despite the fact that the state of West Bengal,
of which Kolkata is the capital, has had an elected communist government advocating
democratic decentralization and bottom-up planning in the state for last twenty eight
years. The issue therefore has added significance if we note the success of the Mumbai
Alliance model being replicated in not just other cities in India, but cities in other
countries as well, whereas it is failing in another metropolis of similar size in the same
country. Therefore there is a need for comparative research2 in order to better
2 My research was a study of a single case, with only limited comparison to metropolitan planning in other
cities. Nevertheless, the selection of my case (Kolkata) was based on the above idea of comparing Kolkata
with the political and planning culture in cities like Mumbai whose civic activism and political and
planning culture have been extensively researched already.
understand the differences in contexts that might explain the difference in grassroots
empowerment in cities in India.
There are a number of possible explanations for the difference in civic activism
between Kolkata and some of the other cities in India. In recent years, there has been a
growing interest among scholars in various disciplines to include both political and
planning culture (Cullingworth, 1993; J. Friedmann, 2005b; Bishwapriya Sanyal,
2005a) and culture in general (Appadurai, 2004; Rao & Walton, 2004; Sen, 2004) in
the debate over development and public action. It is in culture that ideas of the future,
as much as those about the past, are embedded and nurtured (Appadurai, 2004). Thus,
it is in culture that the future-oriented logic of planning and development finds a
natural ally. And since culture is dynamic in nature, it provides decision-makers a point
to intervene in the process of planning for the future. Each place has its own political
and planning culture uniquely defined by its local values and historic legacy and
continually altered by the process of social learning. Can culture then explain the
difference in civic activism between Kolkata and Mumbai?
I argue here that, till not so long ago, Kolkata had an active urban social movement (in
the form of NGO activism and voluntarism) no less than Mumbais. Eldrid Mageli
(2001 p.26-48) in her dissertation describes the long and rich tradition of associational
life from the colonial times in Kolkata that has contributed to the use of the term
Bengali Renaissance to characterize this epoch. She also describes the
disillusionment with the government performance in substantially improving the lives
of the poor in the late 1960s and more in 1970s in West Bengal. Economic crises and
political instability, droughts, floods and price rises, and the influx of refugees after the
liberation of Bangladesh, contributed to the emergence of a new generation of social
and political activists. In Kolkata, numerous civil rights groups were formed to protest
the imposition of a state of national Emergency in 1975. Soon after, peoples
participation and empowerment of the poor became part of the new rhetoric among
NGO activism. In particular, an alliance similar to the one in Mumbai evolved under
the initiative of a Kolkata-based NGO called Unnayan (a Bengali word meaning
'development). It constituted of a Community Based Organization (CBO) called
Chhinnamul Sramajibi Adhikari Samity and the National Campaign for Housing
Rights that engaged in advocacy and lobbying within the governments policy-making
process. The launch of the National Campaign for Housing Rights at the national level
led Unnayan to be regarded as significant in the urban social movement in India.
Eventually in late 1990s, the NGO and the campaign lost steam and disintegrated.
If we delve deeper into why the NGO, Unnayan failed to sustain itself in its effort to
play a significant role in metropolitan planning, we find hints of political
fragmentation (many of the workers of Unnayan were members of the radical Naxalite
movement of the 1960s and 70s and the general perception among the field workers of
Unnayan was that the organization was being driven by foreign-educated, upper
middle class elites) which resulted in a perceived class fragmentation and ultimately
demise of the organization (sec Mageli, 2001 p.221).
Non-partisan, non-governmental organizations in Kolkata existed not just in the past.
In areas other than urban development planning, Kolkata still has successful examples
of civic activism. A case in point is public health, in particular, HIV/AIDS prevention
among the prostitutes of Kolkatas red-light district of Sonagachhi. Instead of using
health extension workers to spread AIDS awareness and increase condom use, a team
of doctors trained a small group of twelve sex workers as peer educators to pass on
information to their coworkers. This process of mobilizing the sex workers for HIV-
AIDS intervention, led, over a period of two or three years, to a metamorphosis in the
sex-workers aspirations. They founded a union called Durbar Mahila Samanwaya
Committee (DMSC literally meaning Powerful Women Co-ordination Committee) to
fight for legalization, reduction in police harassment, and other rights (Rao & Walton,
2004). The mobilization of this marginalized and stigmatized population has been
widely acclaimed not just nationally but internationally. Now, sex workers from all
over Asia visit Kolkata to learn from the DMSC about how to organize themselves to
demand legal rights and protection, how to practice safe sex by making condom use
mandatory and how to keep away all those who try to take away their hard earned
incomes (Bhaumik, 2005).
My hypothesis is that DMSCs success with HIV/AIDS prevention among the sex
workers in Kolkata is attributable to the political space that these marginalized women
had where none of the political parties saw a potential to mobilize popular support. The
social stigma attached to prostitutes in a conservative society like Kolkata prevented
political parties from co-opting HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness activities among
prostitutes. This has allowed NGOs and civic activists to get involved and work with
the sex-workers in a way that was hugely successful.
Based on the experiences from Unnayan and DMSC, I derived the following
hypothesis: Extreme politicization of decision-making along party-lines is preventing
the political space needed for non-partisan, non-state civic associations to effectively
participate in the planning process in Kolkata. As a consequence, excessive partisan
politicization of local decision-making is in-fact detrimental to the cause of
decentralized metropolitan planning.
There has been insufficient literature evaluating and challenging the established notion
of bringing decentralized planning and decision-making by promoting the idea of
elected local governments. My hypothesis as described above therefore raises the
question whether the arguments put forward by the international agencies such as the
World Bank and the UN-Habitat about good governance requiring local elections (Linn
& World Bank., 1983; UNCHS(Habitat), 1996) are valid throughout the world.
In the subsequent chapters I will narrate a story of how public decisions are taken in
metropolitan Kolkata and how citizens exercise their agency within the socio-political-
historic structure of the city. From this story, which is specific to Kolkata, I will try to
discern some generalizable lessons in terms of public policy and institutional
infrastructure that will also be applicable in other cities.
The selection of the case was also based on observing phenomena that are less
frequently studied. The scale (metropolitan versus municipal level in most cases), the
subject matter (the planning process not a project or program), a different political
tradition (post-colonial single-party hegemony in an electoral democracy in
comparison to European and North American libera! democratic traditions) all add to
the specificity and uniqueness of this case as compared to others (Doig, 1995;
Flyvbjerg, 1998; Friend & Jessop, 1969; Kitchen, 1997; Meyerson & Banfield, 1955;
Pinto, 2000; Savitch & Vogel, 1996).
A Review of the Literature
The origins of 'bottom-up approach' in the planning literature
In the introduction of his book, Planning in the Public Domain, John Friedmann (1987)
writes about the dual legacy of'reason' and 'democracy' that were bequeathed to us in
the eighteenth century. 'Reason' meant trust in the capacity of the mind to grasp the
orderly processes of nature and society, and to render them intelligible to us.
'Democracy' meant trust in the capacity of the ordinary people for self-governance.
'Reason' had to do with 'facts' or bits of truth that only the scientific reason can
discover and the discovery of'laws'. And 'Democracy' was concerned with 'values'
conceived as relatively stable preferences drawn from human nature, social tradition,
and self-interest. Among the early references to the idea of "planning and decision-
making from the bottom up", Friedmann cites Thomas Jefferson from a letter he wrote
to one of his friends in 1816 describing his vision for a self-governing republic whose
basic units would be rural neighborhoods, or wards (a letter to Joseph C. Cabell, in
Abbott, 1947). Only questions that could not be resolved at this lowest level of
governance would filter upward, to be resolved at successively higher levels. His
visions therefore presupposed a capacity for reasoning in all of us a confluence of
'reason' and 'democracy'. The only surviving model of such "elementary republic of
wards" is the Swiss tradition of local self-governance (Kalin, 1999) that has managed
to forestall an excessive concentration of power in the hands of a remote and abstract
state (Friedmann, 1987).
By the end of the eighteenth century, the idea of 'reason' had begun to pass through a
subtle transformation. By nineteenth and the early twentieth century, 'reason' in its
scientific and technical form had come to be ranked the highest in the hierarchy of
authority. The conviction that public affairs should be informed by planning done by
specialists who were experts in mediating scientific knowledge and action was
grounded in the popular belief that ordinary minds, untrained in the subtleties of the
scientific method, were no match for the rationality of those who knew how to make
judgments about efficiency in relating means to ends. Planning therefore came to be
seen as a scientific endeavor where planners, in their collective wisdom produced a
comprehensive plan and budget laid out as a 'rational' design, safeguarded from the
self-serving meddling of politicians (Tugwell, 1939).
Beginning in 1940s social planning experienced a remarkable period of efflorescence.
Once again, as it had during World War I, global conflict required the mobilization and
management of the war economy by the state's planning apparatus. When the return to
a peacetime economy posed equally challenging tasks, the state's planners were again
the decisive agents. The state's new role as a major provider of social services had to
be planned. And in rapidly decolonizing countries, development planning became a
popular instrument for accelerating economic growth and rationalizing the use of
In the post-war United States, planners were sustained by a widely held belief that
science and the new technologies of decision-making, such as game theory and
cybernetics, could help provide what they promised: rational counsel for charting
courses of action into the future. As the members of the state apparatus, planners were
inclined to see the managerial state as a guardian of the public interest and an
instrument for social progress. But the dream of endless progress did not last. Within
two decades after World War II, the US was bogged down in its war with Vietnam.
Poverty was rediscovered; Black power became restless; and inner cities burned.
Militant students read Marx and Marcuse and organized themselves for political
struggle. During these years, planners began to listen more attentively to the voice of
the people, and 'public participation' was given an official blessing in urban renewal
and other public planning programs and legislation such as the National Environmental
Policy Act (NEPA).
So far as the theory of planning is concerned, the culminating work of this period was
Amitai Etzioni's The Active Society (1968). Etzioni proposed a model of societal
guidance in which the people make demands, the state responds by providing answers,
the people (now pacified) accept the state's authority, and the state builds a consensual
basis for its policies. In making the state the principal player in his scenario, Etzioni
was no exception among planning theorists. From Auguste Comte to Rexford Tugwell,
planners had always sought support from ruling elites.
But in the literature on the relation of knowledge to action, there was still another
tradition that specifically addressed the needs of those who lacked substantial power.
Because its chief proponents, drawing on certain strategic aspects of three political
movements utopianism, social anarchism, and historical materialism saw power in
collective action, that Friedmann calls social mobilization. These movements arose in
response to the dark underside, the injustices and exploitation, of industrial capitalism.
Unlike social guidance theorists who codified the world of power holders, advocates of
social mobilization sought a radical transformation of society. A sub-group within this
group, composed chiefly of historical materialists (such as Marx, Lenin, and Mao),
looked to a revolutionary practice aimed at transforming the structure of the existing
power system, either through a direct assault on its strongholds or through a series of
radical reforms. Their political strength was based on social movements, particularly of
Friedmann finds planning for societal guidance as incapable of coping with the crisis
of industrial capitalism because planning is invariably integrated into the state
apparatus (Friedmann, 1987 p.10). As a result, citizens around the world have begun to
search for an "alternative" development that is less tied to the dynamics of industrial
capitalism. Emancipatory movements have emerged to push for a more positive vision
of the future than the present system-in-dominance holds out to us: a world working to
eliminate the threat of a nuclear winter and in serious pursuit of a balanced natural
environment, gender equality, the abolition of racism, and the eradication of poverty.
Though diversely inspired, these social movements appear to coalesce around two
central strategies: collective self-reliance in development and the recovery of political
Thus there is a renewed urgency in the question posed by the philosophers of the
Enlightenment: Are 'reason' and 'democracy' compatible? Can ordinary people be
trusted to use their heads in the conduct of their own affairs, or is superior wisdom
needed? Can people free themselves from tutelage by state and corporate power and
become autonomous again as active citizens in households, local communities, and
regions? Industrial capitalism has answered these questions in the negative. It has
placed its trust in men of wealth and power, the formally educated, and the experts.
This position was vigorously defended by centralists, who remained profoundly
suspicious of the "masses" (Crozier et al., 1975; Huntington, 1981). The contemporary
literature on planning theory, however, has come to recognize almost universally that
the scientific mind or the planner-as-expert, applied to practical affairs, cannot be
trusted to itself. By serving corporate capital, it is caught up in the vortex of unlimited
economic expansion. By serving the state, it works for the economy of destruction.
Only by serving people directly, when people are organized to act collectively on their
own behalf, will it contribute toward the project of an alternative development
(Friedmann, 1987 p. 11).
Assuming this to be an established position, the question that arises is: What kinds of
institutions are needed to support planning that serves the people directly instead of
serving the corporate capital and the state? Susan and Norman Fainstein (1996)
proposed a planning typology (Table 1) that provides a handy, practical tool for the
empirical analysis of actual planning-governance case studies. Planning is political,
and according to Fainsteins, the types of planning practice (traditional, democratic,
equity, and incremental) are either derived from a political theory or model
(technocratic, democratic, socialist, and liberal, respectively) or function within
specific types of governance coalitions or regimes with those characteristics. Evidently,
these are ideal types and any real planning case may present a dynamic combination of
those types. Using this language of the four typologies, the traditional planning model
is giving way to one of the other three models of planning (reasons discussed above).
In India, as in many other developing countries (see Kohl, 2003; see Manor, 1995;
Souza, 2001), the democratic model of planning has gained significant currency. The
state of West Bengal was, in fact, the pioneer of democratic decentralization of urban
planning within India. As discussed in Chapter 3, Kolkatas politicians and a few of the
citys planners take pride in the fact that it has led almost a national movement towards
emancipation of elected local representatives politically with respect to the bureaucrats
and technocrats. This, they see as a sign of progress towards greater democratization
and local accountability in planning. But as Leonie Sandercock points out, democratic
plannings legal framework has been embedded in a particular conception of
democracy as majority rule, and a corresponding belief that the right to difference
disappears once the majority has spoken (Sandercock, 2000).
There is yet another planning issue within the democratic planning model that is to
identify the right geographical/administrative scale at which to intervene in the face of
a planning problem. If a household or a neighborhood needs additional drinking water,
the solution might be to dig a tube-well. If a town needs additional water, an expansion
of the local water-treatment plant might meet the requirements. If a whole region has a
water shortfall, a system of dams to hold water and a network of artificial canals to
carry the water might be a solution. Therefore, in spatial and temporal senses, there is
no single correct level on which an administrative structure had best be situated (Berg
et al., 1993). So planning intervention in the public domain needs to address each
problem at a scale appropriate to it. Also, each level of planning intervention affects
planning at the next higher level. For example, each additional tube-well that the
neighborhood installs will cause additional pressure to the ground water reserve in the
locality much beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood. So the municipality might
have to take steps to augment the ground-water reserve and limit its depletion through
regulations, projects or programs.
The example above is an idealized version of a bottom-up planning process in which
plans at one level get consolidated in the plan-making process for the next higher level.
Consolidation of plans takes place from individual household level, to neighborhood,
municipal, metropolitan, state, national and even to international level. Therefore each
successive higher level is thought to intervene in a way so as to support the actions
taken by the lower levels of administration. In India, the Constitution and the legal
framework has been designed to support such a process of planning from below
There are two underlying assumptions for a bottom-up process of planning and
decision-making to effectively allow consolidation of plans from lower to higher levels.
One is that the power is evenly distributed in space (such that there is no scope for
such things as NIMBY, or environmental injustice) and second, it is evenly distributed
across different levels of government. In reality, and as I describe in chapter four, both
these assumptions dont hold ground. Therefore a bottom-up approach to planning
does not help in identifying the administrative level at which planners should intervene
for particular problems. This was realized couple of decades ago which made the
planning literature move away from using the phrase bottom-up to describe the
strategies by which various local level voices get inserted in the public planning
process. The phrase that has grown much currency lately is participatory planning.
