Planning and Informality in India by Avnika Nagar


Urban informality is a characteristic trait of third world countries and the discourse around it has evolved considerably. A dominant view around the notion of informality was that it is generally the poverty struck urban poor and the migrants (Georg Simmel) living in slums who fall into the category of informal (Robert Perk). Scholars have also narrowed down the informal into categories like vendors, barbers, servants traders found in streets, back alleys etc (Lloyd George Reynolds). (De Soto 1989, 2000) argues that informality is a revolution from below which is countered by the forces of ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘capitalism’ and (Davis; 2006) has established the slums as the site for the poor who are marginalized by the standard structures of the society.


However, over the period of time the dominant notions around urban informality has been challenged on the grounds that it is not exclusionary in nature as the ‘haves’ of the society wish to keep them under control (Asef Bayat). It is also important to point out in a country like India, the everyday lives of the people comes to a stop without the services of poor as maid, drivers etc. thus they are very much a part of the society.

The arguments provided by Ananya Roy have debunked the stereotypical notion around informality and discussed the the issue from a new vantage point. Ananya Roy dismisses the notion that informality is the by product of existence of urban poor in a society and emphasizes on the fact that different forces and their coordination to fulfil the interests of the power holders in the name of public domain is an important determinant of informality in the society. Her works argue that it is not only the urban poor who are the major proponent of informality but the State and the developers regulate the formal policies to reach their goals. Is this not informality?


One of the reasons behind emergence of new urban informal patterns is a strong adherence to neoliberal ides which views the policies and the plans from a market oriented perspective and retards the idea of an holistic urban development. In Kolkata, for example, many street vendors (informal and illegal) were evicted for the development of middle class housing (Ananya Roy), however the street vendors are not given an alternative space to operate which paves way for congestion in well functioning markets as the vendors are motivated to take the advantages of urban agglomeration.

It has been strongly asserted that deregulation of the existing laws result in large scale informal planning. The proposed satellite city of Gurgaon is a prime example of it. The city of Gurgaon which was proposed as a satellite city to decongest Delhi is an example of how a whole city could be constructed informally. Gurgaon has come up on a land which was of no use and was outside the preview of any State legislation, it is through the manipulations of the laws that the entire city has come up. The laws facilitated certain exemptions from taxes and duties, obligations and exceptions for Public Private Partnerships and Special Economic Zones which facilitated manipulation in land use, land acquisitions and title transfers. Advantage was also taken of incidences like poor land record, competing claim for land etc. Gurgaon did not fall under any administrative body and any development needed the permission of the CM, thus all the bureaucratic processes were avoided. Some of the policies to be manipulated were ‘ULCRA’ (Urban Land Ceiling And Regulation Act), ‘Haryana Land Ceiling Act’, 1972,’ Haryana Development And Regulation Of Urban Area Act’, 1972, ‘Haryana Housing Board Act’, 1973 (Gururani; 2013).

Planning and Informality in India Gurgaon developing at a fast rate

Another politics which exists is around situations when planning paves way for illegalities. Decisions in Delhi have thrown light on how unaccountable and unexplained has the slum regularisation process been. Biased planning , shortage of housing due to inadequate estimations, long gestation periods for housing stock allocation are the potential reasons behind increased informality in the city of Delhi. The informal settlements have been give multiple nomenclatures like planned, legal, illegal, and legitimate without satisfactory justifications. Thus the rationale behind regularizations stands questionable (Bhan; 2013). This also brings us to the case of Guwahati where migration has led to the creation of illegal housing in the wetlands. Attempts have been made by the State to regularize the housing of the middle class and the upper middle class while the urban poor have become products of evictions thereby eroding the housing rights of the poor. Ananya Roy has commented upon this nature of informality that why is informality illegal for a certain section of the society and why do some enjoy the privilege of being supported by the State and being rendered as legal and formal (Mahadevia, Mishra and Jodeph; 2017).

What is a Slum


Thus informality in a city is dual in nature, one which is practised by the poor and the other has the State and developers a party to it. Equity and social justice is a very distant idea when we talk about the informality practised by the poor as they are considered to be cancerous by the society and all their settlements are considered to be illegal. Their settlements are very easy targets for eviction as they are not subjected to any mappings in the master plans. These settlements suffer most of the time as they are easily encroached upon whenever needed on the demands of the development projects. However they do find place in the city peripheries or in slums near the upper class’ residence providing them service. However, where is the justice and equity if rehabilitation makes accessibility for livelihood difficult.

Planning and Informality in India - Campa Cola Compound

There are many illegal high rises in India, are they subjected to eviction and encroachment. The ‘Campa Cola’ is the biggest example of the situation which has flats of some of the richest politicians and industrialists, orders have been given to remove two floors but nothing has been done. The Akshardham temple as argued by (Ghertner; 2006) in Delhi had violated all the bye laws around building and this informal infrastructure is considered today as a monument of modernity. Thus legality and illegality is conditional and generally class and status based. People with power and money do survive easily and the powerless urban poor survive with difficulty and compromises.

Planning and Informality in India - Akshardham Temple

Author Bio:  Avnika Nagar is a Masters student at Tata Institute Of Social Sciences, Mumbai


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  • Gururani, S. (2013). Flexible Planning: The Making of India’s ‘Millennium City,’Gurgaon.
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