Urban water – The coexistence and use of diverse supply systems in a small municipal town in West Bengal

-By Suchismita Chatterjee

About 30km away from the megacity of Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta), at the southernmost edge of the Kolkata Metropolitan Area (KMA) is the peripheral and rapidly urbanizing municipal town of Baruipur. A historically significant urban settlement in the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, Baruipur had early rail links (since 1882) to Kolkata, and an administrative sub-centre status on account of its district-level offices since colonial times. In more recent times, the town features in official plans (Draft Development Plan 2007, City Development Plan 2013) as a ‘promising growth centre’ looking ahead to a ‘viable, liveable future.’ However, constrained by finances and capacities, the urban local body is largely dependent on the state government for infrastructure expansion, the town’s water supply system being one of them.

About Baruipur: a perspective

Baruipur lies in an area where the risk of groundwater Arsenic and iron concentration in subterranean water, is a matter of concern. Citing this contamination and the risk of serious health problems, metropolitan development authorities have been keen to replace groundwater systems and the more traditional open sources such as ponds. They have, as an alternative, presented piped water networks transporting treated surface water from the Hooghly River as an ‘assured’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘quality water supply’ system (Field notes, 28.05.2018). Yet, constant negotiations with the state government and the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) are the norm for funds to come to Baruipur and to hasten the slow and disorderly expansion of piped networks. Says one of the town’s elected councillors, ‘But ours is a small place. For us it is entirely a matter of dependence, we have to depend on whatever little we get and work accordingly. It all depends on the Sarkar [State government] entirely. Whatever the Sarkar gives us, the way it does, the extent to which it helps us’ (Interview, 30.11.2017).

But as this photo story illustrates, Baruipur continues to display a co-existence of non-networked and networked infrastructural arrangements despite attempts to ‘modernise’ existing local water supply systems by successive local governments. The town’s heterogeneous water infrastructures consist of ponds (pukur), shallow hand pumps (tube kol), hand pumped deep tube wells or locally, the 1000 foot. Water flowing through piped networks is accessed through ‘time kols’ – a collective name for house service connection (HSCs) taps and public stand posts, this is the municipal treated water supply which comes thrice a day (approximately 4.5 hours per day).

Ponds – the earliest infrastructures

Surrounded by an agrarian hinterland, Baruipur with its population of 53,128 (Census 2011) is largely residential. The land-use, unplanned and haphazard across the town’s 17 wards (spreading across approximately 9.50 sq.km), is dotted with homestead orchards and numerous ponds. Like in the case of most settlements in Bengal, ponds met the town’s earliest water needs, their digging sometimes financed by the town’s landed elites.


Neglect has led most ponds to choke and turn green with algal blooms and hyacinth growth. The local political leadership admits that pond water quality is deteriorating and claims to have put up cautionary notices against littering or dumping garbage in the water bodies.

Although a walk down Baruipur’s lanes and by-lanes may reveal the odd cautionary sign, the heaps of refuse are sighted far easily. Local residents share in hushed tones that the likelihood of filling a pond for real-estate gains is also increasing, since land in the town is getting dearer, given its growing importance. When such ‘arrangements’ between builders, pond owners and neighbourhood strongmen to broker lucrative deals are successful, trees at the pond edge may be cut and the water body is either emptied out or left to choke (Field notes, 20.04.2018). Yet, there are residents from poor households who still consider the neighbourhood pond a necessity. With no in-house piped water and sanitation facilities, they wash clothes and utensils at pond edges, some even taking a dip in the pond every day. However, unwritten social rules still regulate the usage and maintenance of private and temple ponds, where collective usage is permitted by owners with conditions to maintain sanctity.

The introduction of shallow tube wells

new oneDespite the high iron content in groundwater, most town residents across socio-economic groups make do with shallow tube wells at home for ‘rough use’. This implies cleaning and washing chores. Shallow tube wells were an add-on to Baruipur’s water sources in the post-colonial era and represent a move, ostensibly to side-step increasing contamination worries from open sources such as ponds, in favour of water extracted from the ground. Installed by the municipality, the roadside hand pumps or tube kol in the local parlance made water more publicly accessible. The ones on the road are now used little or lie abandoned since most households have a shallow tube well within their premises.


1000 foot deep tube wells: Arsenic-safe drinking water for Baruipur

In the nineties, residents’ demand for Arsenic-free water had prompted the civic body to undertake the digging of public deep tube wells or 1000 foot, as they are commonly known in the town. This is a trusted drinking water source for many, as the water drawn is from a safer depth. Even in middle-class localities with piped network coverage, residents continue to fall back on their 1000 foot source for drinking water purposes. ‘Not used to the taste of water from the time kol’, they explain in conversations on everyday water use. But carrying water from a 1000 foot each day is an arduous task.


It is common across the town to see 1000 foots in want of repairs or come across neighbourhoods left only with ones that have gone dry, necessitating a longer walk to the next site. This adds to time constraints, longer queues and bickering crowds – prime reasons why many residents avoid going to one themselves and look instead for alternatives. While some have arrangements with their house help, packaged drinking water sold by private vendors are also becoming increasingly common. Albeit rare, one may come across a resident who still consumes water from a shallow tube well, discounting the risk to health and well-being.

Networked alternatives – public stand posts and municipal house connections


Public stand posts linked to Baruipur’s pipeline network came up in the seventies. A highly localised network that was connected to three submersible pumps supplying groundwater, this project was proposed by the then chairman of the local civic body, an influential landed elite.

The expansion of piped water networks in Baruipur however, has proceeded in a fragmented and disorderly manner. Caught in political tussles, piped water flows to the town have largely been determined by alignments of successive local governments with the state government.


Treated surface water to Baruipur was supplied for the first time in 2003, by the state Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) following a public uproar around Arsenic contamination. Prior to this, the distance from the River Hooghly and the town’s dispersed population had excluded it from receiving filtered surface water supply.

Baruipur, being a part of the KMA, received its large scale filtered drinking (surface) water supply project through the central government’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) – Urban Infrastructure and Governance sub-mission. Formally inaugurated in 2013, this  project attempted to introduce metering, a standard water tariff, 100 per cent network coverage, and a constant 24X7 supply. Metering and tariffs have, until now, been resisted by the ruling state government, given its populist policy and municipal water continues to be ‘free’. While the number of individual house connections has steadily risen over the years, the municipality gives connections only to those with formal property titles, levying a one-time connection fee for a house tap installation.

In this situation of diverse and uneven development of water infrastructures in the town, water difficulties are many. Piped drinking water supplies are intermittent and erratic, and network coverage is partial and fragmented. Since surface water supplied by the PHED is not enough to meet Baruipur’s daily requirement, local water supply department engineers have responded to the shortfall by ‘mixing’ groundwater, extracted with municipality run submersible pumps. This gives residents a hybrid flow of piped water supply. Though troubled by shortages and increasing demand, the local body has little control over centralised surface water supplies to divert more in its favour. Unable to provide complete piped surface water coverage and apprehensive about water scarcities, local political leaders consider the 1000 foot a vital ‘substitute arrangement’ (Field notes, 18.08.2018). Besides their qualitative merits, the visibility of this water infrastructure is also a means of safeguarding local electoral interests.


Interestingly, while many in the town do not use time kol water for drinking purposes, they do attach an aesthetic appeal to tap water, in addition to the conventional notion of upward social mobility and status it embodies. As a resident says, ‘There is a mixed use, completely. No one drinks water directly from the time kol… But it is used for all other purposes. Everyone does that. Can you tell me why there is such a big demand for taking time kols in Baruipur? The iron content in water, here in Baruipur is very high. Tube well water is extremely high in iron. Nowadays everyone is using tiles, they are doing up their bathrooms nicely, giving them a new look. But if you use that [ground] water in your bathroom, the fittings are getting damaged, from taps to everything. Since time kol water has less iron, people’s demand is for a time kol line’ (Interview, 19.08.2018).

Ironically, for those relying on public stand posts, since many get submerged under overflowing drains or ponds during heavy rains, such sights and contamination fears keep residents away.

Delivering drinking water to people’s homes: the local water vendor


Suspicion around piped water quality, its sporadic availability, muddy flows and the uneven and fragmented nature of the network, has encouraged enterprising locals who have set up small businesses in their own courtyards to extract and ‘filter’ groundwater. Sold as ‘mineral water’ across the town, Baruipur’s ‘jol er byabsha’ or business deals around groundwater (which started about five years ago) has grown well in the last two to three years according to insiders. According to officials in the municipality, vendors in all probability collect their PHE water, perhaps mix some chlorine in it so that it appears whiter, a little cleaner and package it in jars for sale (Field notes, 23.08.2018). On the other hand, vendor networks claim that their ‘pure’, ‘Arsenic-free’, ‘filtered’ mineral water is drawn from depths close to 1000 feet. Such claims are configured, and business expanded through neighbourhood contacts and roadside banner advertisements.