This phrase has come to mean, among other things, a process by which a community
undertakes to reach a given socio-economic goal by consciously diagnosing its
problems and charting a course of action to resolve those problems. The process
includes limited mediation by the next higher level of community aggregation. Experts
are needed in this process, but only as facilitators (Jain & Polman, 2003).
Table 1-1: Types of planning.3
Type Traditional Democratic Equity/Advocacy Incremental
Political Theory Technocratic Democratic Socialist Liberal
Who Plans? Expert planners The public. In practice those who can advance their interests. Planners and community advancing the interests of the poor, racial, or ethnic minorities. No planning. Policy makers weighting marginal advantages of a limited number of alternatives for the short run.
Type of Process Top-down Participatory; allowing all voices to be heard. Bottom-up or representative. Participation (of excluded groups) is an ideal but not a necessary condition. Step-by-step, working out compromises among a multitude of interests. Atomized decision-making.
Objectives Rational, scientific planning Process (who governs?) more important than results. Acting in the public interest: rule of the majority. Results (who gets what?) more important than process. Increasing equity, examining distribution of costs and benefits. Small or incremental changes from existing policies.
Planners are not free
from class or special
interest biases, so
they end up serving
Conflicts particular social
the upper classes.
Popular will may
conflict with the
interest of deprived
groups. Dilemma: is
there a genuine
the representation of
interests of typically
Equity planning is
democratic, since it
goals even in the
absence of a
Ends and means
are not formulated,
may not work out
means to achieve
goals. Strategies to
cope, but not to
1 (S. Fainstein & Fainstein, 1996; As elaborated by Irazabal, 2005 p. 60).
The expansion of participatory decision-making venues may grant citizens greater
authority, but these institutions could also undermine municipal councils' ability to
curb the prerogatives of mayors (see Wampler, 2004 for studies in Brazilian cities). Is
accountability enhanced if citizens must still depend on mayoral administrations? The
focus of the accountability debates has been on how one agent (the voters, the courts)
can control another agent (elected officials, the executive branch). One weakness of
such a focus is that the conceptual variantshorizontal, vertical, and societaltend to
run on parallel tracks, unable to show how citizens, civil society organizations (CSOs),
politicians, and institutions may place interlocking checks on the ambitions of other
actors (Wampler, 2004 p. 75). Participatory institutions, by contrast, tap into all three
dimensions of the debates. Participatory institutions have the potential to act as a check
on the prerogatives and actions of mayoral administrations (horizontal), to allow
citizens to vote for representatives and specific policies (vertical), and to rely on the
mobilization of citizens into political process as a means to legitimate the new
policymaking process (societal).
Vertical accountability, generally framed as the control of public officials by citizens
primarily via elections, has received significant attention as scholars have analyzed
how citizens can use elections to exercise control over public officials (Przeworski et
al., 1999). Horizontal accountability, the distribution of authority among different
departments or branches of government, has also received attention as scholars have
sought to evaluate the consequences of institutional arrangements that were designed to
strengthen democratic practices and rights (O'Donnell, 1998). Societal accountability,
the pressures placed on state agencies by civil society organizations to encourage
elected officials and bureaucrats to abide by the rule of law, has emerged as a
counterbalance to the other two approaches; it can directly link ongoing political
activity in civil society to formal political institutions (Smulovitz & Peruzzotti, 2000).
Among the various means to achieve a participatory approach in public decision-
making, the one that gets greatest visibility at least in India (see Dreze, 2000), but
also in many other countries (Shah & Thompson, 2004; Suwandi, 2001) is through
democratic decentralization. This has come to be generally associated with holding
elections at the local level. But the relationship between democratic decentralization
and enhanced participation in planning in the public domain has not been supported by
empirical research. There is an inherent complexity in the relationship between
decision-making by existing state agencies, including elected representatives and
government bodies, and decision-making emerging from participatory planning and
governance. Many elected politicians oppose most forms of participatory governance
because they see themselves as the legitimate decision-takers, elected by citizens
through democratic process, and believe such participatory processes are taking
decisions and control away from them (Cabannes, 2004; Etemadi, 2004; Mitlin, 2004b).
Therefore some scholars have argued that participatory planning (just like participatory
governance) is a necessary complement to representative democracy (Mitlin, 2004b).
Representative democracy often fails to represent the interests of less powerful groups,
especially in situations of resource scarcity, where elections become a way of
allocating limited state benefits rather than making political choices. In North America,
Europe and Australia there is already recognition for the need to infuse representative
democracy with participatory democracy and also extending participatory democracy
(e.g. by funding of non-statutory groups, delegation to neighborhood/community
groups, referendums, citizen ballots etc.). This need is yet to be recognized in the so-
called developing countries.
This research is concerned with the communicative processes of policy- and decision-
making. I am trying to see how Elabermasian concept of communicative planning
(Habermas, 1984) can explain what goes on in Kolkata. I am most interested in what
Jean Hillier calls the who, how and why issues of policy decisions. Who really takes
the decisions? How are they arrived at and why are such processes used? What
relations of power may be revealed between the various participants? (Hillier, 2002 p.3)
I ashamedly admit to have been inspired by the work of John Forester, Jean Hillier,
Patsy Healey, and Judith Innes in particular. I agree with Forester (1999 p.3) on the
importance of planners dealing with far more than the facts at hand. If planning is
to be taken seriously in the future, planners must adjust their toolkits or mindsets to
the changing needs and challenges of democratic society (Albrecht & Denayer, 2001
p.371). With increasing number of cities in the world moving towards participatory
forms of democracy from mere representative democracy the challenge for the
planners is even greater. As Young (Young, 2000 p.4) points out, however, we have
arrived at a paradoxical historical moment when nearly everyone favors democracy,
but apparently few believe that democratic governance can do anything. Democratic
processes seem to paralyze policy-making [emphasis in original].
In such circumstances, it is not surprising that planners will resist working with, and
not excluding, actors that hitherto didnt have much say in planning. Working with
others that we disagree with, that we do not understand, that we do not have much
respect for, or that we might even dislike is just plain hard... We think we know what
should be done, and we do not want to listen to other peoples views (Briand, 1999
p.8). Alternatively, as Hillier (2002 p.5) notes, some planners may be happy to talk
and spin out information-seeking so that they seem to be doing something without
actually risking anything. Performance-measurement of planners in most cases
depends on minimizing mistakes by avoiding taking responsibility.
Despite the emphasis on planners role in the planning process, there is an increasing
realization in recent times that there are multiple actors involved. This research uses
the urban governance framework (Pierre, 2005 p. 16) to disentangle the complex web
of actors in the planning process of a large metropolis in the context of limited
resources. This framework allows us to observe all actors (state and non-state) in the
management of urban affairs holistically and not in isolation of each other. (For a more
detailed literature review on the actors and processes through which urban regions are
governed, see (Jefferey M. Sellers, 2002a p.6)). There have been studies that have tried
to compare nations or global regions in terms of governmental structures and use them
to explain how local government exercises power over its locality. Governmental and
political influences encompass a range of policies and institutions usually imbedded at
higher levels of government. Alongside familiar classifications of territorial structures
like federalism and unitary government at higher levels of states, more recently
established typologies of local government and politics furnish part of the basis for
understanding how these influences vary. A Aill analysis requires attention to the state-
society relations of urban regions and to lateral relations among municipalities.
(Jefferey M. Sellers, 2002a p. 16)
Table 1-2: National infrastructures of local government and politics: The three main
systems in the West.4
Northern Europe Southern Europe (Anglo-) American
Administration (Local) (Supralocal) (Local)
Governmental Standardized but Centralized Decentralized,
organization, finance decentralized (prefectoral system) unstandardized
Legal supply Extensive local Administrative Limited, functional
authorities regulation authority
Politics (Supralocal) (Local) (Local)
Supralocal representation of municipal interests Weak Strong Moderate
Political parties, organized interests Strong Moderate Weak
Within the urban governance literature there are scholars who have come up with
models to describe the relationships between various actors who actively take part or
influence in the urban planning and decision-making process. See Fig 1-1 below for 4
4 Source: (Jefferey M. Sellers, 2002a) p.17.
the a categorization of these actors within the State-Market-Civil Society framework
(Devas, 2004). In addition to these actors, there are external agents of change (such
as international bilateral and multilateral aid agencies) that sometimes can play a
crucial role in changing the balance of power within local structures of decision-
making. Although they function in a hierarchical top-down fashion, when they choose
to work directly with grassroots groups or promote these groups in the formal
staictures of local governance, they initiate positive change towards a bottom-up
approach to public decision-making. In the case of Kolkata, as we will see later in
subsequent chapters, the new actor was DFID that tried to change the existing structure
of metropolitan decision-making. This is discussed in greater details in chapter 5.
Figure 1-1: Actors and Institutions of Urban Governance5
5 Source: Devas, 2004.
Decentralization Participation and Democracy
Decentralization is a word used by many in many different ways. Businesses and big
corporations talk about decentralization; governments also talk about it. Even within
governments, some use it for fiscal decentralization (Garman et al., 2001; Rodden &
Wibbels, 2002) and others use it to describe new institutions of local administration.
Here I use the term to describe decentralized decision-making. State decentralization of
higher education, health services, etc. in the US emerged as a significant governance
trend of the 1980s to 1990s. Yet little is known about how or why decentralization first
became an issue to which state governments paid serious attention. One study
(McLendon, 2003) employs multiple theories to analyze the agenda-setting stage of
policy formation in three states in the US that enacted decentralization legislation.
Roddens (Rodden & Wibbels, 2002) research analyzes the political and fiscal
structures that are likely to account for the highly divergent economic experiences of
federal systems around the world. To test these propositions, the authors use an
original data set to conduct analyses of budget balance and inflation in fifteen
federations around the world from 1978 through 1996. The empirical research suggests
that the level of fiscal decentralization, the nature of intergovernmental finance, and
vertical partisan relations all influence macroeconomic outcomes. The findings have
broad implications for the widespread move toward greater decentralization and for the
theoretical literatures on federalism and macroeconomics.
What gives decentralization so much coverage in both academic and non-academic
literature? Many donors have great confidence in the potential for good governance
that decentralization offers. Also the UN (UN-Habitat, 2004) and the World Bank
(Yusuf & World Bank, 1999) have advocated for greater decentralization. The World
Bank has recognized the need to engage in essential institution-building at both the
supra- and subnational (particularly local) levels in order to capture the benefits of
growth in the 21st century (Yusuf & World Bank, 1999). It has actively advocated
decentralizing government so that more decisions are made at subnational levels,
"closer to the voters". Such localization, according to the Bank, "nourishes responsive
and efficient governance" (World Bank, 2000). Great publicity about the economic
benefits of decentralization comes from China. China's remarkable economic success
rests on a foundation of political reform providing a considerable degree of credible
commitment to markets. This reform reflects a special type of institutionalized
decentralization that some have called "federalism, Chinese style." This form of
decentralization has three consequences. First, it fosters competition, not only in
product markets, but also among local governments for labor and foreign capital. This
competition, in turn, encourages local government experimentation and learning with
new forms of enterprises, regulation, and economic relationships. Second, it provides
incentives for local governments to promote local economic prosperity. Finally, it
provides a significant amount of protection to local governments and their enterprises
from political intrusion by the central government (Montinola et al., 1995).
There is a growing realization of the onerous economic and political costs of
centralization. Britain is among one of the most centralized governments in the western
world. Local governments in Britain now raises through property taxes, one of the
most difficult taxes to assess and collect only a quarter of what it spends and only
five percent of total government revenue, an unusually low level for a large wealthy
democracy.6 Central government controls how much they tax and what they spend
money on. As a result, voters pay them little attention: turnout in English local
elections has slumped to around 35%. In addition, monitoring local governments
currently costs the government departments in London Â£2.5 billion ($4.4 billion) a year
(The Economist, 2006).
6 In the United States, local government tax revenues as the % of total government tax revenues is 15%; in
France, it is 11% and in Germany, 7%. (Source: OECD as cited in The Economist. February 25 2006 p.
Recent political and academic discourse about devolution has tended to stress the
economic advantages of the transfer of power from national to sub national institutions.
This 'economic dividend' arises through devolved administrations' ability to tailor
policies to local needs, generate innovation in service provision through inter-territorial
competition, allow cost-sharing with local community in service delivery and stimulate
participation and accountability by reducing the distance between those in power and
their electorates. Some have argued however (Rodriguez-Pose & Gill, 2005) that there
are related caveats to all this. First, there are many forces that accompany devolution
and work in an opposite direction. Devolved governmental systems may carry negative
implications in terms of national economic efficiency and equity as well as through the
imposition of significant institutional burdens. Second, the economic gains, as well as
the downsides, that devolution may engender are contingent, to some extent, upon
which governmental tier is dominating, organizing, propagating and driving the
devolutionary effort. Also decentralization can extend the states control over the
people just as it can aid the peoples control over the state and its activities. Therefore,
decentralization is very much a double-edged sword (Webster, 1992 p. 130)
It is sometimes not exactly decentralization that is problematic, but its the way
decentralization gets adopted that becomes a problem. For example the involvement of
political parties at the local elections can be problematic (Sabatini, 2003). But overall,
by bringing government closer to the people, decentralization has widened
opportunities for deliberation and participation and has given citizens a more tangible
and "close to home" sense of their rights and responsibilities in the political process.
Real local elections for officials with real authority also mean more accountability and
better representation, at least in the near term. Groups and demands once excluded
from consideration by highly centralized and self-absorbed national parties can now
find a voice through smaller and local parties. The traditional political parties that had
existed and survived before decentralization have struggled to adapt to the unexpected
challenges posed by the direct election of local officials and loss of control over
patronage. The irony has been that many of the parties that pushed for decentralization
are simply not well-equipped organizationally to deal with its political consequences
I use the word decentralization to stand for a policy of allowing decisions to be made
from bottom-up by consolidation of plans from the lowest level. By definition, then, in
a decentralized government, no one level in the hierarchy can claim to be the most
appropriate level at which decisions should be made. Every decision made at any level
in such a decentralized process is therefore, the consolidated decisions of its
constituent units at the previous level.
There are a number of planning scholars whose works have tested the boundaries of
planning with politics (Flyvbjerg, Forester, Hall, Hillier, Healey, Innes among others).
The effect of power in the process of using technical knowledge in public decision-
making (Friedmanns definition of planning) has been studied extensively already.
This research focuses on one aspect of power how power held by political parties
affects decision-making and what are the possible ways to address the resulting lack of
Based on the literature on planning theory, democratic decentralization is supposed to
result in an inclusive process of participatory planning from the bottom-up. That would
mean that planning in Kolkata would be more participatory and inclusive than in other
cities in India where democratic local elections were introduced much later. But based
on my observation described earlier in this chapter, it is not so. So the theoretical
question that arises from this conflict between what is expected and what is really
happening is: What causes a difference in levels of citizen participation in public
decision-making at the local level?
More specifically, I ask: how do elected officials at different governmental levels,
professional planners, and ordinary citizens interact, and which of these players are
dominant in the process of metropolitan planning?
The empirical question that I address here is How effective has been the strategy of
democratic decentralization in making the metropolitan planning process in Kolkata
more participatory? The aim of the research is to understand the nature of political
context that can support bottom-up planning.
