Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai

Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai

by Nikhil Anand

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Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai by Nikhil Anand

In Hydraulic City Nikhil Anand explores the politics of Mumbai's water infrastructure to demonstrate how citizenship emerges through the continuous efforts to control, maintain, and manage the city's water. Through extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Mumbai's settlements, Anand found that Mumbai's water flows, not through a static collection of pipes and valves, but through a dynamic infrastructure built on the relations between residents, plumbers, politicians, engineers, and the 3,000 miles of pipe that bind them. In addition to distributing water, the public water network often reinforces social identities and the exclusion of marginalized groups, as only those actively recognized by city agencies receive legitimate water services. This form of recognition—what Anand calls "hydraulic citizenship"—is incremental, intermittent, and reversible. It provides residents an important access point through which they can make demands on the state for other public services such as sanitation and education. Tying the ways Mumbai's poorer residents are seen by the state to their historic, political, and material relations with water pipes, the book highlights the critical role infrastructures play in consolidating civic and social belonging in the city.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822362692
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 03/17/2017
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 1,289,499
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Nikhil Anand is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Hydraulic City

Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai

By Nikhil Anand

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2017 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7359-9



Study a city and neglect its sewers and power supplies (as many have), and you miss essential aspects of distributional justice and planning power. — SUSAN LEIGH STAR, "The Ethnography of Infrastructure"

It was at the very end of the monsoon of 2008 — another spectacular, torrential, ordinary monsoon — that I was able to meet with Ravindra Waikar, then the leader of the Standing Committee of Mumbai's municipal council. A local politician who had risen through the ranks of the Shiv Sena, a nativist political party based in Mumbai and the state of Maharashtra, Waikar was now the head of the legislative branch of the city council and had been key to several projects to "improve" the city's water supply. When I met him at the council headquarters, Waikar was prepared for the interview. A hydraulic engineer was on his right, and several planning documents related to the city's supply were arranged on his large, glass-topped desk. Photos of Shivaji provided blessings from one side of the office, while his party patriarch, Bal Thackeray, looked down from the other.

Situated between plans, engineers, politicians, and historical kings, it was clear that Waikar drew on several sources of sovereignty and power to maintain his authority. Yet, when I inquired into the city's water problems, Waikar explained the situation with numbers, a method commonly employed by city engineers. With a population of 17 million residents, the city required approximately 4,000 million liters of water per day (MLD), and received approximately 3,300 MLD, he told me. A new dam, currently in the works, would provide an additional 450 MLD but this would only partly solve the problem.

My head swirling with figures, I asked him to clarify what the numbers and quantities he presented were meant to suggest. By foregrounding the city's population and its water demands, did he think that population was mainly responsible for the city's water problem? He replied: "Yes, because of the population. That is why we want whatever population comes to Bombay, we want it [the number] to settle. How many people can Bombay bear? We are saying that the country's rule — that in a democracy people can go anywhere, stay anywhere, that is good. But really, stay anywhere?! On the footpath, on RG [recreational ground], on PG [playground] land, on lakes, and pipes, near the sea, in the wetlands and on the drains? All this must be stopped. Only then can Mumbai be saved."

In explaining his position, Waikar quickly moved from talking about the quantities of water and people to the qualities of a particular kind of resident — the urban migrant. I was not surprised by this. Over the last four decades, his political party had built its reputation as a party that was firmly opposed to migration to the city, a position it made clear through ritualistic and systematic performances of violence. Waikar was pointing out that migrants trouble the city not just because they take the jobs meant for the "sons of the soil," or Marathi-speaking residents (Hansen 2001). Migrants trouble the viability of the city also because of the demands they place on the city's water system. Waikar was not opposed to all migrants. The dangerous migrants were not ones who lived in one of the city's high-rises and worked in its growing information technology industry. Their numbers posed no danger. The dangerous ones were, in particular, those who "live anywhere," violating the plans of the city, choking the city's systems, and causing water scarcities for the city's public.