These mineral water businesses are not strictly illegal, since they have municipal trade licenses to operate their units. However, some plant owners say there are units that blatantly flout norms. Unlike the ‘water is a basic service, a free public good’ rationale of the state-led drinking water provisioning, the mineral water business operates on a market logic. Relying on vendor supplies are residents across socio-economic groups, eateries, service and commercial establishments in the town; and deliveries are not limited only to neighbourhoods where water infrastructures are poor or absent.

Fieldwork in Baruipur has revealed myriad experiences of trust, social preferences, established habits, apprehensions around the town’s water infrastructures and the political pressure to provide water to all. Inhabitants’ narratives and their everyday practices show that there continues to be a strong reliance on groundwater, which is understood as a matter of preference (taste), a habit and business in the town. Contradicting official top-down modernisation goals of centrally planned and controlled surface water networks for urban water service delivery, Baruipur municipality continues to operate its groundwater submersible pumps for consistent supplies. Adding to its fragmented efforts from time to time, the local government is currently installing five new submersible groundwater pumps with fund support from the KMDA to expand pipe networks and increase supplies.

1 Baruipur municipality’s filtered surface water requirement is 8500 cubic mt. according to municipal water supply department officials, but the town receives 6800 cubic mt. from PHED (Field notes, 04.09.2017).




Understanding the role of “place” when addressing labour rights in global supply chains

   By Dr. Sanchita Banerjee Saxena

For those of us working on labor issues in global supply chains, April 24, 2013 will always be known as the deadliest garment factory accident in history. More than 1,125 people died and 2,000 were injured when an eight story building in the outskirts of the capital of Bangladesh, Rana Plaza, collapsed.  The building, which was originally built as a shopping complex, was not meant to serve as a garment factory filled to capacity with more than 3,000 workers and their machines. Four stories had been added to the building without proper permits or documentation. Large cracks in the building had appeared the day before the disaster, and other than the garment factory, all other parts of the building were closed that day. When garment workers pointed out the cracks to their supervisors, they were reprimanded and told to go back to work, otherwise they would lose their jobs.


At this time, I was just finishing my first book, Made In Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka: The Labor Behind the Global Garments and Textiles Industries (2014, Cambria Press) and I requested an extension from the publisher to be able to address this horrific disaster and what, some would argue, was a turning point in the industry. Now, more than five years later, I am working on an edited volume (Forthcoming, 2019, Routledge), bringing together 15 different authors from a variety of disciplines and approaches to try and understand whether the concerns following the Rana Plaza disaster have been addressed and if not, what new approaches might look like.

The volume does three things through its collection of chapters that are both theoretically analytical and “solution” oriented. First, it puts Rana Plaza into a larger context to help readers understand the structural, managerial, and political conditions within which poor labor standards flourish. Second, the book productively critiques the existing plans that are in place and highlights their limitations with the hopes of new and improved methods to address these critical concerns. And finally, many of the authors provide a way forward by examining innovations, new ideas, and novel approaches that can all be part of a larger set of “solutions” to address workers rights post-Rana Plaza that go beyond third party monitoring initiatives.

One of these novel approaches is articulated by Dr. Meenu Tewari in her chapter(1), drawing on lessons learned from an innovative place-based experiment in relational sourcing in India’s Mewat region (2009-2012, and ongoing). Her fundamental argument is that we need to move beyond the workplace and into the community where the most vulnerable, informal garment workers live and work to really make a difference. To ensure that benefits reach them, we need to target the places, localized labor markets and communities that they are a part.  


In addition to place the state needs to get involved by forging new sourcing models that involve networked ties between public sector agencies, branded buyers, and locally rooted community associations (or NGOs) that can provide continuous oversight, accountability and learning as global (and local) work reaches those that are the most unprotected at the base of the garment industry’s value chains.  By building up local relationships, workers can become a central part of a local movement to creating safer working conditions and decent work. Adopting an approach such as this could be critical to preventing horrific tragedies such as Rana Plaza from occurring again.

The Mewat experiment is a work in progress, but its progress so far offers at least three lessons about how and under what conditions labor protections can be extended to those at the bottom of global value chains. First, it shows that it is possible to build relational contracting networks even in the most informal segments at the base of global production networks.  These networked models, as in the Mewat case, are place-based, anchored in territorial labor markets, and not just sectoral. Besides the layering possibilities, a place-based focus (on an area-based local labor market instead of just a firm or shofloor) also allows the extension of benefits (of safe work, skill) to workers in the labor market, and beyond individual workplaces. A territorial strategy thus can be an important complement to sectoral strategies of workplace protection and monitoring.  

Second, experiments like Mewat are important exemplars of the need to look beyond continuity of form, to continuity of the spirit of a program as it evolves.  The particular partnerships or institutional arrangements that lead to initial success may look quite different from the structures needed for it to persist and evolve as it grows later on. Finally, it is clear that to reach workers at the bottom of global chains, it is clear that the state will need to get involved. The Mewat case sheds light on how intermediation by the state – and even its material involvement early on during the 15 years of organizing the communities socially – was of critical importance to providing a platform of legitimacy on which other private and collective actors could come together and collaborate. The state’s role is going to be critical if these spatialized experiments that are extending good labor practices down to the bottom tiers global value chains and into communities and places where workers live are to continue and succeed.


(1) Excerpts taken from an earlier version of the chapter, “Rethinking Solutions: Place based contracting and decent work in informal segments of the global garment chain: Lessons from Mewat, India,” March 17, 2018.


Celebrating a Year of M-Powering M-Ward

Text and Photographs by Mrudula P


On October 6, 2018, the M-Power Study Centre and Library, a community centre for skill building and education in M-East Ward Deonar, celebrated its first anniversary. The spacious, red-tile roof structure was dressed up in festoons, balloons and streamers for the occasion, but it was the beautiful flower carpet at the entrance that caught my attention. I could feel the excitement among many of the organisers who had worked very hard over the past one year to make this centre a success.

The M-East ward is one of Mumbai’s poorest areas. Its human development index is the lowest in the city with an infant mortality rate of around 66.47 per thousand live births. According to the 2011 Census, while Mumbai’s average literacy rate was 89.21 per cent, the literacy rate of M-East ward was an abysmal 21 per cent. A study conducted in 2015 found that only 4.5 per cent of the ward’s residents were graduates. The M-Power Study Centre and Library hopes to change this by providing access to education and resources.

The ward is also the immediate neighbourhood of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and the institute has had long-standing relationships with the residents and community organisations of the area. On the occasion of its Platinum Jubilee year, TISS initiated the ‘Transforming M-Ward’ project that aimed at building strategic partnerships with organisations, the government and residents for the transformation of the human development conditions in the ward. In September 2017, the M-Power Study Centre and Library was launched under the Transforming M-Ward Project, in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), to encourage children and youth to continue education and learn vocational skills. Today, it also functions as a community space where residents gather, learn new skills, read, make conversations and explore new possibilities.


At the one-year celebration ceremony, Dr Amita Bhide, Dean School of Habitat Studies, TISS, shared the apprehensions she had before executing such an ambitious initiative. “In 2017, Transforming M-ward Project received a letter from Municipal Commissioner asking whether we would be willing to manage a space like this, I had a discussion with the Centre’s faculty members and it led to this idea,” she said. “We wrote a letter to Dr Parasuraman (former Director of TISS, Mumbai) with no detailed explanations of this project, and he immediately extended his support. I was confused about where will the money come from, how will we appoint staff. We even wondered would it be like a white elephant which looks beautiful from the outside but does not serve any purpose. Today, I’d like to give people of the community credit for its success. They have adopted it wholeheartedly,” she added.

It is important to empower everybody as a community and aid them to aspire for bigger dreams”, said Sabah Khan, Project Coordinator of the M-power Study Centre and Library, at the ceremony.

Today, multiple organisations work within the premises to empower the community. The centre has laptops with pre-programmed software that facilitate building conceptual foundations in mathematics and science. The initiative is run by Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx), a joint venture of TATA Trusts, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The centre also has English Speaking programmes by Teach India, it houses CUBE Biology Lab in association with Homi Bhabha Centre for Science and Education, and a library and IAS career guidance centre in association with Dharam Bharati Mission.


Kiran Dighavkar, Asst Commissioner of A-Ward said, “I am hoping to see children of the  ward become collectors, IAS officers, doctors, CAs and professionals in any field they dream of someday.” At the ceremony, the M-Power centre also felicitated dignitaries who aided its implementation and community volunteers who have made the M-power library. The evening concluded with a play enacted by the students from the study centre. The play’s theme revolved around a day at M-Power library and study centre, which showed what this space has come to mean to different people.

Saifullah (Left) with his friend. 

“I dropped out of school a year ago and joined the M-Power study centre. I was not familiar with anyone here, but eventually, I started liking this place. Now I have new friends here. Also, my school friends who dropped out of school like me are also coming here to attend classes. I have realized that if I study more I can also pursue my higher education from an institute like TISS or maybe from much bigger institutes,” said Saifullah, an eighth standard student, with a smile.

Bringing out the best of BEST: A Campaign to Save Mumbai’s BEST bus service

By Gitanjali Sharma


August 7, 2018 was the 71st anniversary of the BEST services in Mumbai. To mark the occasion, on August 6, 2018, the Centre for Urban Policy and Governance and Amchi Mumbai, Amchi BEST, organised a panel discussion at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The panel discussion, titled ‘Better than BEST? The Future of Public Transport in Mumbai’ addressed  the systematic attempts by the BMC and BEST management to undermine the services of the BEST. The panel featured academics, transport experts, citizen activists, union leaders who debated and discussed what is ailing the BEST, and what are some of the strategies to convince the BEST management and the BMC that BEST needs to be subsidized, that the unregulated growth of private vehicles needs to be discouraged, and that BEST needs to regain its position as an urban affordable, sustainable and universally accessible mode of public transport. The panel speakers included feminist activist Sandhya Gokhale; Amita Bhide, Dean, School of Habitat Studies, TISS Mumbai; Jagnarayan M. Gupta, Union Leader and Head of BEST Kamgar Sangathana, and Ashok Datar, Economist and Transport Analyst, Chairperson of Mumbai Environmental Social Network. The session was moderated by Dr. Ratoola Kundu, Assistant Professor, Centre for Urban Policy and Governance, TISS Mumbai

For the last seven decades, the BEST buses have been a lifeline of Mumbai. However, in recent years, bad planning, poor management, lack of investment and woeful maintenance of the bus fleet has led to reduction in the number of buses. As mentioned by Jagnarayan M Gupta in his presentation, 112 routes that were considered not profitable have been suspended and close to 95 trips have been cancelled on the pretext of lack of ridership by the Municipal Corporation of the city. The BEST problems are a result of (a) government policy that is single minded in the encouragement of private automobiles creating unbearable congestion on roads, (b) lack of investment in upgrading and improving BEST fleet and operations, and (c) repeated fare hikes since April 2012 that have led to a drop in ridership. The real crisis of BEST is the decline of public bus ridership, and the ruinous expansion of private transport, which has led to the growth of traffic congestion, pollution and deterioration of public welfare (People Plan, 2018). Ridership of BEST buses has fallen by a third, from 42 lakh to 28 lakh or even less, in a span of a few years. There have also been a series of protests over the issues of chronic delays of the salary of the BEST employees, the scrapping of bus routes and buses that aren’t put to use.

In order to contain the problems, the BMC and the Municipal Corporation wants to further reduce bus routes, increase ticket prices and privatise of bus operations. However, before  deciding whether privatisation is the right way to go, we need to first understand how ‘public’ are our public transport modes”.’  During the panel discussion Dr. Amita Bhide argued that in order for BEST to be seen or function as a public service and not a public enterprise, it needs to be operated by a public entity. She said, “In order to serve the public of the region it needs to be funded by public money. A public service is amenable to public scrutiny, it needs to be transparent in its operations and finances. Moreover, a public service is not concerned about bottom lines or profit but its focus remains on making the city more accessible to all citizens. The BEST must be viewed as an integrated system that is linked to other modes of public transport, and not as a service that functions in isolation. Most importantly, the public who are the users of the service, should be involved in the decision making with regard to the future of BEST. The absence of this understanding is evident throughout the cities in India leading to fragmentation of public transportation. We need to stop viewing the riders as customers and alienating them from the decision making process.”

Sandhya Gokhale, a feminist activist, added that while a public service must focus on factors like cost, time, reliability, service frequency, physical comfort, security, etc, safety, especially women should be their primary concern. “Women feel safer in public transportation, and the working women of Mumbai rely more on BEST buses than on trains. This should be incentive to push harder to save the BEST,” she said.

Union leader Jagnarayan M. Gupta argued for the case of the BEST workers, who in recent years haven’t received increments and in some cases their wages have been held. He also spoke in detail about how mismanagement of buses and bus routes has led to severe losses.  “In recent years, buses have been detained due to lack of staff leading to disruptions in the frequency and schedules of buses. The ticket hikes have driven away customers. The routes have been arbitrarily scrapped by claiming that they are ‘non profitable’. On the other hand, new buses have been added in the Bandra Kurla Complex, while BEST’s own 230 buses have been sitting at depot unused, left to rust,” he said.

Continuing Gupta’s argument, Ashok Datar, economist and transport analyst added that the mismanagement of roads and the priority given to motorised vehicles was the main enemy of the BEST. “The biggest occupier of space and the cause of all the mayhem is parking,” he said. “Rather than managing the roads more efficiently, BMC has been putting the blame on the BEST services for running inefficiently.”