The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act envisioned that the governments of states and
union territories would take action to pass new legislations or amend existing laws by
31 May 1994 to bring them in conformity with the constitutional provisions towards
democratic decentralization as proposed in the Act itself. This task of conforming
legislation has since been completed. At this stage, some important questions that arise
on municipal decentralization include: 1) Are the provisions in the 74th CAA adequate
to achieve the objectives? 2) Does the conformity legislation provide for adequate
measures to honor the amendment act in both letter and spirit? 3) What should be done
further to carry forward the decentralization process'7
Research methods are selected based on what the question is and also on what is
practicable. The question that I am asking would require a comparative case analysis
between Kolkata and some other cities. But the resources (time and money) at my
disposal were not enough to conduct more than one in-depth city case-study for
comparative purposes. Urban governance research would benefit greatly from the
more widespread use of existing descriptive methods and techniques which produce
results that are easy to compare across cities, and thus expand the basis for inductive
theory building (Gissendanner, 2003 p. 663). Therefore I conducted a single case-
study and used literature available on other cities as evidences to support my
I selected Kolkata as my case because I intended to generalize on the basis of a single
case. As Flyvbjerg (2004) has noted in his work, one of the misunderstandings about
the case study is that it is claimed to be most useful for generating hypotheses in the
first steps of a total research process, while hypothesis-testing and theory-building is
best carried out by other methods later in the process. I conceive Kolkata as the most
likely critical case (Flyvbjerg, 2004) that would allow information that permits logical
deductions of the type, 'if this is (not) valid for this case, then it applies to all (no)
cases . As described in chapter 3, the West Bengal government is widely recognized to
be in the forefront ofdemocratic decentralization in India using elections at the local
level as a means to achieve it (Thomas Isaac & Franke, 2002 p. 15). My argument is: if
there is a deficit in democratic decentralization and bottom-up planning in Kolkata,
then there is a need to examine more closely, the institutions of governance that only
rely on local elections to promote democratic decentralization even in other cities in
Besides a selective review of planning literature and interviews with key political
actors, this research relies on the analysis of a case study. The empirical material for
this case-study came in part from direct observation, from interviews with actors
involved in the metropolitan planning process in Kolkata, and from the reading of
documents in the form of study reports, master plans, minutes of meetings, and official
memos produced by the planning agency and by other organizations and individuals
involved with the metropolitan planning in Kolkata and in the state government.
Articles from local and national newspapers and magazines were also used to
substantiate some of the information gathered from other means.
I collected both primary and secondary data. At the initial stages of my research prior
to my going to the field, I collected academic and non-academic literature dealing with
urban issues in India in general and Kolkata in particular. I also established
professional relationship with scholars who have done research in Kolkata and through
them was introduced to some of my key informants within the planning establishment
After I arrived in Kolkata, I spent first several days collecting archival data mostly in
the form of plans, reports, newspaper articles etc. I interviewed several key informants
- urban activists, academics, private urban consultants, municipal councilors,
municipal chairpersons, planners, and concerned citizens. Most of the interviews were
about an hour long and were recorded with their explicit pennission. My original plan
of action changed considerably over the course of my fieldwork as some of the
archival information collected in these early stages pointed me to a different research
question than what I had started with. (Before going to Kolkata, I proposed a research
on costs and benefits of urban land regulations to different income groups in Kolkata.)
Therefore some of the initial clues as to possible interviewees, interview questions and
analytic themes were very different from what I finally set out to write about in this
dissertation. Nonetheless, I have included all the data collected in those interviews to
reuse them for completely different purpose than what I originally intended.
In some ways I would describe my methodology as akin to Grounded Theory.
Grounded theory was conceived as a way of generating theory through research data
rather than testing ideas formulated in advance of data collection and analysis.
Although I had formulated a set of hypotheses before starting my research, I
abandoned it in the course of my research. The process of generating ideas through
data requires an innovative approach to data selection. Instead of identifying a sample
at the outset, grounded theory involves a process of'theoretical sampling' of successive
sites and sources, selected to test or refine new ideas as they emerge from the data.
Sites and sources are selected flexibly for their theoretical relevance in generating
comparisons and extending or refining ideas, rather than for their representational
value in allowing generalizations to particular populations.
Third, grounded theory relies primarily but not exclusively on qualitative data
acquired through a variety of methods: mostly observation and unstructured interviews
in the initial stages, then more structured forms of data collection as the study becomes
more focused. Thus decisions on sampling and data collection develop as the project
progresses, informed by and not merely anticipating the results of ongoing data
analysis. The process of analyzing data, fourthly, centers on 'coding' data into
categories for the purpose of comparison. These categories are analytic not mere
labels but conceptualizations of key aspects of the data. And categories are also
sensitizing, offering meaningful interpretations of the phenomenon under investigation.
Through 'constant comparison' their relations and properties can be identified and
refined. Finally, grounded theory offers pointers about how to bring the research to a
successful conclusion. Data collection stops when categories reach 'theoretical
saturation', that is, when further data no longer prompts new distinctions or refinements
to the emerging theory. Data analysis stops when a core category emerges around
which the researcher can integrate the analysis and develop a 'story' encapsulating the
main themes of the study (Dey, 2004 p.80).
One of the most important cautions that a researcher needs to keep in mind is to be
explicit about her/his internal biases. There should be a comprehensive rather than
selective examination of data/evidence (Seale et ah, 2004). I very strongly believed
that electoral democracy at the local level would enhance peoples participation. I
would have never tried to challenge my own beliefs unless it wasnt pointed out by one
of my colleagues who read a draft paper I prepared after my initial analysis. She
suggested that my conclusion that local elections are just the first step to solving the
problem of non-participation didnt make sense because all the evidence I presented
make it seem that elections were the problem rather than the first step to any solution. I
had since then gone back to my data being more conscious about my internal biases.
In the following chapter, I describe the context of this case study, i.e. the political,
social, demographic, and institutional contexts of metropolitan planning in Kolkata.
Chapter 3 describes the planning process of Kolkata in relation to the stated
decentralization policy that West Bengal government has adopted. Chapter 4 draws
from the literature on urban politics to present Kolkatas case in comparison to other
cities in India and the world. Finally, chapter 5 summarizes some of the key lessons
from this study and offers policy recommendations for various actors in the planning
CONTEXT OF METROPOLITAN PLANNING IN KOLKATA
Politically, Kolkata and the rest of West Bengal have been through a number of periods
of turmoil in the first three decades after Indias independence. First, the partition of
Bengal led to two massive influxes of refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh),
once in 1947 and again in 1971. This put additional pressure on the already crippled
infrastructure of Kolkata. Second, the violence of the radical Naxalite movement of the
1960s and 70s and its brutal suppression and the rise of electoral communism posed
challenges to the existing Congress Party's grip on the state. Finally, the electoral
victory of the Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M)-led coalition of left
parties7 in the West Bengal legislature in 1977 and its subsequent consolidation of
power at all governmental levels within the state has led to its continuing in office for
six consecutive terms spanning 28 years.
7 The coalition is popularly known as the Left Front.
Table 2-1: Kolkata's planning practice: Key turning points
1911 Capital city moved from Kolkata to New Delhi. Calcutta was the capital of British
India from 1773 till 1911. (decision in the British Parliament)
1947 Indias independence and Partition of Bengal and influx of refugees, (national and
international events combined with religious fundamentalism).
1958 Cholera outbreak in Kolkata.
1959 WHO expert team recommend need for planning.
1960 Ford foundation enlisted as consultants for Kolkata planning project
1964 Dissident CPI members form CPI(M).
1960s Equal freight introduced for balanced regional development leading to industrial
decline (National level policy).
1967 The first CP1(M) led United Front government took office in West Bengal, there
was the simultaneous peasant uprising in the Naxalbari region of northern Bengal.
1967-71 Presidents rule imposed in West Bengal.
1969-7 The second CPI(M) led United Front government in West Bengal took office. It
was dismissed after one year again by the central government because of its
support for large scale peasant mobilization.
1970 KMDA was formed to administer the funds from the World Bank for infrastructure
development based on the Basic Development Plan.
1971 Congress Party overwhelmingly returned to power in West Bengal.
1971 Second wave of refugees from Bangladesh arrive in KMA.
1977 The Left Front Government comes to power in West Bengal.
1979 The West Bengal Town and Country (Planning and Development) Act which made
KMDA the statutory planning body for Metropolitan Kolkata. (It was based on the
British Town and Country Planning Act).
1980 The Bengal Municipal Act 1932 was amended.
1981 Municipal elections in West Bengal held for the first time after a gap of 15 years
when they were suspended. Regular municipal elections were held thereafter,
without another interruption the only state in India that can boast of this record.
1983 Third phase of Calcutta Urban Development Programme in which budget was
approved for local governments for the first time.
1992 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act was passed in the Indian Parliament
1993 West Bengal Municipal Act was passed in the state legislature
The initial electoral successes of CPI-M have been largely due to the popularity of its
land redistribution policy mostly among the rural poor. Over the last twenty-eight
years, it has consolidated its power-base throughout the state including in the urban
areas8, not always by fair means. The sheer length of time that the party has maintained
its hold on the state administration has made the line separating the party and the
states administrative machinery (including the police) less distinct (Sanyal, 2005b).
Both the local and the national media have time and again reported wide-spread
electoral irregularities rampant rigging, booth jamming, casting of false votes, voter
intimidation, assault of opposition candidates by CPI-M cadres and the police etc. in
both municipal and state legislative assembly elections (Statesman News Service,
Although these allegations cannot be independently verified and for that matter the
CPI-M also alleges that opposition parties indulge in poll-related violence a matter
of greater concern is the number of uncontested seats. In the local elections held in
West Bengal in May 2003, about 6,300 seats (nearly 11 per cent of the seats) went
uncontested, and most of them went to the CPI-M and its allies (Mathew, 2003).
Although one can only speculate about the reasons for opposition parties not fielding
candidates for these seats, the fact remains that one party has held sway over the state
administration for a long period of time, and that this one-party status has led the state
to a condition that can best be described as a pseudo-democracy.
It would be wrong, though, to assume that fraud and the threat of violence are the only
reasons for the Left Fronts continuous electoral victories. The opposition parties in the
state are disorganized and highly fragmented. Internal divisions between factions in the
main opposition party (the Trinamul Congress TNC) and divisions among different
opposition parties have helped the Left Front in the elections (Statesman News Service,
2002). In addition, in sharp contrast to Bangalore where a significant number of elected
8 In the most recent elections, held in 2005, the Left Front won 75 of the 141 seats in the Kolkata
Municipal Corporation. The main opposition party, All-India Trinamul Congress, won 42 seats. In most of
the other municipalities in the KMA, the Left Front won more than twothirds majority. For example, in
Bidhan Nagar Municipality, the Left Front won 18 out of 23 seats.
officials arc elected as independents without political affiliations (Benjamin, 2000),
Kolkata's electoral politics are extremely partisan in nature with very few independents
Table 2-2: Number of state assembly seats won by CPI-M out of 294 total seats
Year 1977 1982 1987 1991 1996 2001 2006
Number of CPI-M seats 177 (230) 174 (238) 186 (251) 189 157 (203) 143 (199) 175 (233)
Source: Basu, 2002, Chaudhuri, 2001, and the Election Commission of India website.
Figures in parentheses are total number of seats won by the Left Front.
In addition, a recent article (Sarkar, 2006) argues that economic stagnation and
increasing informalization of West Bengals economy, far from weakening the Left
Fronts hold in the state, have actually helped enhance its powers. Using social,
economic and election data for West Bengal, Sarkar infers that the vulnerability of
those who depend on the informal economy have made them increasingly dependent
on the Left Front for protecting their livelihoods. He argues that if formal sector jobs
were readily available in the state, and if the formal legal system were less costly in
terms of time and money so that the common citizen could seek its protection, the
people would have enjoyed a more secure life and hence dependence on politics would
have been minimal. Even many among those who are employed in the formal economy
in West Bengal particularly those in state government institutions believe that they
owe their employment to the Left Front. A Class-IV staff member from a local state-
run university in the municipality of Kalyani confided during an informal interview
that he voted for the party that he believed was his atmadaata (a Sanskrit word for
food provider, referring here to the CPI-M). He believed that the party hired him
to work for the public university because he sees no difference between the party and
the administration. This is an evidence of paternalistic relationship (as described by
Rudolph, 2000) between the state and the citizens in West Bengal,
West Bengal has a seemingly vibrant civil society comprising trade unions, trade
associations, cooperatives, citizen groups such as Nagarik Samities, media based
groups and organizations, womens groups, advocacy groups, community based groups
better known as community based organizations (CBOs) and non-governmental
organizations (NGOs). However these are not uniformly distributed throughout West
Bengal. With the exception of Howrah, and to a lesser extent Bally, NGO presence is
extremely sparse in the outlying KMA municipalities (KUSP Design Team, 2003).
Youth groups exist in practically every settlement and in many cases provide a safety
net for some of the poorest people. The women's groups organized under Swama
Jayanti Shahari Rozgaar Yojana (SJSRY, a central government funded urban
employment program) are found in every KMA town and have the potential to become
a powerful platform for womens participation and empowerment.
The Nagarik Samiti a formation that pre-dates ward committees provides a public
platform for civic engagement in many towns. Trade unions and other occupation-
based organizations in the industrial towns have often been instrumental in improving
job security and working conditions. They have been identified by consultants hired
for the Kolkata Urban Services for the Poor (KUSP) a project to improve urban
services in the Kolkata Metropolitan Area, to have the potential to play a role in
negotiating improvements in living conditions in defunct industrial areas, and in
freeing such areas for more productive use to benefit the poor. The informal sector has
spawned several associations, related to rickshaw pulling, hawking and vending, daily
labor and so on, to deal with issues of extortion and official harassment.
In the subsequent chapters I will discuss some of the reasons for why civil society in
Kolkata, unlike those in other Indian cities, has not been very successful in playing a
constructive role in planning and decision-making. There are two deficiencies with
them. First, they mostly are associations of individuals with very little say in the
decision-making process. And second, those groups that have any influence in the
decision-making process are closely associated with one political party or another. This
makes them less effective in representing the interests of any people within a particular
geographic community. I will come back to these two points in subsequent chapters.
Kolkata is one of the most populous metropolises in India. It also one of the poorest
urban centers in India with a visibly crumbling public infrastructure and widespread
poverty. In addition, it is not homogenous spatially or temporally (Chakravorty, 2000).
There are distinct parts of the city with very distinguishable economic and
Urban Demographic Trends in India and West Bengal
According to the 2001 census, in India around 285 million people or about 28 per cent
of the population live in the urban areas. In 1991 there were 300 Class I cities
accommodating about 65.2 per cent of the total urban population, while 1135 Class IV
cities accommodated only 7.7 per cent. In most of towns of other class sizes a
declining trend was discernible. In Class I cities however, a steady growth was
registered with 44.6 per cent of total urban population living there in 1951,57.2 per
cent in 1971, and 65.2 per cent in 1991. Amongst the Class I cities the million plus
cities of India were growing at an alarming rate. According to the 1991 Census there
were 23 cities comprising 32.5 per cent of the total urban population. Some of the
Indian Metropolitan Areas have the worlds highest population density (Kundu, 2003).
Urban areas form the backbone of the countrys economy, acting as major attraction
zones and reservoirs of skills for the millions of migrants from the rural areas. In India,
about 29 per cent of GDP was contributed by the urban sector in 1950-51 and since
then the share has steadily increased, and had passed the 60 per cent mark by the year
2001. Thus, a little more than a quarter of the population generates more than half of
the countrys total GDP. Nevertheless, urban growth, especially in the metropolitan
areas, has been exploitative and chaotic, resulting in rising unemployment and low
productivity work-sharing in the informal sector, squatting in teeming slums,
congestion, encroachment on public space, water and air pollution and deteriorating
infrastructure and services (Kundu, 2003).
Against the background of these changes in the demographic, economic and social
geography of Indias largest cities, there is also the emergence of new cores and
peripheries. The old hierarchy of four megacities (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and
Chennai) located in different regions of the country is giving way to urban corridors
and clusters of new investment located mostly in the southern and western parts of the
country (Shaw, 1999).
