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Governance in the gullies: democratic responsiveness and leadership in Delhi’s slums

This study uses qualitative and quantitative analysis to examine the strategies developed by the urban poor in Delhi to access government services. It explores the difficulty of access to governance by slum dwellers and the roles of informal slum leaders (pradhans) as intermediaries between slum dwellers and the formal government.

The qualitative evidence draws on interviews and observations carried out in four different slums on intra-community dispute resolution, risk management procedures, and the processes by which leaders gain legitimacy and exert authority. The quantitative analysis stems from a survey administered to a representative sample of households and community leaders from 30 randomly-selected recognized slums.

Findings include:

  • slum dwellers live in very risky environments: subject to the constant threat of demolition, theft, fire, and uncertain property rights
  • informal systems of governance have been established to serve as intermediaries to mitigate risk and to provide access to public services
  • those living in heterogeneous, less established slums, because of increased vulnerability, benefit more from the role of pradhans
  • a significant number of slum-dwellers interact with elected politicians, but are less able to access bureaucrats.
  • Pradhans play significant roles in linking the slum dwellers and formal government, but the role is less pronounced over time.
  • Slum dwellers reliant on village networks are more benefit more from pradhans’ intervention, being shielded from the police and gaining more access to politicians
  • Education and existing political affiliation determine the ability of pradhan to manipulate government networks
  • Access to government authorities is elite driven and occurs more in well established slums
  • Slum dwellers in Delhi, by acting collectively, have established methods of gaining access to government authorities

This collective action is easiest in ethnically homogenous, more established enclaves. However, pradhans can act as effective intermediaries in less established and ethnically heterogeneous slums