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Basic Services, Low-Income Settlements and the Local State: How Collectively-Organized Initiatives Redress Inequalities


Basic service security is inadequate for many urban households situated in urban slums in low and middle income countries. Given the local state’s slow and inadequate efforts to improve service provision, households and collectively-organized resident groups often resort to employing their own strategies to secure services. This study draws on the experience of the collectively-organized Basti Vikas Manch initiative (hereafter BVM, English: Slum Development Network) in four slums in Hyderabad, India. The broad goal of the BVM is to bring about greater transparency and public participation in local government decision-making regarding basic service provision to slums. Although much of the literature on basic service access inequality describes the complete absence or antagonism of the public sector, it is the slow and uneven pace of public improvements relative to needs that motivates slum residents in Hyderabad to engage local agencies to provide better service access.

The dissertation takes the form of an introductory essay and three standalone papers. The introductory essay reviews the mechanisms by which inequalities in basic service access degrade quality of life for low-income urban households, explains why basic service is worse in slums, and traces the historical arc of policy responses to substandard service conditions. Using data from a survey of 752 Hyderabadi slum households, and synthesizing the exit-voice-loyalty and collective action frameworks, Paper 1 models household participation in solitary and collective strategies to improve service security. Paper 2 uses data from structured interviews and program files to document the origins of the BVM, the engagement strategies it employs, and the implications of the BVM for other slum upgrading programs. Paper 3 develops a typology which reorients collective service access strategies identified in disparate literatures with reference to the extent of pressure they exert on the local state to improve service provision. This study argues that strategies to change the choice architecture of the state are the most promising to mediate the oft-cited tension between short-term and long-term service needs.

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