Ease of Doing Business: Centralizing Technologies of the Land Bureaucracy in Mumbai

Authors: Sangeeta Banerji*, Rutgers University
Topics: Urban Geography, Development, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Land, Bureaucracy, Centralizing Technology, anthropology of the state
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

I interrogate ‘development permissions,’ granted to anyone seeking the right to develop a plot of land in the city of Mumbai by the local state agency. In order to get this permission, 119 clearances must be gathered by developers by approaching multiple state agencies within the city, a process that often spans multiple years. Prompted by the World Bank and its ‘Doing Business’ rankings, the local state agency claims that it has reduced the required clearances to eight and that a development permission can now be received within a mere twenty-two days. This claim has been made possible by the introduction of new centralizing information technologies provided by multinational software companies. These technologies have begun to reconfigure the working of the land and building bureaucracy in Mumbai by shifting the paper based file system toward digitally centralized information management. The reforms by the bureaucracy have been so spectacular that even the overtly critical central government showcased them as an anti-corruption success story. Behind all of this, though, lies the unanswered question of who this transparency really serves when vast segments of the population—both aligned with and dispossessed by capital—have come to rely on dense social connections embedded in the unidentified state space? Through participant observation conducted as the intern of the mid-level bureaucrat given the charge of implementing these reforms, I illustrate the mechanisms through which the local state agency continues to rely heavily on the actors operating in the shadows of state space.

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