Urban Research and Policy

The NIAS Urban Research and Policy Programme (URPP) was initiated to address social, economic, and political issues arising from rapid urbanisation in India, by formulating new conceptual models, tools, and methodologies to understand urban problems. The programme was designed to foster innovative thinking on cities and to push policy makers, administrators and researchers to go beyond the routine responses and technical solutions offered by conventional urban planning and policies. The URPP, which ran from 2009 to 2013, became a key nodal point for urban studies and action in India and for fostering new thinking about a transformed and emerging urban India.  

Programme members:

            Prof Carol Upadhya (Anchor, 2009-14)

            Dr Solomon Benjamin (Co-anchor, 2009-11)

            Dr Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay (Postdoctoral Fellow, 2010-12)


The overall objective of the URPP, as articulated in the vision document, was ‘to effect a change in people’s understanding of, and attitudes towards, urban processes and issues, with the aim of creating urban settlements that are functional, socially just, economically dynamic, culturally vibrant, ecologically sustainable and politically participative’. The specific objectives were:

  • To develop a conceptual and theoretical framework for the understanding of urban settlements and society, rooted in the realities of India’s cities and villages, that would form the intellectual and ethical basis of all further work;
  • To carry out focused, grounded and multi-disciplinary research on, and value-based intellectual analysis of, issues of national importance related to urbanisation, especially policy-oriented research;
  • To provide a platform for an exchange of ideas among representatives of governments and their agencies, political parties, civil society organisations, the media, and various thinkers, activists, and citizens;
  • To engage in advocacy and outreach to all target groups in government and civil society;
  • To serve as a think tank on urban issues.


The envisioned programme activities included:

  • Formulation and execution of research projects within selected research areas, with an emphasis on original, grounded, multi-disciplinary research with policy relevance.
  • Creation of a non-partisan platform for fostering public debate on urban issues, through organisation of conferences, seminars, workshops, training programmes, lectures, etc.
  • Networking and collaborating with other similarly oriented institutions and persons in India and abroad.
  • Advocacy and outreach activities through meetings and use of appropriate media, including targeted interventions in decision-making by governments and their agencies.
  • Consultancy and other services for government and civil society. 
Carol Upadhya

The main focus areas of research were:

  • Urban governance and planning processes
  • Urban economies, poverty, and equity issues

Research projects carried out by the URPP addressed several key issues confronting the Indian city today, including conflicts associated with the incorporation of peripheral areas into the metropolitan structure; the persistence of urban poverty and inequalities in access to resources and services; and serious contradictions between innovations in management and governance and resulting social tensions associated with land acquisition, water privatisation, the management of wetlands, ‘slum’ redevelopment, and urban renewal.

1)  Urban Governance in Bangalore

Project leader:  Dr Solomon Benjamin

This research project included several strands, including an analysis of fractures in governance around issues of (a) access to water, and (b) land management with regard to decision-making at both the state level and the level of the local municipal government. The research was based on extensive field visits in South, South-East and North and North East peripheral wards of Bangalore. The project produced an interim report, which was shared in a discussion workshop, ‘Governance, Development and Poverty in Bangalore - Focus on Urban Land and Commons’, held at NIAS on March 24, 2010.

2) Contested Governance of Wetlands in Bangalore Metro Area (collaboration with ATREE – Bangalore).

Project leader:  Dr Solomon Benjamin (with Rohan d’Souza).

3) Hawkers’ Question in Kolkata: History, Governance, Politics; A Study of Major Street Crossings and Policy Recommendations   May 2011-July 2011

Principal Investigator:Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay

Co-Investigators:Joyashree Roy, T.V.H Prathamesh, Puja Guha, Rimple Mehta, Payal Sen, Suman Dutta, Chandan Roy, Sonel Sen

Partner Institutions:NIAS-URPP, Jadavpur University, Kolkata Municipal Corporation, Kolkata Hawker Sangram Committee, Kolkata Consumer Forum

URPP projects involved stakeholders at multiple levels to create awareness among a larger audience about the pressing issues of urbanisation in contemporary India. The programme organised several workshops and public interactions at NIAS, as well as a public lecture series entitled ‘The City In Question’, to provide a platform for the discussion of urban issues:

  • National Consultation: Debating the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors - A Trans-City Interrogation, August 13, 2012
  • Digital Deliberations: A One Day Workshop on the UID Project and its Focus on Homelessness (with Centre for the Study of Culture and Society), July 16, 2012
  • Workshop on the Urban Commons, August 18-19, 2010 (with Vinay Gidwani, University of Minnesota)
  • Dissemination workshop on Governance, Development and Poverty in Bangalore: Urban Land and Commons, March 24, 2010
  • International Symposium and Exhibition on ‘Streets’ (with A.R.T., Bangalore), January 2, 2010     
  • Discussion meeting, ‘Mapping the Maps’, November 26, 2009
  • Workshop on ‘Community-based Urban Planning’ (with Prof Thomas Angotti, CUNY), March 14, 2009
  • Workshop on ‘Alternative Urban Futures for Bangalore’, October 11, 2008
  • Round Table Discussion on the ‘Report of the Expert Committee on Governance in the Bangalore Metropolitan Region and Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike’, June 26, 2008
  • National-level consultation to conceptualise the urban programme, September 18, 2007


Public Lecture Series – ‘The City In Question’ (selected lectures):

