Information and informality

The concept of an information society[1] has broad appeal for policy-makers as a powerful way of imagining the future direction of development[2]. Information and communications technology (ICT) has been embraced at a high-level in India and the country is a leading innovator in the use of technology for public service[3]. However, while ICT promises dramatic improvements it also brings specific challenges into focus[4].

In line with the move towards e-governance, the largest urban initiative to date, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), mandated a central role for ICT in urban management and service delivery as a condition of access to funding for city governments[5]. However, the steep learning-curve and limited implementation of the JNNURM points to important tensions in urban politics that technology alone is unable to resolve[6]. The technology and expertise required by the JNNURM has the potential to strongly bias the direction of urban development[7].

Drawing on fieldwork as well as desk-research, this presentation attempts to illustrate challenges for e-governance in India through the examples of urban water supply and the JNNURM. The argument draws on the academic and policy literature, a comprehensive review of media coverage, 30 semi-structured key informant interviews in two Urban Local Bodies (“A” and “B”), and more recent research in one of India’s larger metros.

[1] Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture (John Wiley & Sons 2011); Frank Webster, ‘The Information Society Revisited’ in Leah A Lievrouw and Sonia Livingstone (eds), Handbook of New Media: Student Edition (SAGE 2005).

[2] Anthony M Townsend, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia (W W Norton & Company 2013); Shirin Madon, ‘Evaluating the Developmental Impact of E-Governance Initiatives: An Exploratory Framework’ (2005) 20 The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries; Michael Batty, ‘Big Data, Smart Cities and City Planning’ (2013) 3 Dialogues in Human Geography 274.

[3] M Shamsul Haque, ‘E-Governance in India: Its Impacts on Relations Amongcitizens, Politicians and Public Servants’ (2002) 68 International Review of Administrative Sciences 231; Shirin Madon, Sundeep Sahay and Jyotsna Sahay, ‘Implementing Property Tax Reforms in Bangalore: An Actor-network Perspective’ (2004) 14 Information and Organization 269; Shirin Madon, ‘IT-based Government Reform Initiatives in the Indian State of Gujarat’ (2006) 18 Journal of International Development 877.

[4] Heeks 2003 / Richard Heeks, ‘Information Systems and Developing Countries: Failure, Success, and Local Improvisations’ (2002) 18 The Information Society 101.

[5] KC Sivaramakrishnan, Re-visioning Indian Cities: The Urban Renewal Mission. (SAGE India 2011).

[6] Solomon Benjamin and Bhuvaneswari Raman, ‘Illegible Claims, Legal Titles, and the Worlding of Bangalore’ (2011) n°206 Revue Tiers Monde 37; Saumitra Jha, Vijayendra Rao and Michael Woolcock, ‘Governance in the Gullies: Democratic Responsiveness and Leadership in Delhi’s Slums’ (2007) 35 World Development 230.

[7] Renee Kuriyan and Isha Ray, ‘Outsourcing the State? Public–Private Partnerships and Information Technologies in India’ (2009) 37 World Development 1663; Bhuvaneswari Raman and Zainab Bawa, ‘Interacting with the State via Information and Communication Technologies.’ (2011) 38 Media Asia.