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From the Civil Service to Profit-Driven Consulting Services: Intermediated Observations on the Rise of Consulting Urbanism in India

Sat, June 25, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 109


During the past decade Indian governments have been enmeshed in an unprecedented focus on the urban — involving novel designs for city governance, planning and infrastructures. Illustrative of this transformation in imagination and praxis, have been massive centrally-government seeded policy and programming initiatives, such as the sprawling Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). This tripartite scheme involved funding and programming orchestrations amongst central, state and city level governments. Central to JNNURM have been the role of traditional civil service staffers and increasingly the services of private sector profit-driven consultants — what Ash Amin terms ‘business consultancy urbanism’ — the latter of which have interpenetrated all levels of government.
Though consultancies are not unusual in OECD city-regions — where ‘new public management’, ‘outsourcing’ and ‘entrepreneurial urbanism’ paralleled the hollowing-out of governmental and civil services — in India, by contrast, the growing importance of urban consultancies signals a new shift in the knowledge-power dynamics that shape governmentality. Our paper, drawing from original interviews undertaken with staffers of the Government of Indian’s premier national-level think-tank, the National Institute of Urban Affairs, seeks to map the meanings underpinning the new reliance upon urban consultants invoked in JNNURM. We explore this reliance from the highest levels of policy formulation in government, to design-build projects at Indian city street level. We seek to understand what this transformation represents for pro-poor and public participation advocates working as intermediaries inside the civil service. Understanding these dynamics, we suggest, has crucial implications for accountability, transparency and citizenship inside India’s cities