At the end of the panel, the audience asked about the future strategies that Amchi Mumbai Amchi BEST was looking to employ and how were they planning to build a broader support system. It also asked how inclusive and participatory was the nature of the campaign, since the city has multiple ‘publics’ with varied needs and agendas.

With all these problems, there is an urgent need to redefine the problem and seek a solution that is collectively drawn up. However, simply giving in to privatisation will not end the problem, there needs to be a holistic solution. A step towards finding a solution has been articulated by Amchi Mumbai, Amchi BEST in their Charter of Demands. https://amchibest.wordpress.com/2018/07/03/aamchi-mumbai-aamchi-best-campaign-demands/

The campaign Amchi Mumbai Amchi BEST has also recently released “People’s Plan for BEST” that contains alternatives from the people of the city. You can read the plan at https://amchibest.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/a-peoples-plan-for-best_2018-august.pdf


Commoning of Governance: Students Suggest How to Make Streets more Inclusive

Over the last six months, we have published articles written by our Master’s students that sought to examine the existing processes of governing the street. What kind of a social space is the street? Is it an urban commons? Who does it belong to? What kind of negotiations and everyday contestations define the nature of the street as a social space? The stories we heard were varied, and rich in information and detail. They spoke of how the street can be a space to practise religion and spirituality, but also a space for entrepreneurship, for earning a livelihood, for relaxing, and for celebrating. Other articles critiqued the idea of the Smart Street that turns an open, multi-use street into a homogeneous, structured space that displaces the marginalised, increases and legitimises surveillance and allows fewer negotiations. We wrap up the series with a recap of the methods used and sites visited during the institute, and suggestions from the students on ways to make the process of governing street more inclusive and participatory in nature.

What is the Winter Institute?

The stories were written as a part of the Winter Institute,  a full-fledged three credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program at the School of Habitat Studies, TISS Mumbai. The institute is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. This year, the Winter Institute was held in collaboration with Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Pune, an organisation that is actively involved in urban issues in Pune. Through immersive and intense fieldwork, this exercise was designed to develop a critical understanding of how urban streets are perceived and used by multiple stakeholders through formal and informal mechanisms of governance (codes, rules, regulations and practices) and to indicate spaces and mechanisms that support “commoning of governance” of the street – i.e., spaces/ mechanisms/ institutions that enable collaboration, facilitate sharing and cooperation for collective action to co-manage and co-create the street as urban commons. The exercise was seen as particularly significant in light of the radical socio-spatial transformations that certain streets were undergoing in Pune as a result of the Smart City projects.

How did we go about it?

The exercise took place in the residential cum commercial Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area in Pune where the idea of a world class city is being pushed through a slew of physical infrastructure projects that seek to reconfigure the space of the streets and uses of streets as part of the area-based proposal of the Smart City Mission in the city. The fieldwork was done over a period of ten days by 20 students, divided into 6 groups analyzing 9 streets which were to be developed under the Smart City pilot project. The students conducted detailed transects of the streets in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area. They also interviewed a variety of stakeholders from residents, shopkeepers, vendors, cyclists, motorists, etc and interacted with the street design consultants, engineers from PMC, vendor’s union etc. Interviews with city officials and consultants were facilitated by CEE. as part of the exercise. Finally, CEE also organised a mini public, bringing multiple-stakeholders onto a participatory discussion table with the help of the students and their work in the area. With the overarching theme, ‘commoning of governance’, the idea was to identify uses of the street and its users, identify the stakeholders and conduct a stakeholder analysis of the area and understand the role and needs of various groups of the society.

What did the students study?

The Smart City Mission was launched in June 2015 by the Government of India under Ministry of Urban Development as an urban renewal and retrofitting programme with the stated aim of making the cities sustainable, inclusive and citizen friendly. Pune was selected as a part of the Smart City Project in the country to receive funds from the Central Government in the first round itself after performing well in the 2-stage selection process (Smart Cities Mission, MoUD). In consonance with the guidelines of the Mission, the PSCDCL has come with its mission proposals. The first point in the proposal document states: “A smart city constantly adapts its strategies incorporating views of its citizens to bring maximum benefit for all”. The Mission therefore intended to plan and implement the projects through participatory processes.  However, in 2016, a Special Purpose Vehicle – the Pune Smart City Development Corporation Limited (PSCDCL) was formed to implement the Mission in Pune bypassing the urban local body.

