AAS Annual Meeting

South Asia Session 697

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Session 697: Urban Land Regimes and the Modern South Asian City

Organizer: Nikhil R. Rao, Wellesley College, USA

Chair: Gyan Prakash, Princeton University, USA

Discussant: Gyan Prakash, Princeton University, USA

In South Asian cities during the colonial period, _the urban_ emerged as a particular space of political intervention. The physical and legal terrains of cities were shaped by contestations and negotiations between colonial and non-colonial states, municipalities, improvement agencies and people at large. The emergence of city as discrete political object entailed consolidation of urban lands and development, which required the reorganization or liquidation of varied forms of sovereignty, tenure, and policing and judicial arrangements. Despite this, questions of sovereign claims and control over physical territory have had a low profile in the recent explosion of historical scholarship on modern South Asian cities. Land control was, however, a central concern in earlier agrarian-oriented work on the subcontinent under colonialism, and is central to ethnographic and sociological research on the contemporary city (not to mention political contestations). This panel examines changes in land regimes in expanding cities, with particular attention to the late nineteenth-century emergence of urban governance, and the transition from the late colonial to the postcolonial city. The papers investigate urban expansion and shifting land regimes in three cities: Hyderabad, Bombay and Delhi. Moving from the late nineteenth-century territorial and political consolidation of urban Hyderabad (Beverley) to the establishment of land control regimes in twentieth-century Bombay (Rao) and Delhi (Mehra) that endure well into the postcolonial era, the panel details changing land orders in typologically distinct cities across South Asia. With this, we hope to provide a framework for a robust methodological and substantive conversation between earlier avatars of South Asian historiography, emerging urban histories of the region, and scholarship of and political practice in the contemporary city.

Sovereignty, Land and Planning in the Making of Urban Hyderabad
Eric L. Beverley, State University of New York, Stony Brook, USA

The global emergence of cities as consolidated territorial and political units, a key component of twentieth-century history, was the result of processes rendering urban spaces objects of diverse interventions and projects. Within a comparative and connective framework, this paper examines changing land regimes in a South Asian metropolis with an ambivalent relationship to the British Raj. Hyderabad, capital of a sovereign Princely State, was among the five most populous urban areas in South Asia throughout the colonial period. The city was remade c. 1910-1940 in terms of territorial scope, population distribution, infrastructure, and architectural form. This entailed transformation of land regimes in British dominated areas north of the Musa River. From the 1870s, Hyderabad asserted sovereignty over urbanizing lands under de facto colonial administration around military and political establishments (Secunderabad Cantonment and the British Residency). Claims to moral authority and legal jurisdiction over the trans-Musa city enabled broader transformations. As such, the dramatic 1911 shift of royal capital and state institutions to the north, outside the early modern walled city, was the culmination of a longer process of urban change. This continued with planning work of the Hyderabad City Improvement Board (founded 1912), who built transportation and drainage infrastructure and residential and industrial architecture. The trans-Musa city soon became the demographic and political center of Hyderabad. By examining the centrality of land regimes to urban development in the capital of a non-colonial state under intensive imperial pressure, this paper seeks to establish the emergent urban as a locus of sovereign assertion and political experimentation in South Asia.

Planned Encounters: Delhi c. 1936-1957
Diya Mehra, University of Texas, Austin, India

This paper examines the development of Delhi in a period covering three major expansions in its urbanization namely the building of the Imperial capital, World War 2 and post-Partition resettlement. It focuses on the statutory emergence of an exaggerated state/sovereign presence in, and control of, urban development through these historical transitions; a phenomena which would continue through the post-Independence period into contemporary times. Following the establishment of the Imperial capital, the British keen to protect the new grandiose enclave from the disease and decay of the neighboring native city, put into place a number of ‘town planning’ statutes and institutions – namely a centralized Improvement Trust and a leasehold system for developing its vast, virgin lands – to ensure orderly and aesthetic urban growth. However, expansion schemes planned under this regime are put into abeyance as Delhi becomes the headquarters of the Allied effort to stem Japanese forces. The government is now interested in marshalling economic resources – including land, buildings, and construction materials to provide for battalions of arriving soldiers, for whom it also undertakes large swathes of new construction. All these development and control logics – aesthetic, planned, military and economic - as well as massive state inputs into construction come into play as refugees flood the city following the Partition and the government seeks to manage their resettlement. Earlier tendencies are amplified by Nehru’s administration into state monopolies over land and urban development as refugees and residents vociferously defy the state for access to the city, while it tries to build a modern nation.

Towards Greater Bombay: Town Planning and Suburbanization in the Bombay region, ca. 1920-1964
Nikhil R. Rao, Wellesley College, USA

This paper explores urban expansion in Bombay, culminating in the annexure of large parts of the adjacent island of Salsette and the creation of the new municipal entity of Greater Bombay in 1957. The expansion of Bombay into Salsette had two aspects. On the one hand, formerly agrarian areas became municipalized and arguments were made for and against merging such smaller municipalities with Bombay beginning in the 1910s. On the other hand, attempts were made to formalize and regulate the conversion of lands from agricultural to urban use through the Town Planning Act of 1915. Until the promulgation of the Development Plan in 1964, Town Planning constituted the regime of urban expansion in Bombay. These two aspects of urban expansion were in a tense and uneasy relationship, as this paper will elaborate. Town Planning meant that new alliances were formed between the state and agricultural landowners in using urban street layouts as a battering ram of urban expansion. While earlier suburban schemes had pitted the colonial state seeking new lands on its own terms against agrarian landowners at the edge of the city, Town Planning featured, in principle, a collaborative model of urban expansion where agrarian landowners themselves sought to convert their lands to urban use. Expansion, however, raised complicated questions of sovereignty and governance in the context of increasing municipalization in Salsette and the prospect of annexure to Bombay. The tension between the municipal expansion of Bombay and its physical expansion through Town Planning, centred on the land question, became constitutive of Greater Bombay.