Project

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Small cities, urban environments and governance in India

Applicant Véron René
Number 140516
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut de Géographie Université de Lausanne
Institution of higher education University of Lausanne - LA
Main discipline Social geography and ecology
Start/End 01.10.2012 - 29.02.2016
Approved amount 396'257.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Social geography and ecology
Political science

Keywords (7)

political ecology; environmental governance; small cities; sustainable development; neoliberalism; decentralization; India

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Many cities in developing countries face a “triple challenge” in regard to environmental governance: They are confronted with environmental problems associated with both “underdevelopment” (“brown agenda” issues related to social provisioning such as inadequate housing, water supply or sanitation) and “development” (“green agenda” issues such as pollution or resource overuse) while at the same time their financial, human and organizational resources and capabilities to deal with these issues are limited. This challenge tends to be more acute for smaller cities that are generally poorer, possess less political clout and have more severe “brown agenda” problems than larger cities while “green agenda” problems are also growing – due to motorization, industrialization and population growth, for example.

The proposed project will focus on urban environmental governance in India because of the global demographic and ecological importance of the country’s small cities (with populations of c. 100,000-500,000). Very little is known about the rapidly growing small cities in India, their environmental dynamics, problems and governance. The first aim of this research program is therefore to narrow this knowledge gap.

Policymakers and researchers in India have furthermore suggested that the small cities’ triple challenge has been exacerbated in the current context of neoliberalization and decentralization. In the broader context of accelerated economic reforms since 1991, the Government of India has promoted an increasingly neoliberal approach to urban governance (including user charges for urban services, public-private partnerships, e-governance) with the stated goal to enhance the credit rating of cities and reduce their reliance on regular budget allocations from central and state governments. At the same time, a constitutional amendment of 1992 directed state governments to devolve governmental functions, including those related to urban environments and services, to elected Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). Critics have argued that neoliberal policies resulted in disproportionately declining financial resources of smaller cities and that decentralization policies failed to develop the necessary technical capacities at the level of ULBs – further decreasing the capabilities of small cities to address brown and green agenda problems. However, there is a scarcity of empirical studies in this field. The second aim of this research program, therefore, is to better understand how neoliberal reform and decentralization policies have intersected with local politics and environmental histories to affect urban sustainable development in small cities.