New guidelines for street re-design for the city were drawn up by experts and consultants, building upon a certain conception of “Complete Streets”. These interventions were spatially concentrated in the Aundh-Baner-Balewadi area – the designated location for the Area Based Development aimed at reclaiming streets as vibrant public spaces accommodating multiple uses and users and prioritising people over cars. The effort to redesign streets was underlined by a process of multi-stakeholder consultations and citizen engagement which unfortunately did not fully specify whether stakeholders such as the street vendors were included in this vision and if so, how. At the same time, Pune created a space to foster mechanisms and dialogues amongst various stakeholders of the urban street, including the vendors themselves by proactively forming a Town Vending Committee to protect the livelihoods of street vendors and secure their right to the use of the city’s footpaths and road sides. The Winter Institute was designed to explore the existing governance structures on the street, including conflicts, alliances and negotiations between various stakeholders – both formal and informal, and to look for further perspectives on how these structures would function in the context of the interventions and transformations brought about by the Smart City.

Recommendations and Suggestions

Based on two weeks of research the students reached the following conclusion and suggestions:

It is clear that the participatory process claimed in the Smart Cities vision document, as well as the spirit of the 74th Constitutional Amendment are missing on the ground. If the commoning of governance is to be the metric of judging the 9 streets project, there is precious little to celebrate. While the design established the “Streets for All” concept in consonance with central policy, it failed at the implementation stage due to the conflicts between the residents and the street vendors. The inability of the institutions that surround them to bring them onto the same platform meant that only the voice of the powerful was heard. As the report demonstrates, in the absence of formal, open fora for the voicing of issues and necessities by the people, alternative methodologies of applying the change one wants to see has resulted. The stakeholders, as analysed, have precipitated into pressure groups – each with its own agenda and more importantly, no equal platform to communicate with the other pressure groups. Thus the alliances made are tenuous at best, and the conflicts remain unresolved.

Citizen’s meaningful engagement in the envisioning process of their city is important not only in terms of the law and policy documentations, but also for the proper functioning of the city. It is an important step towards instilling a sense of ownership amongst the citizens, effectively resulting in better maintenance and design. This will reduce sunk costs as well.

The major challenges that face the project and city are largely behavioural and will require immense political will to surmount. The citizens’ participation is immensely important for the same, and therefore civil society organisations that negotiate the space of educating the public and laying down various opinions in front of them become immensely important.

As the process of the mini-public shows, this is not the only way. The stakeholders, if brought onto an equal platform, are well aware of each other’s stands and if given the opportunity do not let go of the possibility of a consensus. Therefore, to build such platforms within the institutional framework of local governance is key to solving the conflicts of interest within the various stakeholders in the city.

Four Socio-Political Initiatives that can augment the commoning of physical space:

  1. Encouraging inclusive citizen forums that promote the culture of interaction between citizen groups.
  1. Fixing accountability on a single point and spread awareness about the same. 
  1. Identifying of possible alliances between citizen groups and formation of forums for mediation over conflicts.
  1. Developing a localised street vendors’ policy and working towards its implementation in the city in an inclusive manner.

The above article is an edited excerpt from the Winter Institute report produced by the students. To know more about the Winter Institute click on the link below:



How the Street Environment Influences the Experience of the City

By Nehal Thorwade

“The streets are rivers of lives in cities” – William H. Whyte

The street is an important factor in the urban ecology. The street helps us effectively move around the city. It is also a shared space between pedestrians, residents, vendors, vehicles and nature. It is where the public life of a city is played out. This photo essay focuses on how the newly designed Smart Street that has been developed on one section of DP Road in Aundh, Pune, tries to maintain a balance between the pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The design also embraces nature and trees. On the other side, existing, older streets designs as seen from Season Road and the rest of the section of the DP road, creates various complications for pedestrians walking on the street. These older designs eliminate the environment and see nature as an obstacle in the design process. The newly designed street, in my opinion, is breaking the hegemony of vehicles on the street and treats the pedestrians as the king of road by acknowledging their need for space. The new design is a melange of nature and street which gives justice to all its users, pedestrians as well as vehicles without disturbing the existing flora.

I argue that Smart Streets give more value to pedestrians and trees. Through new designs, the size of the footpath is increased for pedestrians to walk on. The trees on sides of the road are included as a part of the street furniture by making sitting arrangement so people can sit under the shadow of a tree. 


An older street design on Season Road, Pune

In the above picture we can clearly see how older streets were designed. There is no standard size of footpaths — each street has different sizes and patterns of footpaths. On some streets there is hardly space for one pedestrian to walk on. This forces them to walk on the side of roads and this could be dangerous. In comparison the Smart Street (in the two photos seen below) is equipped with spacious footpaths so pedestrians can walk comfortably. These footpaths provide ease to the visually challenged and are pedestrian and nature friendly.  