Only eight of the 23 metropolitan cities fall in what Shaw (1999) calls as the
periphery (a broad term that encompasses all those regions not experiencing growth
of the type described above). It contains regions and cities that once saw better times -
Kolkata best epitomize this decline. Kolkata today ranks fourth after Mumbai, Delhi
and Chennai in many important economic functions. Though Kolkatas decline
began with its loss of national-capital-city status in 1911, it was hastened further by the
overall decline in manufacturing industry that has beset the state of West Bengal (of
which Kolkata is the capital city) since the early sixties and which persists (Shaw,
In the sixties West Bengal, along with Maharashtra, was Indias leading industrial state,
accounting for 14 per cent of Indias industrial output. This had fallen to 9.8 per cent
by 1980-81 and 5.6 per cent by 1992-93. Industrial decline has affected all spheres of
business and commerce and is reflected in the slowly declining share of Kolkatas port
and airport in all-India foreign trade. According to 1964 figures, Kolkata port handled
92 per cent (by tonnage) of India's export and 25 per cent of its import (Banerjee &
Chakravorty, 1994). In 1985-86, 10.57 per cent of Indias exports and 9.57 per cent of
Indias imports passed through Kolkatas port and airport taken together. By 1995 this
had fallen to 2.69 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively (Shaw, 1999).
Figure 2-1: West Bengal State and the Kolkata Metropolitan Area9
9 Source: Chakravorty, 2000 p.60
The Local Economy
At the macro-level, the economy of metropolitan Kolkata since Indias independence
has been characterized by the decline of the traditional jute, engineering and textile
industries. Many industrial sites are derelict or occupied by terminally sick industries.
This is reflected in the slow growth of the population, high levels of unemployment
and dependence on the informal sector, with the poor competing for survival as
hawkers, rickshaw pullers or domestic servants.
Youth unemployment is high and many end up in antisocial activities gambling,
drugs, illicit liquor and prostitution. Many poor households are dependent on earnings
of women (see Roy, 2003).
The most dynamic sector is small informal and unregulated industry and services,
often sited in poor neighborhoods and providing a vital source of employment (Sarkar,
2006). Many of these activities are dangerous or polluting and working conditions are
poor, with low wages, long hours, reliance on casual, and often piece-rate labor, with
little concern for health and safety and frequent use of child labor. As traditional
industries close down and lay-off their workers, the livelihoods of the poor and lower
middle class are becoming less and less secure. At the same time there are areas of the
KMA where small-scale entrepreneurs are developing new options. The livelihoods of
the poor can be divided into several categories:
Mill workers: mostly men with regular, seasonal or temporary work.
Small-scale manufacturers and micro entrepreneurs: particularly refugees from
Bangladesh, engaged in the manufacture and sale of articles such as bangles, toys,
bags, hosiery and so forth using traditional or acquired skills. They operate on a
small scale, due to lack of operating capital and secure markets. The working
conditions may be hazardous, using dangerous chemicals, like acids etc.
Skilled labor: in the informal sector, engaged in rod binding, painting, white
washing, carpentry, plumbing, electrical work and so on. They have no guarantee of
Unskilled labor: manual workers on building sites, roads or any kind of
unskilled local work, failing which they travel long distances to find work. Other
jobs include carrying metal scraps and loading/unloading cargo trucks.
Hawkers: often with very little capital, selling used garments or a variety of
low-end products for the poor and middle class in local markets or on the
. Vendors: retailing small domestic articles or vegetables or running teashops
and small wayside eateries.
Rickshaw pullers: as a full time or part time activity. This usually involves
paying rent or a portion of the profit to the owner of the rickshaw. The typical daily
income is Rs 30-40, although on special occasions this may go up to Rs 150-200.
Domestic Workers: thousands of poor unorganized women, many of whom
come into the city every day by train.
Fishing: this age-old occupation for communities on both sides of the river is
declining. The better-off fishermen have moved to organized inland fish farming in
ponds and bheris.
Scavengers and Garbage Pickers: desperately poor households resort to
garbage picking and scavenging plastic bags, papers, bottles and so on and sell
them to wholesalers and organized buyers. Another widely practiced income-
generating option for the poor especially old women is the collection of cow
dung for making fuel cakes (KUSP Design Team, 2003 Annex 1, p.3).
Poverty in KM A: An Overview.
It is difficult to give a precise measure of poverty in the KMA. The best available
information is SUDAs survey of Below Poveity Line (BPL) households, which gives
a figure of around 425,000 BPL households in the ULBs situated outside the Kolkata
Municipal Corporation area. With an average household size of 5-6 people, this would
give a figure of around 2,350,000 people or 30 percent of the total population of
7,800,000 who have insufficient income to feed themselves adequately (KUSP Design
Team, 2003 Annex 1).
West Bengal has been successful in reducing poverty from 55 percent (1983) to
36 percent (93-94).10 The urban poverty rate was estimated as 22 percent (1993/94).
Nevertheless, urban poverty has increased in absolute terms. The most common
definition of poverty in use is that of Below the Poverty Line (BPL). In urban areas it
is defined, as the per capita income required for a minimum 2,100 calories per day or
Rs. 415 (approx US$10) per month. 11
Following the introduction of SJSRY in 1997, the ULBs were expected to undertake a
household survey to identify the BPL population and identify the poorest among them.
Kolkata and Howrah Municipal Corporations and a few municipalities have not
completed the first stage BPL survey. Most ULBs have not completed the second stage,
which is intended to identify the poorest households among the BPL population for the
purpose of targeting the economic benefits of the SJSRY scheme. The priority rating of
each BPL household is determined by seven non-economic criteria related to living
conditions, access to water supply and sanitation, levels of education, type of
employment and the status of children. SUDA provided financial and technical
assistance to undertake the survey, which was carried out by a variety of people,
10 Planning Commission, Govt, of India as cited by (KUSP Design Team, 2003)
11 See (Ganguly, 2003) This newspaper article talks about the difficulty of identifying BPL households.
including councilors and Honorary Health Workers. The accuracy of the data is
questionable.12 13 Existing figures may be over-estimated by 15-20 percent.Ij The
proportion of BPL households varies from 12 percent (Chandannagore Municipal
Corporation) to 58 percent (Khardah municipality).
The urban poor are characterized by linguistic and ethnic diversity that reflects
historical processes of migration into the KMA. They include refugees from
Bangladesh, migrants from rural areas of West Bengal and neighboring states -
particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and minority groups, particularly Muslims that
have been associated with Kolkata for generations.
The situation of the poor is characterized by unemployment and low levels of income,
a degraded environment, deficient levels of basic services and varying degrees of
social exclusion. In some municipalities the organized middle poor such as the
refugees represented by the United Central Refugee Council (UCRC) (for a more
detailed study, see Dasgupta, 2000) have a voice in municipal affairs and are able to
press their demands for improved levels of service. However, the poorest and most
vulnerable those that live in areas with irregular tenure have no access to services
and little or no say in the decisions that affect their daily lives. They include pavement
dwellers and people living in irregular settlements on land belonging to defunct mills
or government agencies or along drainage canals, railway tracks and under bridges.
They are handicapped by low levels of literacy, and have little understanding or ability
to deal with the institutions that are intended to serve them.
The most explicit social exclusion is tenure related. The very poorest settlements -
perhaps 10 percent of the total are those with problems of tenure. These are
12 Report of the Municipal Administrative Reforms Committee 2001,1LGUS, GoWB
13 Source: Director, SUDA in an interview with K.USP Consultants as cited in (KUSP Design Team,
settlements of last resort, occupied by people who have nowhere else to go and who
are unable to pay even the lowest rents. They include large numbers of households
headed by single women, widows or women whose husbands arc sick or handicapped.
Since they have irregular income, they lack the most basic service provision, and the
inhabitants are often subject to harassment (KUSP annex 1 p.2).
Historically many poor settlements grew as non-Bengalis migrated from adjoining
states to work as laborers in the jute mills. The population in the KMA towns was also
swollen due to an influx of refugees in 1947 from the then East Pakistan and as a result
of the War in 1971. The refugees settled on government, private and railway land,
often in hazardous conditions.
Despite the diversity of low-income settlements within the KMA, it is broadly possible
to identify the following typologies:
Peri-urban settlements: those in outlying towns with rural characteristics,
heterogeneous populations and the poor living in single bamboo mat rooms
between better off neighbors. Many of these are in low-lying areas, subject to
flooding. Most of the land is privately owned, although sometimes sub-let.
Refugee settlements: peri-urban areas dating back to partition; others from
1971 with conditions similar to those above but with a marked difference
between settlements that have achieved security of tenure and those that have
Bustees and mill lines in high-density industrial areas located along both sides
of the river Hooghly, especially to the north of Kolkata. Many of the housing
colonies established by jute mills in the past have fallen into disrepair. Other
workers mainly from rural areas of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa rent rooms
in the large, densely packed slums that grew up outside the mills. Even where
mills have closed or no longer provide a significant source of employment,
housing may be characterized as densely packed, rented accommodation
organized into baris single storey buildings divided into 15-20 rooms facing
into a common courtyard or alley. Each room is occupied by a family or joint
family, with as many as 20 people sharing a single room. The landlord often
lives in the bari, in similar conditions to those of his or her tenants. Most
tenants have occupied their rooms for at least 20 or 30 years, a factor that has
encouraged a high level of bari and neighborhood solidarity. Many migrant
families retain ties with their villages of origin, and remit part of their earnings
back to their families. One of the reasons they prefer to remain in the slums -
despite the poor standard of housing is that the rents are low, typically in the
order of Rs 25-50 per month. New tenants, pay much higher amounts up to
Rs 200-300 per month. Outside Howrah there is little evidence that these
neighborhoods are being redeveloped. This may be because bari landlords are
unable to accumulate or borrow capital to buy out tenants and construct multi-
storey apartment blocks, or because of political pressure tenants can bring to
bear if landlords try to increase the rents.
Squatter settlements: the very poorest neighborhoods with irregular settlements
situated on private or government owned land. These have little or no access to
services, and are frequently located in hazardous areas, under bridges or on
canal banks and railway lines. Most unrecognized settlements have been
occupied for a long time at least 20-30 years. To avoid encouraging squatters
the Government of West Bengal policy does not allow for the provision of
infrastructure in irregular settlements. However, the West Bengal Municipal
Act provides for measures to be taken to protect public health, of citizens
dwelling in such areas and in surrounding neighborhoods. In practice, service
provision is typically limited to stand posts provided outside the settlement.
Pavement dwellers: live in the most dynamic areas of the city with a large
number in and around Howrah station. Outside KMC and Howrah there are a
few places where people live on the streets, as in the immediate surroundings
of Dakshineshwar temple where one finds a concentration of beggars, street
children, hawkers and mentally handicapped. The people who live on the
streets are a particularly vulnerable group, and are often subject to harassment
Environmental and infrastructure context
Kolkata is characterized by very poor levels of environmental and infrastructure
provision. This is particularly so in poorer neighborhoods. Nearly all low-income
neighborhoods have a degraded and unhealthy environment with a deficient level of
basic services. Water supply is intermittent. The water from shallow tube wells is often
contaminated while drinking water is only available for a few hours a day, leading to
long queues at stand posts (see Basu & Main, 2001). Drainage is poor with drains often
blocked by waste. Solid waste disposal is irregular and garbage accumulates providing
a breeding ground for flies and vermin. Many areas are low-lying and flood during the
monsoon. Sanitation is deplorable. In densely populated neighborhoods it is common
for as many as 40 households to share only one or two latrines. The latrines are often
blocked and people may have to queue from the early hours of the morning to use them.
Children, and some adults, rely on open defecation, on pavements, areas of waste
ground or in open drains. Environmental problems are not simply caused by lack of
investment but by poor planning, the absence of consultation, bad construction and no
maintenance (KUSP Design Team, 2003).
Planning Institution in India
The 74th Constitutional Amendment Act passed in the Indian Parliament in 1992
Regular and fair conduct of municipal elections by statutorily constituted State
Limiting the state power to do away with democratically elected municipal
Adequate representation to weaker sections and women in municipal bodies
through reservation of seats;
Constitution of Ward Committees in Municipalities with a population of three
hundred thousand or more, with no bar on such committees in cities having
lesser population, to ensure popular participation in civic affairs at the
Specification by law, through the state legislatures, of the powers and
functional responsibilities to be entrusted to Municipalities and Ward
A relationship of state governments and urban local bodies on firm footing
with respect to local taxation powers and revenue-sharing between states and
local authorities through statutory State Finance Commissions, to be set up
every five years; and
Involvement of elected representatives in planning at district and metropolitan
The planning institutions in India are complex and often have overlapping
jurisdictions.14 The function of the National Planning Commission at the national level
is mostly recommendatory; it includes preparing a plan model for allocation of national
resources among various central government ministries and among different states.
14 For an in-depth historical analysis of the roots of contemporary urban governance institutions in India
starting from the Mughal era see (Datta, 1999).
These tasks are increasingly being seen as irrelevant by some even within the
Commission (Shourie, 2004).
[W]hat the [National PlanningJCommission says or decides on even
those traditional functions, carries much less authority:
As an institution it has no greater expertise on those questions than
other institutions: the operational ministries, for instance, or the better-
In part because, with the weakening of the political class [emphasis
added by the author], more and more of its allocations have become
formula-based: just two factors last years allocation, and assorted
formulae are estimated by senior officials of the Commission itself
to determine nine-tenths of the annual allocations to central ministries
and to states;
In part because, having become and having come to be seen as but a
limb of Government, the Commission has got into the habit of not
speaking the whole truth. (Shourie, 2004)
The Planning Commission has also come under attack for not taking cognizance of the
constitutionally mandated district and metropolitan plans prepared by the District
Planning Commissions and the Metropolitan Planning Commissions respectively
which are constitutional entities (Bandyopadhyay, 2000). This is seen by many as a
violation of the Constitution by the Planning Commission by not recognizing the
district and metropolitan plans and not trying to incorporate them into the state and
Planning functions at sub-national scales have been assigned to different agencies at
different levels. At the state level Planning Boards have been set up. These Boards are
neither Constitutional bodies nor are they statutory entities. (The same is true for
National Planning Commission.) The State Five-year Plans generally follow the
formula of the national plans not only in content but also in methods and techniques of
preparation of plans (Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority, 2001). Therefore
the main task of the state planning board is to allocate state resources to various
districts and local urban bodies within the state. The board is afflicted with similar
problems as the National Planning Commission discussed above. These boards do not
concern themselves with spatial planning in the context of sectoral planning for
housing, infrastructure, land-use, and urban and rural development. There is nothing
in the Constitution to indicate how these district plans [and likewise the metropolitan
plans] would be integrated into the state plan. Theoretically state plans could be
prepared independently totally ignoring the district draft plans. In that case it would be
an ungainly caricature of planning from below. (Bandyopadhyay, 2000)
The first two Five-year Plans (both at the national and state levels) did very little for
cities. When India gained independence in 1947, 85 percent of the population lived in
villages. Rural poverty was seen as central challenge for the political leadership,
economists and planners. Successive five-year-plans earmarked large funds for
agriculture and rural development, and in the 1960s, drought and famine further
encouraged a rural focus. The problems of urban India were barely recognized. This is
particularly true for Kolkata. The Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M) led
Left Front government in the state of West Bengal had given relatively little attention
to Kolkata. Both ideologically and politically it was in the interest of the Left Front to
focus its attention on rural West Bengal. Through vigorous pursuit of land
redistribution programs and village-level electoral politics, the Left Front has
effectively consolidated its political base in rural West Bengal. Kolkata has thus
suffered from a Marxist policy of benign neglect. Today, in spite of rapid urbanization
(with an urban population of 300 million, and 35 per cent of Indias population living
in urban areas), the mindset of giving priority to rural areas has changed little (Burra,
Indias constitution is federal insofar as certain areas of concern fall within the
legislative domain of government of India (for example, foreign affairs, defense and
finance). Other areas fall under the states (for example, housing and urban
development) and in others, both the central and state governments have jurisdiction
(such as education, criminal law, economic and social planning). With regards to urban
development, the central government can influence states in only limited ways, through
national policies that the states are not obligated to follow and through centrally
sponsored schemes implemented through budgetary transfers to the states (Burra,
Despite progressive policies in the past, many state governments in India have
continued implementing flawed urban development policies with little or no concern
for the urban poor and other politically marginalized sections of urban society.15
Between December 2004 and February 2005, 50,000 to 70,000 hutments were
demolished in Maharashtra (whose capital is Mumbai), in violation of poll promises
and of international covenants to which India is a signatory (Burra, 2005). Similar
demolitions have occurred in other cities in India, including Kolkata.16 As described by
Burra, [Tjhese actions by the government raise fundamental doubts about the health
of self-professed democracies in the absence of counteracting powers, and underline
the vulnerability of the poor where there is a consensus across political parties,
significant sections of the media, and captains of industry and trade (Burra, 2005 p
Planning Institution in West Bengal
Kolkatas post-colonial planning experience is noteworthy for several reasons. First, it
included an unprecedented effort at transferring western planning technology (mainly
through the Ford Foundation) to a Third World city. Second, this particular transfer
15 This fact is discussed in greater details in Benjamin, S (2000) "Governance, Economic Settings and
Poverty in Bangalore", Environment and Urbanization Vol 12 No 1, pages 35-56.