Empirical studies will concentrate on the states of West Bengal and Gujarat, which represent contrasting political trajectories. To gauge intra-state variation and the significance of local political and environmental contexts, small cities in each of these states will be studied applying mostly qualitative methods of data collection, including semi-structured interviews with different political actors. Beyond its theoretical and methodological scientific contributions, the research is also expected to provide relevant information for stakeholders in the studies cities, policymakers at the state and national levels, as well as for international development agencies, to render (global) urban development more sustainable.  
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Clean city politics: An urban political ecology of solid waste in West Bengal, India
Cornea Natasha, Véron René, Zimmer Anna (2017), Clean city politics: An urban political ecology of solid waste in West Bengal, India, in ENVIRONMENT AND PLANNING A, 49(4), 728-744.
Everyday governance and urban environments: Towards a more interdisciplinary urban political ecology
Cornea Natasha, Véron René, Zimmer Anna (2017), Everyday governance and urban environments: Towards a more interdisciplinary urban political ecology, in Geography Compass, 11(4), 1-12.
Of parks and politics: The production of socio-nature in a Gujarati town
Zimmer Anna, Cornea Natasha, Véron René (2017), Of parks and politics: The production of socio-nature in a Gujarati town, in Local Environment, 22(1), 49-66.
Ponds, power and institutions: the everyday governance of accessing urban water bodies in a small Bengali town
Cornea Natasha, Zimmer Anna, Véron René (2016), Ponds, power and institutions: the everyday governance of accessing urban water bodies in a small Bengali town, in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 40(2), 395-409.
Ecologies (politiques) urbaines des étendues d’eau en Inde
Véron René, Zimmer Anna, Cornea Natasha, Ecologies (politiques) urbaines des étendues d’eau en Inde, in Urbia.
Landscapes of power: the urban in Urban Political Ecology
Zimmer Anna, Cornea Natasha, Véron René, Landscapes of power: the urban in Urban Political Ecology, in Iossifova Deljana (ed.), Ashgate, Farnham.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Shaw, A / Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Kolkata India (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Acharya, SK / Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) University, Ahmedabad India (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Samanta, G / University of Burdwan India (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel
Shah, A /Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR), Ahmedabad India (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Guha, A / Vidyasagar University (VU), Medinipur India (Asia)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Centre for Policy Research Seminar Individual talk Decentralized urban governance in West Bengal and Gujarat? Evidence from the field of the urban environment in small cities 24.11.2015 New Delhi, India Véron René; Cornea Natasha; Zimmer Anna;
CSRD Seminar - Jawaharlal Nehru University Individual talk The Urban Political Ecology of the pondscape 23.11.2015 New Delhi, India Véron René; Zimmer Anna; Cornea Natasha;
Zentrum für Entwicklungsforschung Seminar Individual talk Of parks and politics: The production of socio-nature in a Gujarati town 10.06.2015 Bonn, Germany Zimmer Anna;
Congrès de la Société Suisse de Sociologie 2015 Talk given at a conference Of parks and politics: The production of public space in a small Gujarati city 03.06.2015 Lausanne, Switzerland Véron René;
Canadian Association of Geographers Conference Talk given at a conference Popularity and clean city politics: exploring the urban political ecology of solid waste management in small cities in West Bengal 01.06.2015 Vancouver, Canada Cornea Natasha;
Royal Geographical Society - Annual International Conference Talk given at a conference Imaging a situated urban political ecology: the use of participatory photography to explore local environmental values 26.08.2014 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Zimmer Anna; Cornea Natasha; Véron René;
Ecologies of Urbanism in Asia II: Cities, Towns, and the Places of Nature Talk given at a conference Bourgeois urban political ecologies? Parks and politics in Navsari, India 09.06.2014 Hongkong, Hongkong Zimmer Anna;
Canadian Association of Geographers Conference Talk given at a conference Controlling the Pukur: examining the governance of urban water bodies in a small Bengali town 26.05.2014 Niagara Falls, Canada Cornea Natasha;
Shaping the urban future Individual talk Small urban agglomerations, environment and governance: Case studies from Gujarat and West Bengal 27.03.2014 Bangalore, India Véron René;
PRIA lecture series Individual talk Small urban agglomerations, environment and governance: Case studies from Gujarat and West Bengal 26.03.2014 New Delhi, India Véron René;
Urban frontiers Poster Small cities in India 14.01.2014 Avignon, France Véron René;
The 12th International Asian Urbanization Conference Talk given at a conference Urban environments between reform efforts and politics: People’s participation in environmental governance in India’s small cities 28.12.2013 Varanasi, India Cornea Natasha;
Joint national level UIRF-SUBURBIN workshop Talk given at a conference Urban environmental governance in Gujarat’s and West Bengal’s small cities – between reforms and ‘triple challenge’ 23.04.2013 New Delhi, India Cornea Natasha;
Seminar of the Department of Anthropology, Vidyasagar University Individual talk Small cities, urban environments and governance in Gujarat and West Bengal: An SNSF-funded research project 11.02.2013 Medinipur, India Véron René;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Small city governance seminar 20.11.2015 Bardhaman, India
Environmental politics in urban South Asia - Panel at The 23rd European Conference on South Asian Studies 23.07.2014 Zurich, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Centre for Policy Research Seminar -- Decentralized urban governance in West Bengal and Gujarat? Talk 24.11.2015 New Delhi, India Véron René; Cornea Natasha; Zimmer Anna;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
Preliminary Research Results of the project on Urban Environmental Governance in Bardhaman and Medinipur 11.02.2014 Bardhaman, India
Preliminary Research Results of the project on Urban Environmental Governance in Navsari and Vijalpore 28.10.2013 Navsari, India