It would be easy to dismiss Waikar's (or the Shiv Sena's) fear of migrants as a particularly conservative and parochial response to processes of migration. Yet anxieties about human migration in what is now called an urban century are not restricted to leaders of conservative or nativist political parties but are also produced and reproduced in the worlds of urban planning and policy in India and in the world more generally.

In these national and global stories of migration, Mumbai has a special place. For instance, in a recent interview, the curator of the BMW Guggenheim Lab — a traveling urban think tank that previously worked in Berlin and New York — argued that "migration is the basis of many of Mumbai's problems" (Indian Express, December 17, 2012). Similarly, experts speaking at the 2009 World Water Forum in Istanbul urged an attention to cities where "human thirst is most intensely concentrated" by pointing specifically to the "300 rural migrants [that] swell Mumbai each day" (Xinhua, March 20, 2009).

Migrants and the attendant population increases they manifest have also long haunted environmental scholarship. In his memorable 1968 treatise, The Population Bomb, Paul Ehrlich famously described how he and his wife Linda came to "emotionally" understand overpopulation "one stinking hot night in Delhi" as they returned home in a taxi: "As we crawled through the city, we entered a crowded slum area. The temperature was well over 100, and the air was a haze of dust and smoke. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating ... People, people, people, people. ... Would we ever get to our hotel? All three of us were, frankly, frightened. It seemed that anything could happen" (Ehrlich 1968, 1). Articulating both the anxieties that Thomas Malthus (1798) had about carrying capacity and those that Robert Kaplan would later have about cultural others in "The Coming Anarchy" (1994) nearly two hundred years later, Ehrlich's influential work described a future jeopardized by growing numbers of people on the planet.

Four decades after the publication of Ehrlich's book, its concerns about population growth now afflict the literature in urban studies. For instance, in Planet of Slums, Mike Davis evokes an ongoing emergency that is unfolding with the rapid growth of urban populations around the world; an urban population explosion, he reveals, is occurring because of migration from the farms to the factories in cities of the Global South. Davis, like geographer David Harvey (2008) and others, warns that we are witnessing processes of planetary urbanization that produce severe inequalities reminiscent of the cities of nineteenth-century Europe (see also Dawson and Edwards 2004). Citing a slew of figures, Davis warns that "the dynamics of Third World urbanization both recapitulate and confound the precedents of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe and North America" (Davis 2006, 11).

These teleological and often apocalyptic accounts of growth in cities of the Global South, which rely on projections of ensuing resource scarcity — of postcolonial "lacks" — are troubling (Chakrabarty 2000; Sundaram 2010). As urban scholars have recently pointed out, it is an open question as to whether models or theories of urbanization, centered on a handful of cities — Paris, London, New York, or Chicago — can explain ongoing processes of urbanization in cities of the Global South (Robinson 2002, 2011; Ananya Roy 2009). Second, scholarship that warns of an ensuing emergency in cities of the Global South often assumes a Malthusian relationship between populations and resources, and tends to overlook the everyday ways in which populations are made and differentiated through the everyday administration of environmental resources (like water) in the city (see, e.g., Dawson and Edwards 2004).

In this chapter, I focus on the ways in which populations are imagined, planned, and governed through pronouncements and projects to manage water and alleviate water scarcity in Mumbai. How do numbers, projections, and imaginations of scarcity inform the politics and programs that govern the flow of vital resources? Scarcity is not a given geophysical condition that animates and structures urban politics. As Jessica Barnes (2014) has explained in her study of the Nile, scarcity is made through discursive and material practices. Through an analysis of city newspaper reports, planning documents, and interviews with city engineers, I show how concerns over water scarcity structure the city's politics. I argue that in Mumbai, a manufactured discourse around the insufficient quantities of water regularly appears in the city's newspapers to produce particular qualities of municipal water — a kind of water that is simultaneously saturated with concerns and fears of migrants and migration. To consume water made by scarcity talk, I suggest, is to consume the social and political anxiety that constitutes it; it is to imbibe a toxic anxiety that produces the city's politics. Mobilized and made by discourses of scarcity, Mumbai's water system in turn produces anxious, xenophobic, and limited municipal publics — publics that are rendered unequal both within the city and in the region.