On 22 September 2001, the West Bengal government and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation evicted
some 20,000 people from Tolly Nullah: 10th December 2002 another 40,000 people were evicted in
Kolkata; 2 Feb 2003 some 7,000 Dalits were evicted; and on 15 December 2003, 75,000 people along
the canal side settlements at Bagbazar and Cossipore area were evicted. See Asian Coalition for Housing
Rights (http://www.achr.net/imDacts.htm) for details.
represented a major paradigm shiftfrom the highly codified physical master
planning of the British Colonial administration to a performance and mission-oriented
strategic planning approach heavily influenced by contemporary social sciences. Third,
it serves as a graphic example of how the larger picture of a citys future is drawn by
the forces of politics and economics (Banerjec & Chakravorty, 1994).
It is now clear that since the departure from Kolkata of foreign experts, the institutional
apparatus for planning has undergone several mutations as it has adapted to local
expertise, politics and bureaucracy (Banerjee & Chakravorty, 1994). The urgency of
planning for Kolkata was first recognized as the result of a public health crisis in 1958
- the outbreak of cholera in the city that claimed about 250 lives. In 1959, a team from
the World Health Organization recommended immediate planning for potable water
supply, drainage and sewerage, along with a general planning effort to address the
abominable condition of the citys transportation system, housing, slums, and land use.
In 1960, Ford Foundation was enlisted as consultants to a Kolkata planning project.
When Ford Foundation consultants came to Kolkata in the early sixties, however, no
state or local agency existed with responsibility for urban or regional planning. An
authority was needed to receive the advice of the Ford Foundation experts; the Calcutta
Metropolitan Planning Organization (CMPO) was created in 1961 to plan for the entire
metropolitan area and to offer the experts a base (Banerjee & Chakravorty, 1994).
The effect of the American planning style was apparent from the very beginning.
Despite the presence of the prominent land-use planners, the conventional British
master plan approach, still popular in most parts of the world, was dropped. The Basic
Development Plan (BDP) concept was advanced instead. Such a plan was seen as
much more encompassing and strategic in scope than a physical master plan. The BDP
was to emphasize economic development within the regional context (Banerjee &
The planning document proposed that separate detailed plans for water and sanitation,
and for traffic and transportation be made within the overall framework of the BDP,
whose recommendations nevertheless remained indicative only. That is, instead of
earmarking specific projects, the BDP should simply outline the desired direction of
growth. The plan was meant to be comprehensive, covering all facets of urban life
including health, education, recreation and beautification. An urban policy planning
exercise of such scope had never before been attempted in India. The data
requirements were immense, while the resources were scant.
The document finally published in December 1966 was the first perspective plan for
Kolkata. It was expected to cover the twenty-year period from 1966 to 1986. Although
the BDP was never intended to be project specific, it now included a list of projects
already under way or under consideration. The list of specifics, although perhaps
inevitable, greatly compromised the plans original intent. Yet this list turned out to be
the very essence of the BDP.
Other criticisms of the BDP did not surface publicly at that point. Over time, however,
the BDPs emphasis on economic development was criticized as grandiose but lacking
in tangible prescriptions for generating hard revenue. The plan was also criticized as a
remiss in encouraging participation by local urban public works agencies (e.g. the
Calcutta Improvement Trust) or local governments (e.g., the Kolkata Municipal
Corporation or the Howrah Municipality). Moreover, despite the preponderance of
urban informal sector employment in the Kolkata area, its role in economic
development was not incorporated into the BDP perspective (Banerjee & Chakravorty,
But what really upstaged the BDP were the political changes that began in the late
sixties. By the mid-sixties the leftist political parties led by the Communist Party of
India Marxist (CPI-M) had made strong inroads in state politics. In the state elections
of 1967 the BDPs principal patron, the Congress Party, which had held power in the
state without interruption since independence in 1947, lost to a coalition of leftist
parties. Although technically the BDP survived, it was pushed to the side by the
political instabilities of subsequent years. The next four years saw three elections and
several coalition governments of left- and right-wing parties, each lasting for about a
year on average. The political instability and partisan infighting soon escalated to
widespread violence, triggered mainly by a new radical force, the Naxalite movement.
Marxist-Leninist in ideology, the Naxalites rejected the democratic process and sought
to capture the state through revolution. They challenged the authority of the established
political parties, especially that of the CPI-M. Such confrontations led to political
conflicts and violence throughout the state of West Bengal. As the political chaos
continued unabated, the national government (with the Congress Party in power)
finally intervened. What was needed at once in Kolkata (and West Bengal), the
reasoning went, was a massive infusion of funds for physical improvement projects
that would improve the physical city, create jobs, and ultimately counteract the rising
twin forces of revolutionary Marxism and electoral Marxism.
Accordingly, a special Presidential decree created the Calcutta Metropolitan
Development Authority (now called Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority
(KMDA)) to serve as a conduit for funds. Ostensibly the purpose of KMDA was to
coordinate the implementation of projects and not duplicate the functions of the
Calcutta Improvement Trust and other line agencies. The KMDA was flush with funds
from the central government and international aid agencies like the World Bank; to
move expediently it adopted the BDPs appended list of projects as its own mandate.
The underlying assumption was that better infrastructure would lead to a better
and less Marxist city (Banerjee & Chakravorty, 1994).
Thus in 1974 KMDA, with the help of a $35 million World Bank loan, began major
projects in Kolkata. It has been noted by Banerjee and Chakravorty (1994) that the
World Bank chose only 44 out of 160 projects that BDP recommended that met the
banks criteria and development philosophy. Thus Bustee (slum) improvement program,
which has been widely acknowledged as a major KMDA achievement, was not among
the projects funded by the World Bank. The authors also argue that planning projects
in Kolkata even today remain being driven by external donor agencies such as the
Bank which subscribes to the neo-liberal development agenda often ignoring locally
perceived needs and priorities within the community.
Curiously, CMPO, the original planning organization that gave birth to BDP, was
neither abandoned nor folded into the newly created KMDA. The CMPO was allowed
to continue its planning mission; meanwhile, however, the KMDA had the authority to
plan and the funds to implement. In 1977, CMPO was formally merged into the Town
and Country Planning Organization (TCPO), a state agency; CMPO, an urban planning
body overnight became responsible for planning for villages and for those cities that
did not yet have any planning or development authority.
The KMDA, though, is an organization in decline (B. Sanyal & Tewari, 1990); earlier,
the KMDA was the supreme planning body. According to West Bengal Town and
Country planning Act, 1979 KMDA was made the statutory planning body for
metropolitan Kolkata. (This act was based on the British Town and Country Planning
Act.) Municipal Development Program, initiated in 1980s by the Left Front
government, was an effort to decentralize planning and curtail the powers of the
KMDA. In 1983-84 financial year, during the third phase of Calcutta Urban
Development Program, some of the major changes started in planning in Metropolitan
Kolkata. Some of the local governments were given a budget and they prepared a plan
of action for 5 years with a set of guidelines (such as encourage using locally available
technology and stress on sanitation and water supply, financial discipline, revenue
performance target with incentives and penalties attached to funding based on whether
they meet those targets). These are some of the major departures that have taken place
from the earlier practices. Because of its centralized planning process earlier, KMDA
had failed in most cases to appreciate the local level needs and priorities. In addition,
when KMDA finished a particular infrastructure project, they asked the Urban Local
Body (ULB, i.e. municipalities and municipal corporations) to take it over. A number
of problems in maintaining the newly created infrastructure cropped up because of
mis-management by ULBs.
Meanwhile, institutions involved in planning have proliferated. TCPO is engaged in
planning outside Kolkata. The State Planning Board, although more policy-oriented
and ostensibly concerned with state-wide issues, maintains a strong interest in urban
matters as well, and in Kolkatas affairs. Such institutions (and commissions, task
forces, research organizations) are predictable bureaucratic responses to complex
social problems in developing countries, serving as effective foils against political heat,
diffusing accountability, and excusing failure to act (Banerjee & Chakravorty, 1994).
Why did the West Bengal government initiate decentralization so early when all other
states did not initiate it? First, the decentralization process in West Bengal began even
before 1977 when the Left Front came to power. In 1973 a congress ministry passed
the West Bengal Panchayat Act, creating a four-tier structure (Thomas Isaac and
Franke 2002 p. 15). And second point is that the main reason why West Bengal
government pushed forward the introduction and implementation of the
decentralization was to implement the land reforms in rural areas so as to increase its
electoral strength. "The primary activity of the West Bengal local governments during
their first term in 1978-83 was to implement land reforms. The panchayats became the
main administrative instruments for detecting illegal landholdings, identifying the
sharecroppers, and distributing the land. They were able to carry out these tasks
successfully because the 1978 elections, held during the heyday of the peasant
movement in West Bengal, had brought up landless and poor peasants into panchayat
leadership positions." (Thomas Isaac and Franke 2002 p. 15) Thats the monitoring and
policing role among all the different roles of local governments that was played by the
panchayats. Decentralization in urban areas came by proxy not by design. Most of the
designed decentralization was in rural areas.
Different people have different notion of what planning is. For the purpose of this
dissertation it is important to have a discussion of what planning means in the context
of Kolkata. There are basically two categories of plans as differentiated in terms of
their overall objective as per one of the senior KMDA planners: 17 18
One kind of planning is narrowly defined by the West Bengal Town
and Country (Planning and Development) Act, 1979 as the Land Use
and Development Control plan. It contains a written statement
formulating the policy and the general proposals including maps of the
Planning Authority (in this case KMDA) in respect of development
and general use of land in that area predominantly concerning itself
with measures for improvement of the physical environment.
This kind of plans contains zoning and subdivision regulations that are expected to be
enforced by the respective local governments. According to the act, these plans need to
be advertised in one or more local newspapers for comments from citizens before they
are adopted and approved by the state government, (e.g. regulations for wetland
conservation, FAR and density restrictions, ground coverage restrictions etc.). It is
rigid in the sense that it doesn't change over a long duration of time. It is restrictive, i.e.
it is more about regulations to control the density of development and the type of land
use. For Kolkata Metropolitan Area, KMDA has been made the statutory planning
authority as per the WB Town and Country (Planning and Development) Act of 1979.
The Act specifies a detailed procedure to publish this kind of plan before it is accepted
in one or more local newspapers and seeking comments from the general public.
The second kind of plan has social equity and economic development as its main
objectives as opposed to improvements in physical environment.IS The West Bengal
Municipal Act, 1994 defines a Draft Development Plan (DDP) for any municipal area
as a written statement that includes the schemes of the municipality or the notified area
17 Interview with Mr. Kalyan Roy, Director Macroeconomics, KMDA.
18 As per authors interview with Mohit Bhattacharya, an ex-academic and an independent consultant in
authority for social and economic development. It has provision of review every 5
years. KMPC has the mandate to prepare such plans for KM A for all sectors (water
and sanitation, bustee improvement, traffic and transport, health, and education). These
sectors represent the five responsibilities that were conferred to the local bodies in the
12lh Schedule of the Indian Constitution. The objectives of this plan are not to regulate
or control the density or land use. Since KMPC already has elected representatives, the
plans prepared by KMPC are not released to the public for comments. As per a senior
planner in KMDA,19 there is no need for it to be presented to the public as it is
prepared by elected representatives.
There is a third level of plan. They are called the annual action plan and are prepared
by the various state departments. The five-year DDP has no meaning in the finance
department of the state. The investment decisions are made in an annual cycle. And
since the investment actions in the state are rigidly compartmentalized through the
various departments, each department (such as the state irrigation department, KMDA,
Public Works Department and others are concerned departments for a drainage related
project which might be part of DPP) needs to prepare their annual plans for approval
and allocation of funds by the state government. In some cases a development or
infrastructure project within KMA might involve action on the part of multiple state
level departments. Although KMPC allows participation of all the concerned
departments and agencies (both state and federal) in the planning process for such
projects, the different departments and agencies still need to prepare the action plan for
each year for the purpose of resource allocation.
19 Authors interview with Mr. T. K. Mitra, Director General (Planning and Development), KMDA.
The 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts of 1992 mark a watershed in the
evolution of local level planning and decision-making in India. For the first time the
panchayati raj (village council) institutions in rural India and the municipalities and
municipal corporations in urban India were accorded constitutional status in these two
amendments. They were therefore raised to the status ofgovernments at the local
level like the Union Government at the national level and the State Government at the
state level. These Constitutional amendments were followed by state legislation
compatible with these amendments. The legal framework for planning from below
throughout the country came into being by April, 1994.
These development bestowed constitutional status to planning at three levels: 1) the
village and the municipal level, 2) the district level, and 3) the metropolitan level. The
National Planning Commission at the national level was established on executive fiat
and has no constitutional status. But local and regional (district) level planning was
accorded constitutional status, which underscores the importance the national political
class attached to decentralized planning (Bhattacharya, 1998). The intent of the
Constitutional amendments was to induce the state legislatures to make such laws as
would lead to devolution of power and responsibility to the municipalities in respect of
preparation of plans for economic development and social justice.
The Left Front government that came after the Congress government in 1977 had
already adopted a decentralized planning and development policy as discussed earlier.
But for a city-region like Kolkata with 41 contiguous urban local bodies and 100 or so
rural local bodies, some of the planning interventions and physical infrastructure cut
across the boundaries of local bodies. There was a need felt for a metropolitan wide
planning body to administer such a planning exercise.
In this regard, the state of West Bengal enacted the West Bengal Metropolitan
Planning Committee Act, 1994 for the purpose of decentralized spatial and socio-
economic planning in Kolkata. The Act provided for the constitution of Kolkata
Metropolitan Planning Committee (KMPC) for the preparation of draft development
plan for the metropolitan area as a whole by consolidating the development plans for
its constituent municipalities and gram panchayats (village councils). Two-thirds of the
committee is elected by, and from amongst, the elected councilors of the 41
Municipalities and around 100 Chairpersons of the village councils in the Kolkata
Metropolitan Area (KMA). Another one-third of committee is made up of nominated
representatives of the Government of India and the state government and of
organizations and institutions relating to urban development and infrastructure. It took
seven years after the enactment of the Act before the Kolkata Metropolitan Planning
Committee was formed and started deliberating.
