India; modernity; urbanization; slum


Comparative legal research in property and urban planning law has taken an increasing interest in the policy patterns and legal arguments that municipal bodies and courts employ in the implementation of often radical urban reconfiguration. Aided by geographers, sociologists, and political economists, comparative property law scholars have begun to unearth the justificatory frameworks that underlie and shape these changes in metropolitan urban landscapes and that reveal an interplay between tangible and immediate modes of political constituencies’ interest navigation on the one hand, and deep-seated cultural-historical motivations as well as commitments to transnational strategic and political loyalties, on the other. These modes of research have worked to show how urban ‘local’ decisionmaking is embedded in complex and entangled policy considerations, which are expressed through the use of economically minded categories such as progress, modernization, growth, and development. The following Article focuses on the case of urban modernization policies pursued and implemented in one of the world’s largest metropolitan centers—India’s capital, Delhi—which is also one of the world’s global cities currently undergoing a radical and breathtaking transformation. Embarking on a micro-analysis of the justifications offered in the pursuit of a ‘cleaner,’ more ‘modern,’ and ‘competitive’ metropolis, this Article examines a series of judgments regarding the rights of urban slum residents. Particularly, the Article applies two analytical and conceptual lenses in studying the regulatory policies and the courts’ engagement with them, namely the political economy of development and the ideational and ideological concepts of ‘modernity’ and ‘neoliberalism.’ The role of the judiciary in the allocation of property and urban space functions hereby as the site of engagement, the place where the regulatory fiat is approved or rejected, reinterpreted and reshaped, endorsed and concretized. Through this analysis, the Article seeks to provide a richer context for the way in which a number of key Indian courts, including the Indian Supreme Court, have become actively involved in regulatory municipal policies. The Article highlights and analyzes the devastating effects of the recent judicial pronouncements for those constituencies who have long been at the margins and whose legal protection threatens to be further besieged and mitigated in a largescale shift towards economic liberalization in the name of urban modernization and the city’s competitive enhancement.



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