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Decentralized urban governance in West Bengal and Gujarat? CPR live tweet International 2015
Media relations: print media, online media Research on Small cities: Warn us and make us think Bartaman International 2015
Media relations: print media, online media Seminar on Governance of Small Cities at Bardhhaman University Sambad International 2015
Print (books, brochures, leaflets) Small cities, urban environments and governance -- poster for the municipalities International 2015
Print (books, brochures, leaflets) International Innovation -- Untangling urban development in India International 2014

Abstract

Many cities in developing countries face a “triple challenge” in regard to environmental governance: They are confronted with environmental problems associated with both “underdevelopment” (“brown agenda” issues related to social provisioning such as inadequate housing, water supply or sanitation) and “development” (“green agenda” issues such as pollution or resource overuse) while at the same time their financial, human and organizational resources and capabilities to deal with these issues are limited. This challenge tends to be more acute for smaller cities that are generally poorer, possess less political clout and have more severe “brown agenda” problems than larger cities while “green agenda” problems are also growing - due to motorization, industrialization and population growth, for example. The proposed project will focus on urban environmental governance in India because of the global demographic and ecological importance of the country’s small cities (with populations of c. 100,000-500,000). Very little is known about the rapidly growing small cities in India, their environmental dynamics, problems and governance (while a growing body of literature has begun to pay attention to India’s metropolitan areas). The first aim of this research program is therefore to narrow this knowledge gap.Policymakers and researchers in India have furthermore suggested that the small cities’ triple challenge has been exacerbated in the current context of neoliberalization and decentralization. In the broader context of accelerated economic reforms since 1991, the Government of India has promoted an increasingly neoliberal approach to urban governance (including user charges for urban services, public-private partnerships, e-governance) with the stated goal to enhance the credit rating of cities and reduce their reliance on regular budget allocations from central and state governments. At the same time, a constitutional amendment of 1992 directed state governments to devolve governmental functions, including those related to urban environments and services, to elected Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). Critics have argued that neoliberal policies resulted in disproportionately declining financial resources of smaller cities and that decentralization policies failed to develop the necessary technical capacities at the level of ULBs - further decreasing the capabilities of small cities to address brown and green agenda problems. However, neoliberal reform and decentralization policies in India have followed state-specific trajectories and interact with particular local environmental and political contexts that are likely to produce state- and even city-specific outcomes in terms of environmental, economic and social sustainability. Little is known about the relevant political actors and environmental politics in small cities (while recent research on million cities suggests an increasing influence of middle-class-based environmentalism on metropolitan governance). The second aim of this research program, therefore, is to better understand how neoliberal reform and decentralization policies have intersected with local politics and environmental histories to affect urban sustainable development in small cities. To address these research aims, the study builds upon the framework of Urban Political Ecology (UPE), which emphasizes mutual relationships between ecological and socio-political processes and analyzes the (re-) production of “urban natures” through an attention to unequal resource access, power relations and environmental politics within their wider political-economic context. The research will expand this framework by using the concept of governmentality to understand neoliberal and decentralized environmental governance as a particular technology of rule and to interpret its wider effects on “people and things”. Implications for urban sustainable development are evaluated with a normative orientation to disadvantaged groups.In order to render the project feasible, empirical studies will concentrate on the states of West Bengal and Gujarat, which represent contrasting political trajectories and thus will enable an assessment of the relative influence of neoliberal reform and decentralization policies on urban sustainable development. To gauge intra-state variation and the significance of local political and environmental contexts, three small cities in each of these states will be studied. The research team will consist of the applicant, one post-doctoral researcher and two PhD students, and it will be guided by an interdisciplinary India-based Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP). For the scientific community, the work will (1) fill a knowledge gap on small cities and their environmental governance in India and elsewhere; (2) contribute to theory building on global urbanization through an attention to smaller centers in the global south and through extending the UPE approach; (3) point to an effective use of a comparative case-study approach in geography. Thanks to its reference to urban sustainable development, the research is also expected to provide relevant information for stakeholders in the studied cities (who will be organized in Urban User Group Panels [UUGPs]), policymakers at the state and national levels, as well as for international development agencies, including the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and its Climate Change and Development Division (CCD).
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