The KMPC is currently in the process of finalizing five sectoral plans for the KMA
area. In this exercise KMDA has been made the technical secretariat following which
KMDA was asked to prepare a perspective plan for Kolkata Metropolitan Area. This
they did in the form of the Vision 2025: Perspective Plan of CMA in 2001 (Kolkata
Metropolitan Development Authority, 2001). It is worth noting that a perspective plan
with a time horizon of 20 years was already prepared by the State Planning Board in
1990-91 which was called A Perspective Plan for Calcutta: 2011.
municipalities under the
Urban Services for the
Poor (KUSP) Project.
municipal plans for two
municipalities in KMA.
Chaired by elected ward councilors;
Other members nominated by councilors;
Supposed to be non-partition but no way to ensure this as the rules for nomination
dont explicitly say so.
Appointed by the state govt;
Very limited planning skills;
Mostly responsible for
Municipal Level i
Elected ward councilors;
Chaired by mayor/municipal chairperson;
Local elections contested on party lines
(very few independent ward councilors).
Chairperson is chief minister;
Vice chairperson is minister for municipal
40 elected 20 nominated
Elected by all
among their ward
Nominated by the
from govt, departments,
Local MPs & MLAs;
Figure 2-2: Institutional Framework of Kolkatas Decentralized Decision-making
The idea of the KMPC is to consolidate local needs and priorities as expressed in the
municipal development plans for the local bodies into a metropolitan development plan.
This invariably involves resource allocation within Kolkata Metropolitan Area that has
variable impact among different local bodies within the metropolitan area. Thus
KMPC is envisioned to assist also in managing conflicts among various local bodies
within KMA and letting the local bodies negotiate development-related allocation with
the state government.
It is a hard reality that the task involved in preparing the municipal development plan
as the Constitution wishes, cannot be performed by the municipalities all by
themselves. The reason lies not in municipal institutional debility, but lack of
organizational capacity (Bhattaeharya, 1998). For, given their fiscal constraints the
municipalities will remain incapacitated from bearing the financial cost of internalizing
the required planning expertise. A cost effective and workable alternative is the
preparation of model development plans for a municipality in each size class small,
medium, and large by a multidisciplinary expert group. KMDA has offered to
prepare model plans for two municipalities (Titagarh and Barrackpore) within KMA. It
remains to be seen how successful these model plans become as helpful tools for other
municipalities to prepare their plans themselves.
In most ULBs ward committees have only recently been formed, and as such, their role
is still evolving. The value of the ward committee is, however, generally accepted, and
most committees meet on a monthly basis, with annual meetings open to the general
public. Membership of the ward committees is broadly as per Ward Committee rules
set by the government of West Bengal. The background and range of members varies
from ward to ward depending on such factors as the councilor, chairperson and the
nature of the ward. In poorer wards there tends to be greater representation of poor and
unemployed individuals. Some councilors place emphasis on representation from those
living across the ward, and some on ensuring the committee has people with a range of
backgrounds, hence bringing different skills and knowledge to the committee.
Common features included:
Under-representation of women. Most of the committees that were visited did
not have more than one or two women members.
Limited representation of SJSRY20 or Indian Population Project VII (IPP VIII)
representatives on the committee.
In general SJSRY Neighborhood Committee members and IPP VIII workers were not
represented on the ward committees. As a result the representation of the poor is weak,
and the integration of SJSRY with Ward Committee planning has to be mediated
through the office of the councilor. In wards headed by a woman councilor the poverty
agenda is often better integrated with the work of the ward committee, since the
councilor is better acquainted with the neighborhood groups and neighborhood
committees and other womens organizations.
The committees prepare annual plans to prioritize their needs. These consist primarily
of small-scale infrastructure requirements, combining new capital works with
maintenance functions (such as repairs to roads, drains, etc). Plans are generally short-
term and tend to be wish lists of requirements and outline costs prepared with little or
no technical inputs from engineers. The planning process is weak for a number of
Plans are short-term with a focus on small-scale infrastructure and lack an
20 SJSRY is a central government sponsored urban employment program to alleviate poverty that has
neighborhood level committees.
There are limited mechanisms for public consultation. (Details follow in the
Local level planning is undertaken with a limited information base, and there is
little information about the problems facing the urban poor, or integration with the
para'1 level needs identification promoted under SJSRY. (This is an irony that these
committees are closest to the ground and that they lack information. This is a complete
contrast with Mumbai Alliances neighborhood mapping activities.)
Committee members commonly identity needs on the basis of their knowledge of the
ward and limited discussions with others. Formal consultative mechanisms are not well
established. The majority of annual public meetings serve as a forum at which the
priority lists compiled by the committees are presented and ratified. Because the poor
are generally not represented on the committee their needs are not necessarily reflected
in the annual plans. Beneficiary committees overseeing local development schemes
were found in a number of wards. Although empowered to do so, ward committees do
not play an active role in the implementation of urban poverty programs under SJSRY
Most councilors hold meetings of the ward committee in their own homes or in local
clubs or public buildings. Some of the more prosperous municipalities (such as
Kalyani municipality) have constructed ward offices for each of their wards. There
were some discussions about the extent to which ward committees should be supported
with additional staff (with a municipal officer reporting to the ward committee) and
with funds to cover their administrative costs and some minor maintenance activities.
Such discussions are sporadic and not institutionalized in the ward committee rules. 21
21 Para is a Bengali word that refers to a geographical unit synonymous to neighborhoods.
Capacity of Municipal and Community Institutions
The 3-tier womens community based structures required by SJSRY have been set up
in all but 3 of the towns. In addition there are CBOs such as youth clubs, savings
groups and trade organizations in almost every poor neighborhood. Currently TPOs
have been appointed in 29 towns and there are 64 COs spread across 33 towns, 37 of
whom arc women. Urban poverty alleviation schemes are coordinated by the Urban
Poverty Eradication (UPE) Cell at municipal level. It can be said that the base for
community participation exists both in poor communities and in the municipality.
However there are serious constraints to capacity and functioning, which will assume
greater proportions with the additional and diverse demands made on the
municipalities once the KUSP project gets underway.
Neighborhood Groups (NHGs) have not yet been set up in all poor settlements, raising
questions about the representation of poor women at higher levels of the structure.
Also the ambit of their activities is narrow. Municipalities and State Urban
Development Agency (SUDA) attribute this to limited staff capacity. Community
development staff capacity is limited not only because of limited numbers but also
because TPOs and COs are not skilled or experienced at the time of recruitment.
Training courses by the state governments Institute for Local Government and Urban
Studies (ILGUS) and other institutions and exposure on the job have helped to develop
skills to some extent. But a consolidated salary of Rs 2000/month hardly offers
incentives or career prospects to COs. COs are even expected to incur the expenditure
of traveling across the wards, under their supervision sometimes spread over a large
area. TPOs are paid a consolidated salary of Rs 4000 per month and are usually retired
state government or municipal employees.
To summarize, in this chapter I have presented the context political, socio-economic,
and institutional within which the planning process of metropolitan Kolkata operates.
I have described Kolkatas extreme poverty, political turmoil in its recent history,
followed by long and continuing dominance of the Left Front coalition at the state
level, and the Left Fronts past and recent experiments in decentralizing urban planning.
The following chapter presents an analysis of the information l have gathered on
planning process in Kolkata in the backdrop of the context presented in this chapter. It
will provide a closer look at the stated goals and objectives of decentralized planning
as implemented by the West Bengal government in relation to the reality of the
decision making process as it exists in metropolitan Kolkata.
DECENTRALIZATION & METROPOLITAN PLANNING
There is a story of a would-be school teacher who was asked during an interview by
the principal of a conservative religious school, "Is the earth flat or round? The
hapless teacher looked around at the faces of the interviewers for hints and, not finding
any, settled for: "I can teach it flat or round." The above story might help us understand
the relationship between the planners of Kolkata and their political bosses at the state
and local level. In this section, I discuss the role played by the political culture at the
state level in influencing the planning process at the local and metropolitan level.
West Bengal is one of the few states in the country to have carried out all the
compliance legislations in connection with 74lh CAA, either with new laws or
amendments of the existing ones. The West Bengal Municipal Act 1993 (including the
formation and functions of Borough Committees, and reservation of seats) has become
a national reference point (at least in its conceptual form); the West Bengal District
Planning Committee Act, and Rules 1994; the West Bengal Metropolitan Planning
Committee Act 1994, and Rules 2001; the West Bengal Municipal (Ward Committee)
Rules 2001 have been enacted. Two State Finance Commissions (SFC) were appointed
as per the new requirement of the CAA during 1995-2000, followed by a Municipal
Administrative Reforms Committee (MARC) in 2001 and most recently Kolkata has
become the first metropolis in the country to constitute a Metropolitan Planning
Committee (KMPC) which started functioning in December 2001.
Although the legal framework for decentralized planning is in place, some have
expressed doubts about its real efficacy in the political context of West Bengal. In the
state, among its bureaucrats in particular, there is a perception that the state has been at
the forefront of current shift to decentralized planning and administration. A senior
planner in KMDA in one of the interviews even attributes West Bengals success in
decentralization as the driving factor for the passage of the 73rd and 74th
Constitutional Amendment Acts in the National Parliament in 1992. A number of
documents produced by the state agencies (CEMSAP, 1996; Kolkata Metropolitan
Development Authority, 2001) and also by academicians and practitioners (Ghosh,
1996; KUSP Design Team, 2003) have claimed West Bengal to be a pioneer in terms
of developing the legislative framework for elected local self-government in India. At
the same time, there are others (Webster, 1992) who have expressed doubts in the
states real motive for decentralization. Some have clearly suggested that the
Government of West Bengal is not functioning as well as it should. One study provides
an interesting insight into the difference in perceptions of the councilors in local bodies
and their voters in explaining the inadequacies in basic services in their localities;
...the majority of councilors in local bodies perceive shortage of
funds to be one of the most important factors affecting the provision of
adequate basic amenities...while only 7.6% of voters agreed with
this... The majority opinion (60.66%) was that the administrative
deficiency was the main culprit (Ghosh, 1996 p.45-46).
Is it really in support of the notion of planning from bottom-up as an ideological goal
that is pushing the drive towards decentralization in West Bengal? And if that is really
so, does the official policy of decentralization really getting translated into an effective
strategy for governing from below (as described in Jefferey M. Sellers, 2002a)? Are
the current structures of power facilitating or hindering the local level plans from
informing higher level decisions? This chapter tries to answer some of these questions.
On reading the planning history of Kolkata through the eyes of planning academicians
and practitioners (see Bagchi, 1987; see Banerjee & Chakravorty, 1994; S. K. Roy &
Roy, 1990 among others) one can easily see that what they describe in their works is
the official story (see Sandercock, 1998 p.2) of planning in Kolkata. The official
planning history only helps in justifying the planning profession and doesn't let the
criticism inherent in the profession get documented. Sandercock (1998), in her work
argues for the need for two diversions from the current trend in planning history: 1)
The object of planning history should not be just to describe and celebrate the
profession's emergence and achievements but also to be critical about things that have
gone bad or havent gone the same way as intended. 2) the subject should not be just
the planning "profession" and the state- and market-sponsored planning but include
non-professionals resisting and making positive change in their community and
Although I agree with her on the need for a shift in focus of both the object and the
subject of planning research, the resources and time available to me to conduct my
fieldwork placed artificial boundaries on the scope of my research. To identify and
document cases where citizens or communities have come together in an effort to resist
the official planning and development or have an alternative planning and
development (see Friedmann, 1992) of their own, would have required a much longer
fieldwork than what my available resources could afford. I chose to focus my data
collection and analysis instead on the edges of the official or the state-controlled
planning institution where voices from the citizens and communities gain entry, often
times under conditions of harsh structural constraints and bureaucratic barriers. These
edges exist at all levels of decision-making ward, municipal, metropolitan, state,
national and even beyond. Although in this research I don't study the non-state
planning aspect, I do hope the critique of the state sponsored planning and changes in
this state-sponsored planning process will bring an important change in the way
planning theory, planning culture and planning history is written and talked about.
In the existing planning literature on Kolkata that has focused mainly on the official
story we also find instances of influence from actors beyond their local, regional or
even national realm. One such study (Banerjee & Chakravorty, 1994) serves as a
graphic example of how the larger picture of a city's future is drawn by the forces of
politics and economics in conjunction with foreign expertise and values that often
come attached to external funding. My research also delves into the dynamics of
external funding and how that changes the structures within which voices of ordinary
people gets inserted in public decision-making. I will come back to this aspect later in
chapter 5. In the following section I outline the unique features of decentralized
planning in West Bengals context.
Decentralization in West Bengal
I begin by asking: What does decentralization mean to West Bengals Left Front
government? What are its characteristics that are different from the words commonly
understood idea? First, the policy to decentralize decision-making was primarily meant
for the rural West Bengal. So decentralized planning in urban areas in West Bengal
was not by design but as a consequence of rural self-government. Next, I argue that
decentralization in West Bengal is more or less understood as local
representative/electoral democracy. Participatory democracy is not very well
developed in West Bengal. The third point I make here is that democracy (like
participation) is seen as instrumental as means to some other end, rather than an
end in itself. I present evidence in support of these three points below.
Since India gained independence, there has been a systematic rural bias not just in
West Bengal but throughout India. At the time of independence 85 percent of Indias
population was living in rural areas. Rural poverty was seen as a greater challenge for
the political leaders and economists. The problems of urban India were barely
recognized (Burra, 2005 p.68). The administrative system for the country after
Independence was designed keeping in mind the vast rural population in particular
with very little thought given to urban administration. In West Bengal in particular,
experiments with decentralization started during the late 1960s when the Communist-
led United Front coalition briefly came to power and tried to implement a policy of
large-scale redistribution of agricultural land in rural areas. To mobilize support for the
policy locally and to implement such a policy effectively CPI-M decentralized the way
its cadres operated. Even though the United Front government did not last for very
long, the seeds for decentralized administration had been sowed. After the CPI-M
came back to power in 1977, mainly due to the support it received from the rural poor,
it embarked on even greater decentralization resuming local level elections with a
focus on strengthening its rural support base (Webster, 1992). "The process of
decentralization in West Bengal happened not by design but by event [reference to
CPI-M coming to power] starting with its practice in the rural areas.22 The
governmental needs of urban areas,23 and for metropolitan areas like Kolkata, in
particular, remained more or less unchanged from what was inherited from the British
administration for a long time. Only after the 74th CAA when the West Bengal
Municipal Act 1993 was passed, was there a concerted effort in the West Bengal
legislature to implement the policy in urban areas.
The decentralization process in West Bengal is characterized by its insistence on
representative democracy with negligible presence of participatory democracy. The
area of governance relating to the consultation for public policy and planning
necessitates actions at the city and larger levels, where the conflict between
representative and participatory approaches come into sharper focus. It also relates to
decisions which have larger regional impacts and, therefore, are not generally given
priority by small community based groups (Mehta, 1999 p. 174). Not only does West
Bengal lack the civil society infrastructure needed for participation by various interest
groups at city or regional level, but also the technocrats, planners and politicians have
hardly shown any interest to include non-partisan civil society groups in the planning
22 According to Mr. Sunil Kumar Roy, ex-Director General (Planning and Development), KMDA and a
nominated member of KMPC, interviewed January 11, 2005.
23 The administrative and governmental needs of the urban areas are different from those of rural areas
were spill-over effects of decisions made in one local jurisdictions on another is limited.
process. On being asked if the five sectoral plans prepared by the KMPC are to be
made public before they are approved, so that concerned citizens or groups can
comment or raise objections on them, KMDAs Director General (Planning and
Development), Mr Tushar Mitra stated:
KMPC is given the authority to prepare the plans. Once KMPC
approves of the plan, it will be final. No public hearing or publication
of the draft plan in local newspapers is proposed since KMPC already
has 40 elected representatives.
