SHAREHOLDER CITIES: AGRARIAN-URBAN LAND COMMODIFICATION AND UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA’S CORRIDOR REGIONS

Sai Balakrishnan

Economic corridors, an ambitious infrastructural development project that newly liberalizing countries in Asia and Africa are embarking on, are dramatically redefining the shape of urbanization. Spanning across multiple cities and villages, these economic corridors reconnect metropolises already connected by road and rail networks via high-speed superhighways in an effort to make certain strategic regions attractive destinations for private investment. Largely financed by new sources of impatient private capital, the economic corridors in India are infringing on the agricultural lands of organized agrarian propertied classes. As policy makers search for new decentralized and market-oriented means for the transfer of land from agrarian constituencies to infrastructural promoters and urban developers, the re-allocation of property control is erupting into volatile land-based social conflicts. This book argues that some of India’s most decisive conflicts over its urban futures will unfold in the regions along the new economic corridors where electorally strong agrarian propertied classes are coming into direct encounters with financially powerful incoming urban firms. It draws its empirical insights from qualitative fieldwork along the country’s first economic corridor, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and the building of three new cities along this corridor. The title ‘shareholder cities’ derives from a new mode of resolving agrarian-urban conflicts where agrarian landowners are being transformed into shareholders in the new corridor cities and the distributional implications of these new forms of urbanization.

By moving the spotlight of India’s contemporary urbanization out of megacities to these in-between corridor regions, this book adds to the growing recent scholarship on urbanization in the global south. The new economic corridors open up new empirical and methodological frameworks for a new urban politics that is capable of incorporating the agrarian political economy. Several connected themes - including the production of new uneven urban development that both settles on and unsettles older histories of agrarian capitalism, the emergence of agrarian propertied classes as protagonists in the making of urban real estate markets, and the possibilities for a new politics of inclusion as formerly ‘waste’ land in an agrarian economy relegated to disadvantaged caste groups are revalorized into desirable market assets in an urbanizing context - are explored to articulate a new narrative of agrarian-urban land commodification and uneven development.

Projected outcome: Book publication, forthcoming with University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Image caption: Real estate developments amid agricultural fields. Top: Apartment advertising proximity to new international airport. Bottom: Apartment surrounded by fields and informal settlements of construction laborers