Today, Mumbai's water department mobilizes over 3.3 billion liters of water to flow to Mumbai daily. This prodigious movement of liquid material over one hundred kilometers does not only occur "by gravity," as engineers suggest, but also requires a series of policy and financial structures, and is also helped along by the topography of the capital (and capitalist) city in its state. By moving water from proximate and distant watersheds to the city, Mumbai's engineered water projects are technopolitical processes, deeply implicated in projects of urban being and belonging in the city.

In his work on engineering, Michel Callon has urged us to note the ways in which infrastructures and technologies are brought into being by relations between not just social actors but also "a mass of silent others" — human and nonhuman — and their enabling environments. Engineers, he argues, are only too aware of the ways in which "technical, scientific, social, economic and political considerations are inextricably bound up" (Callon 1989, 84). As such, Mumbai's water infrastructure depends not only on a combination of policy documents and popular politics but also on the cooperation of nonhuman actors in order to work. The city requires a reliable monsoon around its dam sites, pipes that resist pilferage or corrosion, and urban ground water that needs to be overlooked. When monsoons fail or floods occur, these events frequently destabilize and reveal the precarious silences and stories of scarcity upon which Mumbai's water supply depends.

I begin this chapter with a history of the creation of Mumbai's Hydraulic Engineering Department, and its paradigm of water distribution. Created shortly after the consolidation of Mumbai as the primary port city in western India, the department was founded when the colonial government confronted water scarcity in a rapidly growing city. In the second section of this chapter, I focus on how the city's newspapers play a key role in generating discourses of water scarcity and participate in the production and extension of the city's dam-driven water infrastructure. Discourses of scarcity, I show in the following section, efface and silence knowledge about the availability of other kinds of water in Mumbai on the one hand, and possible claimants to its piped water on the other. Finally, I conclude by describing the afterlives of scarcity discourses in Mumbai. As water that is collected over ninety kilometers away is made the city's, its settler populations are made not of the city through a series of legal and extralegal techniques. They are frequently unmade, by pointing to the water demands they place on the city. These contradictory processes — of urban ingestion on the one hand, and disconnection on the other — are constitutive of the city of Mumbai and its municipally constituted public.

Hydraulic Histories

Matthew Gandy has evocatively suggested that the history of cities can be read as the history of water (Gandy 2002, 22). Simultaneously subject to annual rains and daily tides, much of what is now considered Mumbai was in fact wetlands until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Tidal swamps connected and periodically flooded the city's seven islands (Dwivedi and Mehrotra 1995; Mathur and da Cunha 2009). Yet British colonization, a hospitable harbor, and a supply of potable fresh water also made the city a suitable place to live.

In her careful histories of the city, Mariam Dossal (1991, 2010) details growth of Mumbai as a colonial city from the sixteenth century. The Portuguese administered the territories that now constitute Mumbai from 1534 to 1661. In 1661 the Portuguese crown gifted the island to the English to commemorate the wedding of the king of England to a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. As the town grew slowly through the eighteenth century, the Bombay government — controlled intermittently by the British Crown and the East India Company — incrementally consolidated the islands of the city through large-scale engineering works and military campaigns securing its hinterlands. Control over both the city and its outlying regions had been secured by the early nineteenth century, and a series of land surveys established a reliable, if contentious, revenue system upon which the city's colonial rulers and also its local middlemen thrived.

For most of the city's history, Bombay's residents have lived on the water provided by lakes and wells, managed by wealthy philanthropists and merchants. Contrary to contemporary assumptions, there is little evidence in these accounts to indicate private water distribution was morally objectionable. However, as Bombay grew rapidly in the nineteenth century following the consolidation of British control, these sources came under considerable strain. By the 1820s, Bombay had a population of more than 300,000, making it the world's sixth largest city (Gandy 2014, 116). Commercial activity quadrupled between 1813 and 1858 and the population continued to grow exponentially through the later half of the nineteenth century. Faced with growing urban populations that were increasingly restive over the quality and quantity of water in the stressed wells and tanks of the city, the colonial government began considering ways to augment the city's water supply.