He legitimizes adoption of the plan without inviting comments from the general public
on the basis that there are already elected member24 in KMPC. A non-partisan civil
society organization, Bus and Railway Commuters' Association, for example, can have
no direct say in the preparation of the traffic and transportation sector plan in Kolkata.
In spite of their repeated grievances about train and bus service in the city, they were
never invited to be part of the process of route and fare rationalization of buses and
minibuses that were part KMPCs sectoral plan for traffic and transportation. Can
KMPCs elected representatives substitute for participation of concerned citizens and
civic groups in the planning process? In other words, does KMPC claim to include all
interest groups so as to make a public hearing of the plan redundant? These are some
of the questions addressed later in the chapter.
What were the main arguments within the planning discourse that led to the adoption
of the policy of decentralized and participatory planning and decision-making process
in Kolkata? The initial driver for greater decentralization in KMDAs planning process
derived from the failure of the centralized planning strategy in improving the living
environment and service delivery. The planning process that KMDA had initially
adopted was based on the rational comprehensive planning model where the experts
armed with data and prediction tools made the decisions on land-use, and infrastructure
"4 A point to be noted is that these elected members are not directly elected by the citizens of KMA,
development without (or with very little) participation from local communities or end
users. Mr. Kalyan Roy, Director (Microfinance) in KMDA, in an interview identified
two reasons for the failure of this kind of planning process. First, it failed to capture the
local level needs and priorities. Second, the operation and upkeep of the infrastructure
that was built by KMDA was transferred to the municipalities, but they failed to take
ownership (in terms of responsibitiy) of these projects because they were never made
part of the planning process earlier. So, many of the projects soon went into a state of
disrepair and subsequently ceased to operate. Mr. Roy therefore attributes the policy
towards decentralized and participatory planning in KMA to the failures of the
incumbent planning process.
This idea of participation, as largely linked to development projects, was with a view
to improve effectiveness and project efficiency and, in some cases, to encourage cost-
sharing. These project linked objectives or rationale of participation have often been
called instrumental ones or as means to some other ends (Mehta, 1999). This
rationale is significantly different from the idea of empowerment and capacity building
through participation that the NGO sector has long pleaded for. This latter rationale
treats participation as an end in itself but which often leads to other positive spin-offs
in the fonn of empowerment and capacity building that enables communities to
continue with the regular functions as well as participate in project deliberations more
In the following section I examine the influence of party politics on the decentralized
planning process at metropolitan, municipal and ward level.
Partisan politics and urban planning
Although many officials in the West Bengals Left Front government often claim that
it was the pioneer in democratic decentralization and bottom-up planning in India,
many scholars (Webster, 1992) have noted a gap between the official rhetoric and the
reality that exists.
In Calcutta, as in West Bengal and the rest of India, planning is done from the top-
down. It has been argued that planning is fundamentally a state apparatus... and that
seems particularly true in India. After forty years of post-colonial organizational
developments, few municipalities can plan, and activism by citizen groups is minimal.
Calcutta, despite its heightened political culture, is no exception.
The apathy of urban public means that the political parties have little
incentive to decentralize planning. In examining the recent experience
with district-level planning in West Bengal, Ghosh (1988) points out
that the idea of bottom-up planning is contradictory to any political
framework, regardless of who holds power. ...And while the rural
reforms pursued by the Left Front have significantly increased
political awareness and participation at the Gram Panchayat and
Panchayat Samiti levels, partisan politics [emphasis added] still shape
its policies. (Banerjee & Chakravorty, 1994)
My research reconfirms the above mismatch between the strict top-down hierarchy in
which political parties are organized and the approaches of bottom-up planning as
envisioned by the constitutional amendments.
As Susanne Rudolph notes in her article on civil society (Rudolph, 2000), not all kinds
of civil societies (in her words associationalism) are friendly to democracy.
Differentiating types of associations might produce better assessment of their effect on
democracy. To differentiate among associations she addresses three types of questions:
1) Are associations political or non-political and if political, are they deliberative or
interest oriented? 2) Are they hierarchical or egalitarian? 3) Are they voluntary or
natural (ascribed)? According to her, such differences may be consequential for the
relationships between associations and democracy. In the case of Kolkata, the
dominant forms of civic associations that are part of the metropolitan decision making
process, i.e. the political parties, are political associations by definition and strictly
hierarchical. They are structured on Leninist style principles of leadership. Members in
this kind of associations stand in dependent, clientelist relations to patrons. They are
habituated to comply with and act on the directives of those in authority. Hierarchical
associations are not likely to create the sort of psychological and moral preconditions
that generate the social capital considered a pre-condition for democracy (Rudolph,
The party organization of CPI-M in West Bengal along with various mass fronts
affiliated to it have witnessed, ever since 1977, a steady growth in membership which
taken together has narrowed the bridge between population and party members. For
instance, in 1992, the total members of all the mass fronts of the CPI-M in Burdwan
district in West Bengal totaled 2,466,728 (this excluded the party membership which in
1992 was 10,676) when the total population of the district was about 6 million (Sain,
In the following section, I describe in greater depth, the planning process at three levels
- metropolitan, municipal and ward levels. Figure 2-1 in the previous chapter
illustrates the institutional framework for Kolkata's decentralized planning.
Three-tier metropolitan planning
Planning in India is a function of elite civil services at both federal and state levels that
were designed to encourage separation between the political and administrative arms of
the government. Admission and promotion within the civil services are considered to
be based on merit, not patronage. The cadre of administrators responsible for planning
is presented as socially representative, civic-minded, politically independent group
working to improve the general living conditions of Indian citizens. In reality, women
are largely under-represented in the civil service, which is comprised mostly of urban
upper middle class males. The theoretical separation between political and
administrative functions is often tangled and blurred (Friedmann, 2005b). Planners at
the metropolitan level in Kolkata are supposed to be doing what the dean of Berkeleys
Graduate School of Public Policy referred to as speaking truth to power (Wildavsky
1979 as cited by Friedmann 1987 p. 8). In the days of royalty, such speech had been
the privilege of trusted chamberlains and the court jester. Now it is the planners turn.
But are they really doing it?
An example of the hierarchical patron-client relationship among elected officials of
different administrative levels is illustrated by what a senior planner in KMDA (who
was also serving as a nominated member of KMPC) had to say about KMPC meetings:
We wouldnt expect a councilor or a municipal chairperson [i.e. a
municipal-level politician elected to be a KMPC member] to oppose
any suggestions made by a [state-level] minister [also belonging to the
same party], would we?
Most councilors have political ambitions beyond ward- or municipal-level politics. To
bring these ambitions to fruition, they need to keep themselves away from
antagonizing (if not actively seeking favors from) their party leaders at the state level.
And even those councilors and municipal chairpersons, who would like to remain
active only in their local politics, need the patronage of their party bosses at the state
level in order to secure the party ticket to contest the next municipal election. Along
with the fact that the Minister for Municipal Affairs in the state-level administration
(ex-officio chairperson of KMPC) presides over all KMPC meetings, this makes the
power relations between the state and the local similar to that in a patron-client
relationship. Such a relationship undermines the state governments efforts towards
democratic decentralization in urban development.
It is implicit in the quote above that the interviewee omitted any mention about those
elected members in KMPC who are from political parties other than the ones that form
part of the ruling coalition in the state government. Of course, this omitted group of
ward and municipal-level politicians would be freer to voice their local concerns in the
metropolitan-level deliberations. But they are only a handful in number compared to
the majority who belong to the ruling Left Front coalition. In addition, according to
another nominated member of KMPC, most of elected KMPC members from political
parties outside the Left Front fail to take active interest in the workings of the KMPC -
they feel they have very little political influence in the decision-making through
KMPC due to their very limited representation. They seldom attended KMPC meetings.
Such hierarchical relationships of patronage are not limited among the circle of elected
local officials. They also apply to the technocrats employed in KMDA including their
planners. When talking to the planning officials from KMDA, and a few academicians
who have turned to advising the state government on issues relating to urban planning
and decision-making, there seem to be a general sense of approval (and in some
instances, enthusiastic support) of the Left Front government in the state and in many
municipalities in KMA. Some citizens have noted and voiced their concerns over the
lack of independence of the bureaucratic machinery in the state of West Bengal from
influence of dominant political parties:
[Tjhere is none in West Bengal today who has not witnessed vote
fraud in some form. Consider the methods of intimidating the voters of
the opposition parties that the CPI-M uses to achieve uncontested
victory motorbike brigades, ostracism, threats of rape, actual
murder and all that. And who has not seen the televised reports of vote
rigging at the Salt Lake [one of the municipalities within KMA] civic
poll in 2000, with Alapan Bandyopadhyay, district magistrate [who
coincidentally was to be made the CEO of KMDA during the course
of my fieldwork in 2004], and Gautam Chakraborty, DIG, Presidency
Range, looking on as nonplussed bystanders?
A much respected former IAS23 officer says a government-officer
must needs deal with governments run by rival parties in order to
realise what it means to achieve stability in a democracy despite
political flux. In this view, those who joined the services in 1977, and
are going to retire before long, without working with any government
other than the Left Front have clearly developed a vested interest in
inefficiency by being party to the vote fraud. (S. Sanyal, 2005b)
This not only holds true for IAS officers working in state departments but also for
planners working in KMDA. The CEO of KMDA is usually an IAS officer on
deputation by the state government. Most often the CEO has little or no planning
experience; their professional training is mainly in the area of public administration.
Friedmann (2004) has already noted that Indias planning function is directed by the
elite civil service bureaucrats. And Indian civil service entrance exams favor general
knowledge over specific skills, leading to criticism that the civil service lacks
professional and technical proficiency in endeavors such as planning. In addition the
ruling political party is highly influential in decisions such as promotions and transfers
of these bureaucrats. Further, the newspaper editorial reporting the local district
magistrates deliberate ignoring (if not actively assisting) the vote rigging by the ailing
political party and his getting deputed to head the organization entrusted with the
planning function (rationality being key to its process) for Kolkata Metropolitan Area
is an extreme example of the blurring of the theoretical separation between power and
rationality similar to what Flyvbjerg (1998) finds in his Aalborg Project case in
Therefore, the latent function (Merton, 1957 p.60) of KMDAs planners was mere
rationalization of political decisions (see Flyvbjerg 1998 p. 19) already made by the
politically stronger interests within the KMPC. It is worth mentioning here that, based
on my analysis of the minutes of the KMPCs various sector committee meetings, only 25
25 IAS is an abbreviation for Indian Administrative Service, the post-Independence equivalent of the
Indian Civil Service.
rarely did the nominated (non-elected) members (representing planners and engineers
from various public agencies such as KMDA, Port Trust of India, Indian Railways etc.)
in the KMPC propose any new plan or alternatives to existing plans or opposed to any
of the proposals that came from the elected members (politicians) of KMPC. The
planners in KMDA did have a role to play though. When they were to make decisions
on how to allocate limited state resources among the various plan proposals that came
from many elected members of the KMPC, they had to justify the inclusion of some of
the proposals and dropping of others based on some kind of technical analysis. The
minutes of the KMPC meetings did not provide enough data to decipher any real
pattern in the way some of the proposals made their way in the annual plan-of-action of
KMPC and whether and how power relations within the members of KMPC had a role
to play in these so-called technical analysis conducted by KMDA. Nonetheless, the
dominance of the states ruling party and its regimental hierarchical organization
seemed to significantly reduce alternative proposals that came to be discussed in
In order to understand how planning at the metropolitan level is informed by more
local municipal and ward-level plans, I asked one councilor from Kolkata Municipal
Corporation and one councilor from South Dum Dum Municipality, who were not
members of KMPC, about the processes of information flow between them and KMPC.
To my surprise, neither of them was aware of the metropolitan level sectoral plans
prepared by the KMPC. One of them did not even know who, among the councilors in
his municipality was elected to represent the municipality in KMPC. Talking to some
of the planners in KMDA who are non-elected (nominated) members of KMPC, I got
to know that there were a few councilors who were not members of KMPC but who
were regularly seeking information about KMPC decisions and two of them even
proposed projects in their locality to be included in the KMPC sector plan for traffic
and transportation. Therefore, despite KMPC being seen by the state government as
providing a forum to help information flow between metropolitan planners and local
leaders who are most aware about the local needs and priorities, the elected members
of KMPC were not obliged to report the proceedings of the KMPC meetings to her/his
colleagues at the municipal level. Neither were the local councilors who are not
members of KMPC sensitized about the role and functions of KMPC or the way they
can have a voice in the decisions taken by KMPC.
Agent of Change in the Decentralization Process
Among the professional planners in KMDA that I talked with, and contrary to
Sandercocks (1998) thesis, I found a general consensus in their perception that all
planning and development work that goes on in the city is driven by the government.
But the notion of which governmental level national, state or local the policy of
democratic decentralization is initiated and implemented is more ambiguous. In
response to my question who is the change agent in the process of democratic
decentralization in Kolkata a planner within KMDA noted:
Frankly speaking, whatever changes are taking place in developing
countries are initiated by the government. In West Bengal the changes
were initiated when the Left Front government came to power in 1977.
They adopted a policy of decentralization of planning and
development in both urban and rural areas. Dwelling on the
experiences in WB, the central government initiated the proposed bill
for the constitutional amendment in the parliament. Late Prime
Minister, Rajiv Gandhi initiated it in parliament but he didnt live to
see it approved.
Despite his attributing more broadly, the government to be the change agent, he
assigns Left Front government in West Bengal, in particular, to be the initiator of the
process of decentralization, not just in the state but also for the entire country. This is
yet another evidence of the widespread perception among planners within KMDA that
the Left Front Government in West Bengal has been the pioneer of democratic
decentralization in India. But the above quote also illustrates that the Congress(I)26 led
government at the national level adopted this policy to be implemented nation-wide
through the 73rd and 74,h Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992. The Constitutional
Amendments mandated all state governments to amend their laws relating to local
administration. In West Bengal, where the state government had already introduced
some of these changes27 still required additional changes in their laws on town and
country planning to bring them in conformance with the mandates of the constitutional
amendments of 1992. So, in a way, the national government adopted the policy of
decentralization as practiced in West Bengal and took it one step further.
The quote also places significance to efforts by individuals within the government -
in this case, Indias late Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. As pointed out by Nas (2005),
current urban social science research often neglects the role of those individuals who
are decisive for urban change and instead over-emphasizes impersonal aggregative
social processes as the main determinants of urban structure and change. Although this
research recognizes the importance of viewing governments as made up of
individuals each of whom bring their own values and charisma with them into the
institution, it is beyond the scope of this research to actually study their influence in
An important agent affecting local planning institutions and organizations, and which
is often ignored in literature on local government, are the donor agencies. Donor
agencies can be either higher levels of government or external bilateral donors or
development banks. The Central Government funds projects and programs in various
states contingent upon their adopting certain policies. This gives them added leverage
:6 Congress(I) is a rival political party to the Left Front coalition in West Bengal.
