Researching the politics of development



Urban poverty in India


Understanding reasons to account for the specific nature and impacts of state interventions to reduce urban poverty in India, and the influence of civil society on such interventions, through a study of government programmes, including the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, in five cities.


  1. To understand the potential contribution of the state to urban poverty reduction through an analysis of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) (in different sites) and other poverty reduction initiatives, i.e. to assess what difference it has made.
  2. To understand the significance of state capacity and elite commitment for the performance of pro-poor urban programmes through analysing experiences of state poverty reduction measures in multiple sites.  This includes the analysis of state involvement in programme design, management, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It also includes examination of the government’s approach to poverty reduction and the ‘vision’ underlying the design of interventions.
  3. To understand the factors influencing the development and realisation of state capacity and elite commitment, through the selection of sites in which there has been a differential presence of potentially significant factors.  In this respect, to look specifically at:
  • the contribution of the quality of community agency on the success of the intervention;
  • the quality of state programme design on the success of the intervention;
  • the interaction between the quality of community agency and the quality of state intervention on final programme outcomes (including an analysis of political elite commitment, political capacity, power relations and vision plus concepts related to programme design).


The project examines urban poverty in India. The five cities selected for the study are Pune, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, either Raipur or Patna, and Cuttack, based on their differing levels of experience with the JNNURM programme.

Research questions

  1. What do the experiences of the JNNURM and other government poverty reduction projects tell us about the measures (individually or in combination) that are successful in reducing urban poverty in the medium term (i.e. over three years)?  What, drawing on these experiences, are the most important aspects of interventions?
  2. How is success spatially differentiated across five case study cities (and within the cities with respect to the projects studied), and what are the underlying factors that explain such a differentiation, specifically with respect to community partnership and state involvement (e.g. small and big cities, nature of the economy, levels of political commitment, scale of citizen organisation, forms and depth of state capacity, historical trajectory on which to build, etc.)?
  3. What explains the interest and willingness of the state to address urban poverty at this time, to acknowledge their own previous failures in urban poverty reduction and to draw in non-state groups and organisations to state planning?  Related to this, how important are: elite commitment; the structure of the state and hence required state capacity at various levels (various forms to be disaggregated); power relations between political parties, state agencies and the urban poor; and the specific models of intervention being used?
  4. From this work, which appear to be the most effective strategies for states to use to improve informal urban settlements and reduce urban poverty?

Methods and research design

Research activity 1: five city studies, with a detailed elaboration of the processes through which poverty reduction monies, including JNNURM funds, have been secured and applied.
Research activity 2: for these five city studies, project-level analysis of specific JNNURM and other developments.
Research activity 3: seek to ascertain wellbeing at the household level to assess improvements.
Research activity 4: a reassessment of city-level urban poverty programme-related activities and project sites in 2014.
Research activity 5: interviews with key informants at the city, state and national level, to understand the ways in which the programme was designed, the extent to which problems were anticipated but not adjusted for, the priorities within the design process, and the reaction to the emerging conclusions of the study.
The following methods are used: semi structured interviews; structured interviews; focus groups; financial analysis of project records; household income and asset analysis using statistical techniques; analysis of relationship changes between urban poor organisations and the local authority and other state officials; identification and analysis of critical events.

How does this project fit within ESID’s research agenda?

This study provides a number of benefits to ESID’s goals:

  • setting an example for the integration of academic and policy-orientated research with respect to an issue that has an existing audience with which to engage;
  • to the national processes of urban development in India;
  • at the international level, to our understanding of poverty reduction in urban areas.

The project addresses all three core research questions, with particular emphasis on the third of these questions, as the study seeks to identify the differences in state performance (both commitment and capability) that can be explained due to particular civil society strategies.


Lead ResearcherDiana MitlinThe University of Manchester, UK
ResearcherSundar BurraSPARC, India
ResearcherGayatri MenonAzim Prenji University, Bengaluru, India
ResearcherSheela PatelSPARC, India


Understanding the contribution of the BSUP (JNNURM) to inclusive cities in India‘ (2018), ESID Working Paper No. 97.
Lessons from India’s Basic Services for the Urban Poor programme‘ (2015), ESID Briefing Paper No. 13.
Diana Mitlin. 2014. ‘Politics, informality and clientelism – exploring a pro-poor urban politics‘. ESID Working Paper No. 34.
Sundar Burra, 5 November 2014 blog: ‘The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM): Lessons learnt‘.