In 1850 J. H. G. Crawford, an officer of the East India Company, drew up plans to supply water to Mumbai by damming the Vihar valley in Salsette. Yet the ability of Mumbai's government to construct a modern system was constantly compromised by uncommitted and fiscally conservative mercantile (and subsequently colonial) governments in London and Calcutta. Colonial officials questioned whether the city — as a colonial outpost — was deserving of substantive investments in its water infrastructure. City merchants were opposed to paying higher taxes for a system that would primarily benefit the city's colonial elite (Doshi 2004; Dossal 1991). Led most vocally by Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, the merchants raised the objection that, unlike opening the tanks to the public, the construction of the Vihar water project "was no one-time act of charity" to permit access to water but a mechanism to perpetually increase the natives' tax burden (Dossal 1991, 102).

Thus, Crawford's plan was shelved and gathered dust for years, and would have likely remained an unrealized plan but for a series of political and ecological events that made the large water supply project a matter of life and death in the city. Following a debilitating drought in 1855, the city's wells were not able to provide water for Mumbai's rapidly growing population. Under duress, the government constituted a Water Committee to manage supplies in all the wells and tanks and to pass rules against "excessive" water use. Cattle and their pastures were removed from the city so that more water could be directed to the city's human populations. Even as water was imported in train cars to slake the city's thirst, a series of significant political events including the Revolt of 1857 struck at the heart of colonial exploitation of the subcontinent. Fearing the loss of control over India's civilian populations as a consequence of the East India Company's excesses, the British crown began to directly administer the subcontinent and recognize the need for different welfare projects to placate local populations. Colonial engineers were called to London to prepare plans for Mumbai's first water project — the damming of Vihar valley beyond the then-boundaries of the city and the piping of water to privileged populations living in the colonial town. When the project was completed in 1860, it became Bombay's — and urban India's — first municipal water project.

With the construction of the Vihar project in 1860, Mumbai's water system was in transition: from the hundreds of tanks and wells that sustained the swampy city to that of modern dams, pipes, and reservoirs that would be administered by a state water authority for the well-being of its favored populations. The shift not only required political power. It also required the cooperation of the city's topography, the event of the drought, its merchants and their taxes, and the interests and aspiration of its colonial government following a popular revolt.


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Table of Contents

Preface: Water Stories  vii
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction. Water Works  1
Interlude. A City in the Sea  25
1. Scare Cities  29
Interlude. Fieldwork  61
2. Settlement  65
Interlude. Renewing Water  95
3. Time Pé (On Time)  97
Interlude. Flood  127
4. Social Work  131
Interlude. River/Sewer  159
5. Leaks  161
Interlude. Jharna (Spring)  191
6. Disconnection  193
Interlude. Miracles  219
Conclusion  223
Notes 239
References  265
Index  289


What People are Saying About This

The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition - Arjun Appadurai

"This beautifully written book is a major contribution to the growing scholarship on infrastructure, materiality, and humanity in anthropology and adjacent fields. Its major argument, which is anchored in the idea of hydraulic citizenship, will be most valuable for scholars of neoliberal and postcolonial states, of the maximum cities of the poorer parts of the world, and of the entanglement of technology and sociality in human life."

K. Sivaramakrishnan

"Hydraulic City provides a riveting account of what water pipes do to political assertion, social identity, and individual life-worlds in a charismatic metropolis. Mumbai is a crowded cityscape for urban research, but this work finds a fresh-washed window for looking at the production and contestation of the liberal city. Pellucid writing makes a sparkling stream of this book where erudition, eloquence, and empathy combine for wonderful results: a landmark contribution to social anthropology and South Asian studies."

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