  • 'Why the “Urban Turn” in Global Policymaking? Prof. Michael Goldman, University of Minnesota, February 18, 2011
  • ‘Preservation and Uncertainty: The Modern City in the Age of Globalization’, Prof Vikramāditya Prakāsh, University of Washington, January 24, 2011
  • ‘From Forced Displacement to Urban Cores: The Case of Collective Towns in Iraqi Kurdistan’, Dr Francesca Recchia, University of Kurdistan – Hawler, October 18, 2010
  • ‘The Hong Kong Section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hongkong Express Rail Link: Another Mega project under Post-Fordism, or What?’ Prof. Wing-Shing Tang, Department of Geography, Hong Kong Baptist University, June 7, 2010
  • ‘Globalized Real Estate and Displacement: New Spaces for Community Control of Land’, Prof. Tom Angotti, CUNY, March 6, 2009

Members of the URPP engaged in outreach and dissemination through public lectures and conference papers. Key presentations a listed below:

  • Carol Upadhya, ‘Mobilising Labour for India’s Globalizing Cities’. Conference on the 21st Century Indian City: Towns, Metros, and the Indian Economy, organised by University of California Berkeley and the Indian Institute of Habitat Studies, Bangalore, March 26-27, 2013.
  • Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, ‘Modes of Urbanisation in Calcutta’, International Conference on Migration, Informal Work and Urban Poverty, Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, March 22 2012.
  • Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, ‘Securitising Urban Futures’, presentation to workshop at MAKAIAS, Calcutta, February 14, 2012.
  • Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, Panel Discussant on Urban Mobilities, International Conference on ‘Subversive Niches: Tracking Mobility Studies in India and Bangladesh’, Kolkata, December 28-29, 2011.
  • Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, keynote speaker at workshop organised by Oak Foundation on the state of housing in Kolkata, November 15, 2011.
  • Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, ‘Urban Informality Revisited’, conference on “The 21th Century Indian Metropolis”, organised by University of California Berkeley, India International Centre, New Delhi, April 19, 2011.

Programme members also engaged in public outreach through the media:

Policy advocacy

The URPP programme provided significant interventions in urban planning and practice.

An example: 

  • Participatory Regional Plan for Pondicherry: URPP faculty initiated a partnership with a group of nine organisations in Pondicherry for the development of an innovative planning process for the Pondicherry Regional Plan. The project, which started in November 2010 with funding from the French Environmental agency ADEM, seeks to promote a ‘ground-up’ process to frame development issues in the region and a participative way to their resolution. Dr Solomon Benjamin was the lead consultant.

Key outputs:

  • Upadhya, Carol 2013 Return of the global Indian: Software professionals and the worlding of Bangalore. In Xiang Biao, Brenda Yeoh and Mika Toyota (eds), Return: Nationalizing Transnational Mobility in Asia, pp 141-161. Durham: Duke University Press.
  • Issue of Seminar entitled ‘Streetscapes: ASymposium on the Future of the Street’, outcome of 2010 URPP workshop on The Street. Volume 636, August 2012;http://www.india-seminar.com/semframe.html). Co-edited by Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay, including c-authored introduction and co-authored paper by Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay.
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2012 In the shadow of the mall: street hawkers in global Calcutta, in Gordon Mathews, Gustavo Lins Riberio and Carlos Alba Vega (eds), Globalization from Below: The World’s Other Economy. New York: Routledge. 
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2012 Governing footpath hawking in Calcutta: the state-union complex, in Noa Ha (ed), Street Vending and Global Connection (New York: Berghan).
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti2012 Political economy of India’s Unique Identification Project, in Atig Ghosh (ed),Migration, Circulation and Surveillance in Contemporary India. New Delhi: World View.  
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2012 Provisioning Indian Cities: Speculations on the Question of FDI in Calcutta’s Wholesale-Retail Network, with K. Bhat, T.V.H. Prathamesh, and N. Pande. NIAS URPP Report.
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2011 A Critique of the National Policy on Urban Street Vendors in India, 2009. India in Transition, CASI, University of Pennsylvania. http://casi.ssc.upenn.edu/iit/bandyopadhyay
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2011. Politics of archiving: hawkers and pavement dwellers in Calcutta. Dialectical Anthropology 35(3): 295-316.
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2011 A historian among anthropologists: commenting on ‘politics of archiving’. Dialectical Anthropology 35(3): 325-335.
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2011 Hawkers’ Question in Kolkata: History, Governance, Politics, with J. Ray, T.V.H. Prathamesh and P. Guha. NIAS URPP Report.
  • Bandyopadhyay, Ritajyoti 2011 Primitive accumulation of capital and decommoning: three moments in the history of capital. In Edwin and Anita Cheria (eds), Vocabularies of Commons: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, pp. 27-42 (Foundation for Ecological Security at WQ Judge Press, Bangalore).
  • Benjamin, Solomon 2011 Commoning contests the ‘urban commons’: some thoughts on the de–commoning of Bengaluru, in Vocabulary of Commons (Foundation for Ecological Security at WQ Judge Press, Bangalore), Section 4, Ch. 43, pp 295-312.
  • Benjamin, Solomon 2010 Manufacturing neo-liberalism: life styling Indian urbanity, in Swapna Banerjee-Guha (ed),Accumulation by Dispossession: Transformative Cities in the New Global Order (New Delhi: Sage).
  • Benjamin, Solomon 2010 Aesthetic(s) of ‘The ground up’ city: some insights from Bangalore. Seminar 612: 33-38.
  • Benjamin, Solomon 2010 The nomadic city appropriates the street. Cluster http://www.cluster.eu/the-nomadic-city-appropriates-the-street/
  • Upadhya, Carol 2009 India’s ‘new middle class’ and the globalizing city: Software professionals in Bangalore. In Hellmuth Lange and Lars Meier (eds.), The New Middle Classes: Globalizing Lifestyles, Consumerism, and Environmental Concern, pp. 253-268 (Dorchecht: Springer).