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.