Unpacking Local Self-Government: The Uncertain Power of Cities in the Indian Constitution

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While cities are increasingly becoming powerful economic and political units, legal scholars have paid inadequate attention to the role of local governments in the constitutional division of powers. This paper examines the legal authority of city governments in India’s constitutional architecture and analyses the nature and extent of powers exercised by them. While globally city governments seldom derive their powers directly from the Constitution, in India the passage of the 74th Amendment has ensured that they have a definite space in its Constitution. Despite constitutional entrenchment, urban local governments in India find themselves powerless to administer some of the core municipal functions including urban planning. This paper seeks to analyse the reasons behind this contradiction. It argues that city governments continue to be weak because of the inherent limitations of the scope of the 74th Amendment as well as the way in which it is translated and implemented by the states. It examines the constitutional authority of urban local governments by analysing the key provisions of the 74th Amendment and its judicial interpretations. To understand how the constitutional reform has translated on the ground, this paper closely examines the role and functioning of the city government of Bangalore.

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This article explores the spatialization of financial capitalism through an examination of the private governance of Gurgaon, Haryana, India, a city which has become something of an emblem of neoliberal real estate development. Gurgaon illustrates the processes through which financialized values, rationalities, and culture permeate urban governance and reshape urban space. The way that capital lands in Gurgaon—what is built, for whom, and how populations are both shaped and shape themselves around it—demonstrates what happens when the rationalities of finance govern urban spaces. The primary argument here is that Gurgaon demonstrates the ‘private acting like the public’—meaning, a private actor assuming the governance responsibilities of public actors while executing those responsibilities in the interest of finance. This form of governance includes the following dimensions: the assumption of the duties of local government by private actors such as real estate developers; the transformation of the built environment to both reflect the desires of investors and to include only certain populations; and a form of self-governance whereby the population takes it upon itself to transform in the reflection of financial values and financialized lifestyles. In short, governance power is delegated to private actors—here, real estate developers and investors—and the eventual result is the use of land and a social order that benefits financial instruments and investment. Crucially, though, Gurgaon’s experience also illustrates that this ‘permeation’ is a constant process and is not as simple as financialization landing and local government and geography receiving it. Local government and geographies shape financialization at the same time that their land and resources are financialized into globally traded assets.
This chapter builds upon the increased importance that cities have acquired in recent years. To this end, cities can be seen as the engines of development, innovation, cultural and social interaction, expressing the tensions between diversity and social cohesion. Being places of conflict and innovation, of solidarity and cohabitation of diverse people, cities are faced with unique challenges. Yet, they remain largely neglected as autonomous subjects in constitutional law and federalism theory. In proposing a definition of cities as unique socio-economic and political spaces, strategic for building new modes of governance and reconcile diversity and social cohesion, the chapter invites a more substantive reflection on the role and place of cities in constitutional law, and sketches a preliminary normative agenda for future constitutional reforms in this sense.
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