"7 For example, West Bengal Government had introduced the Mayor-In-Council (MIC) and Chair-In-
Council (CIC) forms of local government at urban areas a decade earlier than the constitutional
amendments in 1992.
in negotiating with the states to implement some structural changes to make the
process of decentralized planning more participatory. In Kolkata, a number of central
government-sponsored programs like Environment Improvement in Urban Slums
(EIUS), Urban Basic Services Program (UBSP), Nehru Rozgar Yogjana (NRY),
National Slum Development Policy (NSDP), and recently Swama Jayanti Shahari
Rozgar Yojna (SJSRY) also have resulted in making the state government agree to
certain policies of the central government. Similarly external donor agencies play a
significant role in making structural (as (Giddens, 1984) would call it) changes in the
context of local planning and decision-making. In Kolkata, UK government's
Department for International Development (DFID) has been an important donor for
urban development and municipal capacity building since the 1980s. Only recently,
DFID agreed to fund the Kolkata Urban Services for Poor (KUSP) Program that would
build capacity for decision-making and planning at the ward and municipal level for all
the 40 urban local bodies in order for them to provide urban services with a focus on
the poor and the marginalized groups. The program started in March 2004 and is
scheduled to run for 8 years with a budget of Rs 800 crores (Biswas, 2003). The
Metropolitan Planning Committee Act, which mandated by the 74lh CAA, proposed the
creation of the Kolkata Metropolitan Planning Committee. Although this Act was
passed in the West Bengal State Legislature in 1994, KMPC was not formed till 2001.
KMPC did not function for years till DFID made it a condition for going ahead with
funding for KUSP. Many believe28 that KMPC was a way to keep KMDA alive by
making it serve as its technical secretariat. Once KUSP is fully operational, the major
funding route for the municipalities will be through the Draft Development Plan that
they prepare at the municipal level and which gets consolidated at the Metropolitan
level. In the first phase of the program, it is expected that at least 12 ULBs will have
their municipal development plans approved for funding (Biswas, 2003).
28 Source: Personal communication with Ms. Banashree Banerjee (Aug 25, 2005)
In addition to agents of change, it is important to identify the agents that have resisted
change towards decentralization in West Bengal. According to Arun Ghosh (Ghosh,
1989), a former member of the National Planning Commission and the key architect of
decentralized planning in West Bengal, departmental sectarianism and the resistance of
the bureaucracy were the most serious impediments to the meaningful integration of
the district sector schemes with the local plans (as cited in Thomas Isaac & Franke,
2002 p.15). Others have also noted the problem of inertia within the bureaucracy that
was inherited from the colonial past without serious changes:
Within the Indian bureaucracy, as in most bureaucracies, the
hierarchical structure of command and responsibility and other factors
such as the process of promotion serve to reinforce the concentration
of power at the top. This has in turn reproduced the strength and power
invested in the bureaucracy which was originally developed to serve
the needs of a colonial state (Webster, 1992 p.131).
I cannot conclusively verify this claim through my research. I did not ask this question
specifically to my interviewees from the planning bureaucracy but a veteran housing
activist in Kolkata whom I interviewed described KMDA being a mafia organization
and that with a few exception, most high-level planners arc benefiting from the old
ways of centralized planning through corruption in land allocation and development
Actors in planning at the Ward level
One of the significant provisions of the 74th CAA has been the setting up of Wards and
Ward Committees (WC) in urban local bodies with a population of more than three
hundred thousand. This was envisaged to ensure peoples participation in civic affairs
at the grassroots level. Ward committees were therefore meant to be the lowest level of
organization of the state. This places them at the edge of the state (the government)
and the non-state (the citizenry or the governed). It is therefore important to understand
in the present discussion how the state and the non-state interact from the two sides of
the edge in the public planning and decision-making process. This section will describe
the functioning of the Ward Committees in greater details.
The objectives of the WCs are to ensure firstly, the enhanced proximity of elected
representatives for better accountability and performance at the neighborhood level,
and secondly, increased participation of people in the delivery of services and
governance of their areas. Article 243S of the constitution empowers the legislatures of
a state to make, by law, provision with respect to the composition and the territorial
area of a Ward Committee and the manner in which the seats in a Wards Committee
are to be filled. Even though all states have incorporated the provision regarding
formation of WCs in their conforming legislation as per constitutional requirements,
wide variations are found across states in terms of constitution, composition,
nomination and also functional and financial powers of the WCs. Different state
governments have different rules for the formation of WCs. There may be one
Committee for each ward or for a collection of wards. The decision depends entirely on
the state government (Ghosh & Mitra, 2003).
West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993 and amended in 1994 has the provision to constitute
WC in each municipal ward. All the municipal corporation acts have also been
amended to include that provision. According to the West Bengal Municipal (Ward
Committee) Rules, 2001, WCs have been entrusted with most of the important
functions that an urban local body does at the ward level.
After the municipal elections in 1995 consequent to the 74th CAA West Bengal was
one of the few states that ensured that WCs were formed in every municipality.
However functioning of WCs is not uniform in all municipalities within the state. It
differs from one WC to another in the same municipality (Ghosh & Mitra, 2003).
There have been studies that describe the functioning of ward committees in West
Bengal. According to a study (Ghosh & Mitra, 2003) in two ULBs in West Bengal (six
wards in Siliguri Municipal Corporation and four wards in Bidhannagar Municipality,
the latter is within the Kolkata Metropolitan Area), in the low income and slum
dominated localities, peoples interest and participation in the day-to-day activities of
the WCs is more than in middle and high-income communities where people feel as
they are paying taxes to the municipalities, they are entitled to get all services and their
participation in local affairs is not necessary. There are a number problems in terms of
representation and participation through Ward Committees that this study has
identified. The inadequate representation of women and youth in most Ward
Committees is widely recognized. Also some have pointed to the fact that WCs do not
have any financial allocation or resources to take up developmental work. Their job is
confined primarily to monitoring and supervision. In addition, the performance of a
WC heavily depend on the initiatives of the ward councilor. If he is enthusiastic and
committed, he can select good members without political considerations who are more
involved in the ward activities (Ghosh & Mitra, 2003). Otherwise, monthly meetings
and Annual General Meetings become rituals.29 30
I identified some problems from my fieldwork. One is the population size of the wards
are often too large for effective participation of the citizens. For example among the
two Wards that I studied, Ward 7 of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation has a
population of about 30,000. The other ward that I studied (Ward 11 of Kalyani
Municipality about 50 Km north of Kolkata Municipal Corporation) has a population
of about 10,000. The later of the two wards had an attendance of about a 100 people (1
per cent of the total population of the ward) in the annual general meeting/0
Second, the Ward Committees are currently not performing any planning function not
even collecting information that might be useful for planning and decision-making at
higher levels. Even though the constitution provides for its role in the overall planning
29 As per one of the councilors I interviewed.
30 Annual General Meetings are open to all citizens residing in the ward.
of the metropolitan area, Ward Committees have not been involved in the planning
process at all. The West Bengal Municipal (Ward Committee) Rules, 2001 (Part IV,
Rule 11) clearly states the planning function of the WCs: 1) to prepare a list of the
schemes to be undertaken within next five years for development of the ward; 2) to
prepare annual priority lists of these schemes and submit the same to the municipality
(or the Notified Area Authority) for incorporating them in the Development Plan of the
Municipality as per the provision of the West Bengal Municipal Act, 1993.
In reality however, neither of the two ward committees that I studied were performing
the planning functions as envisaged by the Indian Constitution. Ward 11 of Kalyani
Municipality was somewhat better than Ward 7 of Kolkata Municipal Corporation in
that it at least brought to the attention of the municipal authorities, problems of
maintenance and upkeep of municipal facilities like parks and roads. Other than these,
I did not find either of the ward committees engaged in identifying problem areas or
preparing a list of schemes to address them.
Third, like the KMPC and the municipal councils, the Ward Committees were found to
be working in extremely partisan ways. The system of selection of Ward Committee
members by the ward councilor is highly discretionary and the Ward Committee Rules
specifying the types of nominees to be selected are often violated. Since the ward
councilor is nominating the WC members, the general tendency for them has been to
select people from his/her own political party. WCs under a councilor from the party
opposing the party in control of the municipality also complain of discrimination by
the municipality in financial allocation, provision of services and general neglect.
Therefore even though Ward Committees were designed to be non-political
entities,31 the field observations show that they are also becoming another political
31 As per Mr. Prabhat Dutta (Advisor. ILGUS) interviewed on January 8, 2005.
organization at sub-municipal level. Other studies on WCs have shared this
The ULBs nominees may come from another party if the chairperson
belongs to that party but in such cases the members do not take much
interest in the WC as they are in minority. Also sometimes they create
problems in the smooth functioning of the WCs. Therefore the 2003
amendment to the Rules, which proposes that the names of the
members selected by the councilor have to be presented before the first
AGM [Annual General Meeting] to public for their approval so that
the selection could be more democratic, is a welcome step (Ghosh &
However the additional clause of making it mandatory to present the names of the
councilors nominees for the membership of the Ward Committee to the public and
seeking peoples approval was found to have limited effect on making the process
more democratic. Most of the participants in the Annual General Meetings organized
by Ward Committees were found to be either close to the ward councilor or were
drawn by the various incentives32 that some of the more innovative Ward Councilors
provided in order to enhance attendance to AGMs. The people who are critical about
the councilors leadership in the ward including those belonging to the other political
parties have not used the AGMs to voice their concerns so far.
Fourth, councilors, in general, were found to be ignorant about many of the Ward
Committee Rules. One of the councilors I interviewed in fact mentioned to me that
among the many Ward Committee Rules, there is one which says that the person who
lost the municipal election cannot be a member of the Ward Committee. In fact, there
is no such rule stipulated in the West Bengal Municipal (Ward Committee) Rules,
2001 or the amendments made to it in 2003.
12 An incentive that Councilor of Ward 11 of Kalyani Municipality provides to increase attendance at the
AGMs is by making them enter into a lottery for small gifts.
Fifth, Inequity in the distribution of power and influence within the ward has created
problems described by some as elite capture (Azfar et al., 2004; Crook, 2003;
Kimenyi & Meagher, 2004; Olowu, 2003). The following extract from my field-note
presents the political dynamics among the different actors and ordinary citizens in a
ward in Kolkata Metropolitan Area. Although this ward may not be representative of
all wards within KMA, this description will help us appreciate the complexity of power
relations in the ward level some of which are inherited from the past and are therefore
structural in nature.
Three years ago, in a neighborhood in a municipality adjacent to
Kolkata Municipal Corporation, a locally influential and prosperous
trader of timber (Mr X.) sold part of his land to a promoter to construct
an apartment complex where once stood his timber workshop. Mr. X is
locally known well enough that the local rickshaw pullers and
autorickshaw and taxi drivers would take you to this apartment
complex without having to give them directions if you just ask them to
take you to Mr Xs timber workshop. According to long-time residents
in the neighborhood, Mr. X has close links with the local and state-
level party bosses in the sense that they benefit from each others
influence. He is also known to have close ties with antisocial
hoodlums in the locality.
Even after the apartments in the complex were sold and individual
home-owners moved in, the influence of Mr X. in the area remained.
Some of the people who worked for him earlier and who have got into
a patron-client relationship with Mr. X, kept receiving favors in kind
often at the cost of causing nuisance to others. For example, some of
the ex-employees of Mr. X park their pushcarts, and taxis inside this
apartment complex at night for security reasons. Some of them even
use part of the building complex as cowshed for their cattle. The
apartment-owners secretly expressed to me their displeasure about the
arrangement as it makes the entryway to the building complex look
dirty and smelly (because of cow dung) and more crowded. No one
raises the issue of the cattle, pushcarts, rickshaws and the taxi in any of
the resident committee meetings. This is less out of respect for Mr. X
but more out of fear. No one wants to confront him and his subtle
authority that he exercises locally. After the new residents in the
apartments moved in, he no longer holds the same godfather figure
in this neighborhood as he previously used to enjoy. The composition
of the neighborhood has started to change from generally poor
residents to an upwardly mobile middle-class community that secs his
political influence both as an asset and as a nuisance. Many of the new
residents in the building complex have developed cordial relations
with Mr. X in the hope that they can tap into his political
connections if ever needed. One of the apartment owners from this
building complex and a long-time resident of the neighborhood is a
member of the local Ward Committee. He too receives patronage from
There are a few points that can be drawn from the above description. First, Ward
Committees operate in the same patron-client relationships that it was intended to
replace. Second, there is a general disinterest among residents to publicly voice their
opinions in matters of public good due to fear of antagonizing the established authority.
Third, new people in the neighborhood did reduce the influence of the existing power
structures. But at the same time, with the waning of the existing power structure, which
had some sort of support for many of the poor households, even though it was in the
form of patronage, there has grown a need for other forms of organized mobilization of
the interests of the poor households.
Generally speaking, the WCs were found to have the following roles: 1) Monitoring
and policing; 2) Information collection (very weak but potentially useful); 3)
Implementing projects and policies (executive role); 4) Planning (very limited based
on available resources and local level needs); 5) Capacity building and mobilization.
(Ward committees also become the training ground for many in their political career);
6) Representing local interests in the municipal level decision-making (lobbying role -
mainly for maintenance and repair of infrastructure.) This last role of WCs is key to a
successful bottom-up metropolitan planning institution because of which, it was
mandated by the 74lh Constitutional Amendment Act.
33 This account is based on my interviews with two residents living in the above mentioned housing
To summarize, I have discussed in this chapter, the reality as distinct from the official
rhetoric of democratic decentralization in West Bengal in the context of party politics,
absence of non-partisan civil society actors and lack of political opposition to the
ruling party. The next chapter draws lessons from some national and international
comparisons of planning institutions and processes using Kolkatas planning process as
described here as a benchmark.
COMPARATIVE URBAN POLITICS
Why study Comparative Urban Politics
Within comparative macro-sociology, quantitative or variable-oriented and
qualitative or case-oriented methodologies are typically counter posed. Goldthorpe
(1997) argues that by emphasizing the distinctions between the two methodologies, the
nature of key methodological problems arc obscured. Three such problems the small
N, the Galton, and the black-box problems are shown to arise with both approaches.
However, Ragin (1997) suggests that the case-oriented approach poses important
challenges to variable-oriented research, challenges which, if answered, would make
variable-oriented research more rigorous. For example, in most variable-oriented
research the sample of relevant observations is usually set at the outset of a study and
is not open to reformulation or redefinition. In most variable-oriented research, the
operation of causal conditions that are constant across cases is obscured. In most
variable-oriented research, it is difficult to examine multiple conjunctural causation
because researchers lack in-depth knowledge of cases and because their most common
analytic tools cannot cope with complex causal patterns. Finally, in most variable-
oriented research, ignorance of cases may find its way into the error vector of
probabilistic models. Of course, the practical concerns of case-oriented research maybe
difficult to address in variable-oriented approach. It is still reasonable to hope, at a
minimum, for greater appreciation of special strengths of different ways of
constructing social scientific representations of social life.
There are important challenges in conducting international comparative social science
research (see 0yen, 1990). But urban research is a more promising field of
comparative research than comparing nation states. First, for the comparative urbanist,
the embeddedness of cities in national institutional contexts offers good possibilities of
intra-national comparison among cities, an analysis that allows for full control for
national policies or factors related to political culture (J. M. Sellers, 2002b as cited by
Pierre 2005). Furthermore, by using countries as cases and cities as units of analysis,
the scholar can conduct intra-national as well as international comparisons. Finally,
there is the simple observation that there are more cities than countries in the world and
subsequently a greater universe available for case selection thus addressing the small
N problem mentioned above. All other things being equal, that should make it easier
to find cases that allow the observer to use the most similar systems design or,
alternatively, the most different systems design (Pierre, 2005 p. 455).
What is the Framework for Comparison
Jon Pierre (2005) suggests using urban governance as a framework for comparative
analysis of urban politics. Comparative urban governance holds tremendous potential
in assisting scholars in uncovering causal mechanisms and drivers of political,
economic, and social change at the urban level. This framework makes two
propositions: first, that any analysis of livability should begin by looking at
communities, NGOs, political parties, and the variegated collection of organizations
that constitute the state; second, that all of these were likely to be imperfect agents of
livability and therefore it is necessary to think of agents of livability in terms of
ecologies of agents rather than single actors (Evans, 2002 p. 222).
Urban Regime a relatively stable set of rules, both formal (for example, a
Constitution) and informal (Common law, cultural or social norms, etc.) that regulate