The Smart Street stretch of DP Road
The Smart Street stretch of DP Road

The second observation I want to make is about how trees are included in the design of the street. In the picture below, the tree in the middle of the road is conserved but there is a lack of proper vision of including nature in design. The position of this tree on the road could lead to vehicular traffic and any lay man can view this as an obstacle on the road. This gives rise to conflict between nature and the existing street design. The Smart Street (as seen in the picture above) to some extent is designed according to the trees on the street. The designer has kept the trees in mind while planning the street. The trees are used as street furniture or street furniture is created around trees. A seating arrangement is made up of stones (as seen in the third picture below) that gives the feeling of nostalgia and being more close to nature rather than sitting on iron benches. On the current street design trees exist but their role on street is obscure. This component in the Smart Street design is a kind of a revolution according to me.

A tree is seen as an obstacle and adds to the vehicular traffic
Street designs are not planned around or to include trees.
The Smart Street to some extent is designed according to the trees on street, the designer has kept the trees in mind while planning the street. The trees are used as street furniture or street furniture is created around trees.



The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html

Solid Waste Management Systems a must for Smart Cities

By Vidhy Shethna

“Maza Swapna, Smart Pune” (My Pune, Smart Pune), an effort to be in touch with what Pune’s citizens feel about development priorities and standard of living, initially began as a multidimensional approach to overcome the problems of urbanization. However, while focusing on infrastructure and other recreational activities, the Smart City Mission overlooked a very basic issue like solid waste management. On the one hand it claims to have alliance with the Pune Municipal Corporation, on the other it fails to exercise efficient management between the Swachh mission and the PMC. The smart street in Pune, namely, D.P. road is the only street which has adequate number of public dustbins. On rest of the streets, there are hardly any or in certain cases like the stretch of street from Medi-point hospital to D.A. School, there are no dustbins. This leads to disposal of waste and garbage by the surrounding residents on the street. This poses a severe threat to the health and hygiene of the people.


The area under construction which is now used for garbage dumping. The broken signage is symbolic of dilapidated condition of the street.


Two different garbage collecting trunks: The one on thetop is a ‘Swachh’ cart and the one on the bottom is the PMC garbage trunk.

On paper, Swachh Bharat authorities are supposed to collect garbage door-to-door ensuring that residential waste is separate and collected duly on time, while PMC collects waste only from commercial estates like institutions or hospitals. But the ground reality is different. The Swachh Mission charges 50 rupees per family per month for providing the service, which is unethical in the eyes of the civil society who are already taxpayers. While PMC does not indulge in the conflict of the civil society and the Swachh authority, it does its duty of collecting waste only from concentrated places. The lack of efficient collection of garbage has led to ‘on the street dumping’. Residents staying on that stretch of the street, on a daily basis, dump the garbage on the side of the road as shown in the picture. There is no segregation of dry and wet waste. The waste collection is done twice-a-day from these spots. The accumulating garbage adds to the already existing problem of street and traffic congestion. The garbage collecting vans along with the trucks, are parked right next to itm blocking the entire street for as long as 15-20 minutes leading to a major traffic jam. By now, people in this vicinity are acclimatized to such an impoverish state of living.

The condition of the street before and after garbage collection.

While I was surveying on the street, I also found that there were signages reading ,’no parking’ and ‘no garbage dumping’ which were in a very dilapidated condition.  I also managed to meet the health inspector of the area who himself felt helpless about the state. He claimed that there wasn’t any conflict between the PMC and Swachh mission but they were aware of the conflict between the residents and the Swachh Mission. Moreover, surveying the informal vendors brought to our notice that most of them either burnt the waste including plastic or carried it back home because of lack of clear instructions or infrastructure. Lack of awareness and biased attitude of the PMC towards collecting their waste led to such this inefficient measure.

Growing urbanization has led to the launch of the Smart City Mission. However, this “independent functional body” while progressing to a great extent has left behind a trail of unresolved issues. Moreover, this approach is exclusive and has by now developed fear in the minds of the informal sector that they can be thrown out anytime.


The Winter Institute is a full-fledged 3 credit course in the academic calendar of the Masters in Urban Policy and Governance program of the School of Habitat Studies conducted in the first year. It is conceived as a platform for interdisciplinary collaborative learning through research and action in the field. The blog series showcases the work, reflections and opinions of the students, and not the Centre.

To see institute reports from previous batches visit our website: http://urk.tiss.edu/winter-institute.html