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Bangalore’s Struggle To Become Known As A World City

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The urban modernisation narrative calls to replace the native urban poor with a new class of people who will uphold the world-city ambitions projected by Bangalore’s government. Indeed, India’s land dispossession and booming property investments are not occurring in its city centres, rather on the booming peripheries and in smaller cities such as the edge settlements beyond Bangalore’s Electronic City. Lefebvre (2003) coins this as India’s ‘urban revolution’, accounting for the shift in capital from its primary (industrial) circuit into its secondary (property-based) circuit. This form of urban revolution requires an injection of surplus capital into real estate in emerging markets and switching previously ‘underutilised areas’ for the production of capitalist space. In India’s case, this hinged on the millions of small peri-urban land transactions, grouped and sold to developers. The manipulation of existing laws harking from the colonial state, in conjunction with India’s Special Economic Zone Act (2005) has resulted in unprecedented level of state land acquisition for urban development through the ruse of eminent domain. Indeed, India has 143 SEZs in operation, with 600 more approved and projected for future development, requiring over half a million acres of new land, much of which will go towards luxury housing and retail: “the real draw of the SEZ for most developers”. Yet Bangalore, in its quest to become a world city, has led to considerable displacement following the expansion of the secondary circuit of capital. A discussion on urbanisation and city-making in India is not complete without addressing informality. Macfarlane (2012) offers an alternative conceptualization of the distinction between formality and informality: both are different forms of practice. The product of urban modernity and economic liberalization, is assumed to be in the domain of the ‘formal’, whilst informality can be conceptualised as a negotiable value.

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In reality, formality and informality are not fixed categories, rather are fluid, which enables planners and developers in Indian cities such as Bangalore to switch between the two in order to achieve their goal. However, this is at a high price, as Bangalore’s IT-focused world city development projects have also undercut a significant informal economy which employs much of the city’s population, and provides 50-75% of GDP. Like many post-colonial cities, urban neighbourhoods in Indian cities are settled informally, and are “recognised and administered through hybrid, contradictory and ambiguous sets of legal mechanisms and state practices”. Informal slum settlement emerges out of development induced poverty and the subsequent migration from rural areas to urban peripheral lands. Indeed, informality is a way of life, experienced and used by both elites and slum dwellers, and it is critical to understanding how development takes place in India. Developers and state agencies undermine existing laws, begin illegal construction and only gain approval afterwards. In some cases, state agencies begin projects with support from organised crime syndicates. Thus it is clear that informality is not limited to scantily constructed slums and the lower classes: it is utilised and implemented across Indian society. it is particularly relevant here, as the informal practices of land encroachment and dispossession are wrapped in regulatory ambiguity, enabling development agencies and parastatal actors to bulldoze their way towards their vision of an Indian world city. Doshi (2015) comments that we need a postcolonial engagement with theories of gentrification in order to understand the processes occurring in Indian cities such as Bangalore. Slum demolition, resettlement, land grabs and state led development cannot be grouped as gentrification, as urban change in India occurs through informal practices of land settlement and governance, and frequently extra-legal measures and developmentalist interventions. Harvey (1989) draws from a Marxist analysis of capitalism to help explain contemporary urbanization: his theory of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ can help us conceptualise displacement and dispossession, updating Marx’s ‘primitive accumulation’: the “historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production” for conditions of advanced capitalism.

For Harvey, (1989) “urbanisation is about mobilization, production, appropriation and absorption of economic surplus. Capitalism has to urbanize in order to reproduce itself”. In India, the use of state force to pave the way for development projects (i.e. accumulation by dispossession) is a social process, using existing structures to manipulate laws that subsequently allow the application of direct extra-economic coercion, such as eminent domain, slum demolition and land grabbing. Lastly it is important to consider the postcolonial context in which this all takes place. The Indian government inherited a colonial landscape from the British, whereby it held control over most of Bangalore’s land including over 80 lakes, parks and grounds. Thus postcolonial Indian cities did not begin with strict private property-based, tenure regimes; rather they continued along the path the British had unwittingly left behind, both formal and informal. Thus there are underlying governing structures shaping how Indian world city making can develop. Bangalore has presented a fascinating case of a city struggling to make its mark to become known as a world city, with all the cosmopolitan bells and whistles. Speculative urbanism was critical in the use of eminent domain, development-induced displacement and accumulation by dispossession to make room for the class of people who attract foreign direct investment and cultural capital. However, this has been to the detriment of those left behind: Bangalore’s poor, who are reduced to a ‘zero-capital’ status and are viewed by development agencies as simple, mobile obstacles who can be driven out to allow for the secondary circuit of capital. Those driven from their homes are not given adequate rehousing, and when offered a price for their land, are given deflated prices relative to land’s new urban value. Indeed, many claims are still being disputed in court today. With a growing population, Bangalore must discover innovative methods of planning to accommodate its citizens and provide a space for all.

01 February 2021

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