Politics of Participation in Urban Planning: The “Democratic Moment” of the Mumbai Development Plan 2014–2034

Richa Bhardwaj & Luca Pattaroni (2022)

In: Pattaroni, Luca/Bhide, Amita / Lutringer, Christine (eds.), Politics of Urban Planning. The Making and Unmaking of the Mumbai Development Plan 2014–2034. Cham: Springer, pp. 133–158.

Abstract. In urban planning, participation is a debated concept and through the analysis of the process of Mumbai Development Plan (MDP) 2014–2034, the authors argue that the large and intersectoral mobilization, mixing professional experts and grassroots movements, opened up a “democratic moment” around the making of the MDP, allowing to raise fundamental questions about the just ordering of the city. This democratic moment expanded through the widening and the thickening of the various participatory arenas where planning process deliverables became moments of heightened debate and demands for public participation. Forsaking the closed arenas of technocratic participation, planning was discussed directly on the ground through various participatory methods and community-based counter-projects. Formal arenas were also the locus of enriched participation while inhabitants came with their political convictions and attachments. This enlargement of participation made room for a wide range of knowledge-expert, situated, ecological, local game knowledge, planning professional knowledge, broader academic knowledge to build up critical knowledge allowing to reframe the stakes of Mumbai’s development. The authors complete the analysis of the multifaceted “politics of participation” by looking at what they call “the closure of the democratic moment” through the “(neo)liberal entrapment of participation”.

Extract: “Hence, the strategy adopted by the review committee was to have separate closed-door meetings with representatives of different stakeholder groups with discussions based on the constituency they represent. The approach was balancing the various stakeholders. There were constant opportunities for discussions provided with the review committee, however, at their own terms. These representatives were not allowed to give the details of the meeting to the media and in order to control the narrative around the DP, the revision committee sent out regular updates to the press while at the same time keeping continuous checks on the journalist and their stories. While the demands for more participatory planning were aimed towards a public, transparent, involved, decentralized approach, however, the revision led each group to work within its own domain. The approach to have more public deliberations at the local level was aimed to ensure opportunities for individuals and groups who otherwise are unable to engage in these processes which are imagined to be in “sarkari” domain, often unapproachable. Looking at the way the review committee proceeded, we see a double reduction leading to a liberal form of participation where differences are expressed and composed through the “negotiation” of “interests” (Thévenot, 2014). A first reduction consists in the co-optation of selected representatives of the broader civil society process formally invited to negotiate behind closed doors. As expected, the main collectives that contributed to the widening of participation, such as HSMA or UDRI, were invited along with other representatives of recognized professionals’ groups. Such plural collectives as HSMA had nevertheless the obligation to be represented by a limited number of spokespersons. In the process, minority groups—such as street vendors—were de facto excluded from the closed-door sessions. The second reduction consisted in the narrowing down of the field of expertise of each recognized stakeholder. Each representative was asked to reduce its claims to detailed demands and propositions within the recognized field of competence of its group. Hence, the substantial differences in attachments or convictions were reduced to “negotiable interests” building up what Laurent Thévenot calls “liberal grammar of commonalities” where politics is conceived as a trade-off process intended to produce achievable (and reasonable) objectives. In this perspective, the array of relevant knowledge is greatly reduced. Participation arenas aren’t intended as a place allowing to raise or evaluate political alternatives (critical knowledge) or yet to accommodate different forms of life (experiential knowledge) but rather to build up a balance of interests and technical solutions. Grassroots association are still valued in relation to their situated knowledge but only to make sure the “needs” are well expressed or the measures are realistic but they are not expected to voice critical knowledge or even bring in their “local game” knowledge. In this neoliberal entrapment of participation, grassroots movements and other agonistic groups were either included as some new kind of local expert or simply excluded.” (p. 153-154)

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