After finishing an undergraduate degree in Life Sciences from St. Xavier’s College, I pursued a masters degree in Habitat Policy and Practise, at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).This program helped me to build a multi-disciplinary understanding of contemporary issues concerning urban development in India. In the course of my study, I chose to undertake a concentration in urban planning in order to continue my engagement with the city and wrote a masters dissertation as a part of it.Through my masters’ dissertation, I explored the dynamics of the urban planning process in Ahmedabad, Gujarat by looking at the vision, the plan and its implementation of the Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project. My starting point for this research was the case of Gurjari bazaar, a six hundred year old weekly market, serving large urban poor populations of the city, which would be obliterated by the riverfront development project. In tracing the negotiations and trajectories of events I was able to unravel the deep seated inequalities within the planning process that reflected the city’s aspirations of becoming ‘World Class’ (Mathur 2012).
After my graduation from TISS, I worked at the Urban Design Research Institute. Here, I worked on the project ‘Development Plan of Mumbai’, a spatial planning instrument defining the use of every parcel of land in the city. I worked on creating a participatory platform enabling stakeholders to address the State. A key lesson that I learnt through this process is that planning in India remains mainly in the domain of technocrats, far removed from the people inhabiting and experiencing the city itself. In continuing my process of enquiry and engagement with the spatial planning process in Mumbai, I worked with the consultant group appointed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to revise the Development Plan of Mumbai. In doing so, I moved from the domain of civil society into that of the government authority itself. It was here that I was introduced to the dichotomies of the urban planning processes and tools. Now, I am currently involved in a South-South comparative study at TISS titled ‘Countering Urban Violence and Promoting Spatial Justice in Rio, Durban and Mumbai’ as a research associate, where again I have been exposed to the multifarious spatial injustices that have been inflicted by urban planning tools in different cities of the developing world.
Fix(ing) Code: Digitalization and the Urban Bureaucratic Field of Mumbai, my doctoral dissertation examines the everyday politics of bureaucratic records and procedures of land management within the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). The largest urban bureaucracy in South Asia, the MCGM is in a state of transition from that of paper to digital record-keeping, which I pay close attention to in my research. I posit that elusive figures – the fixers operating within the bureaucracy, govern this transition by their historical, material, and symbolic practices. I define fixing as a practice of correction or improvement in the context of structural discontinuity, as an act of fixing an object in place within a space of constant change, and a form of knowing exactly where to apply the fix in an exceptionally unwieldy political milieu. The dispositions of this fixer are forever locked in a dialectical relation of arbitrariness and necessity, giving form to an incoherent bureaucratic structure in Mumbai. Through the first institutional ethnography of MCGM, conducted over fifteen months and funded by the Wenner Gren dissertation fieldwork grant, I used close attention to these dispositions to decipher the inner workings of bureaucratic state power in India’s largest city and most aggressively competitive land market. My dissertation traces the structural affinities between the field of fixing and the field of the bureaucracy to show how the elusive practice of fixing continues, even after extensive promises of cutting red tape and the efficiencies of digitalization.