Watering the slums : how a utility and its street-level bureaucrats connected the poor in Bangalore
How a utility and its street-level bureaucrats connected the poor in Bangalore
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning.
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This dissertation is about how urban water utilities behave and what makes them interested in serving the poor. The infrastructure literature tends to treat public service agencies as monolithic entities and to ignore the great diversity of tasks and behavior patterns within them. As a consequence, common explanations for why utilities fail poor people tend to focus on attributes of the external environment in which utilities sit and not on the potential to elicit interest from within. This research corrects for this bias by applying a "street-level bureaucracy" approach to a study of a large urban water utility. The aim is to quash the notion so common in the water literature of a unified agency operating on the supply side and to rekindle an interest in the actions of workers. To do this, I examine the case of the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) and its contrasting outcomes within the same case. Over a five year period from 2000 to 2005, the utility revised its operational policies to accommodate the legal and financial realities of slums and connected 5,000 households or five percent of the slum population to the water network. Although the BWSSB demonstrated an unusual commitment to the poor, its efforts were not an unmitigated success. Progress was slow and staff failed to connect households to the network in many of the slums targeted. This dissertation digs deep inside the utility to explain these contrasting outcomes holding the city, the agency, and the sector efficiency constant. I find that while external pressures were necessary to prompt a business-as-usual utility to take action in slums, variation in outcome can be explained by the different facets of engineering life in BWSSB service stations and the different kinds of relationships forged between frontline staff and slum dwellers.(cont.) Specifically, a "willingness to supply" by engineers and the attainment of neighborhood deals were necessary conditions for a successful program outcome. This dissertation shows how these two conditions were met and highlights the critical role of the utility's Social Development Unit on both counts. It also shows how, in the process, certain kinds of conflict and resistance to reform had surprisingly positive effects. The main policy implications are that incentives must be aligned within utilities to elicit engineer buy-in and that well-staffed social development units are necessary to diffuse a new slum program to utility employees, to broker deals with slum dwellers, and to harness the benefits of resistance.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning, 2007.Includes bibliographical references (p. 265-275).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Urban Studies and Planning.; Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning.