The Peri-Urban Interface: Development and land-use Politics

Kartik Chugh
(Research Intern, CUES-TIGR2ESS)

Towards Peri-urbanisation Through a Development Lens

After decolonization, the world was divided into the developed and undeveloped world. The economic disparity between the First and the Third world generated the vision of development. Like many other developing countries, the Indian subcontinent after gaining independence initiated a Nationalist Development Project based on industrialization. The 50s and 60s saw the emergence of iron, steel and cement industries, followed by coal mining and the emergence of small scale industries in the 70s. The national industrialization was premised on two assumptions: a) the development involved the displacement of agrarian society by an urban industrial society and b) that the industrialisation symbolised success, i.e. more the industrialisation, more the development. Development, therefore, became a ‘method of rule’ between two blocks where the goal of the Third World was to achieve the Western level of affluence in a catch-up game. 

The sharp polarization between the First World and the Third World is akin to how peri-urban spaces are pitted against the city. In the Political Ecology literature, this is presented as a case of unequal power relations between the two. While the agricultural sector advanced alongside industrialisation, it contributed to 41% of GDP in 1981. With the economic liberalisation, however, which involved structural adjustments and policy reforms, the public expenditure on rural development was reduced significantly (from 4% of NNP in 1985 to 1.9% in 2000) which in turn affected the agricultural sector. Cities were viewed as the drivers of development which could attract national and foreign investments to spur economic growth. The restructuring of urban required development of new infrastructure which attracted private players.

In the following decades, the real estate sector grew rapidly and with it the urban populations. As the cities grew outwards, former villages were urbanised and reclassified. Since the process of urbanisation is uneven, the urban fringes expand and contract geographically. As the city grows, it assimilates the fringe area, thereby shifting its periphery (peri-urbanisation) which in turn swallows the countryside. These fluid peri-urban spaces should be seen in connection with the urban as well as rural areas since they are the sites of complex activities, interactions, flows, and processes linking rural and the urban (Marshall and Randhawa, 2017).  

Micro-politics of Land-use Change

As I mentioned in my previous article, peri-urban spaces are fluid socio-economic and political spaces where a diversity of interests compete over limited resources. Since peri-urban areas exist between the administrative boundaries of cities and countryside, governance and regulation of economic activities are usually weak. As a result, peri-urban becomes a ground for informality, illegality, contestations and conflict (Narain et al., 2013). A variety of players including farmers, real estate agents, bureaucrats, tour operators, industrialists, etc. may compete for resources such as land and water. 

The process of urbanisation has transformed the nature and extent of agricultural land use. While in some cases farmers have voluntarily sold their agricultural lands for immediate returns, in other cases, they have been pressurized to sell it due to, for instance, agrarian distress.  Alternatively, farmlands have also been acquired by the state to fulfil their vision of modernization. Land in the peri-urban is usually acquired for industrial, commercial, and infrastructural development, and for the creation of special economic zones (SEZs).  It is important to note, however, that in many cases this acquisition is coercive. A study of peri-urbanisation thus warrants consideration of political power plays, equity and justice.

The process of land acquisition in peri-urban can affect people/groups unevenly and in a variety of ways. It can, for instance, create opportunities for some and losses for others. Different people/groups would therefore respond differently to land acquisitions. The popular literature has, however, homogenized political reactions towards land acquisition in two polarizing categories: one group assumes that people would want these opportunities while the other assumes that people would reject or resist. While techno managers view resistance as a response to insufficient recognition and management of risks, the activists view resistance as a critique of the existing development paradigm. The problem with these characterizations is that they assume affected communities to exist in homogeneous spaces, with homogeneous interests, identities and aspirations (Borras and Franco, 2013). 

As Borras and Franco (2013) point out, framings such as ‘local community’ limit our understanding of the dispossession processes as they conceal the uneven and differentiated impact of land deals within a community. A shift towards conceptual lenses like class, caste and gender is therefore called for.  Understanding the institutional nature of land deals is equally important. A block of land can have institutional overlaps. For instance, a patch of land can be identified as a mining site and a REDD+ project site at the same time1. These intersections are responsible for shaping the political responses of the affected groups. Amid this institutional entanglement, it is hard to find a unified reaction from the community. While some might choose to resist, others might choose to demand incorporation as contract farmers and still others might demand improvements in their incorporation and all these differences in political reactions can further create new political tensions between and within different communities. 

Understanding these intersections of conflict and contestations are important because they help us understand how affected people identify their issues and frame their demands and political response.

Notes

  1. See J. Franco, Bound by Law, Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press,
    2011.

References

  • Borras, S. M., & Franco, J. C. (2013). Global Land Grabbing and Political Global Land Grabbing and Political Reactions “From Below”. (November), 37–41. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2013.843845
  • Marshall, F. & Randhawa, P. (2017). India’s peri-urban frontier: Rural-urban transformations and food security. IIED, London. http:// pubs.iied.org/10794IIED
  • Narain, V., Anand, P. & Banerjee, P. (2013). Periurbanization in India: A review of the literature and evidence, Report for the project – Rural to Urban Transitions and the Peri-urban Interface. SaciWATERs. India

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