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Municipalization for privatization’s sake: Municipal solid waste collection services in urban India

Aman Luthra (Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA)

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 9 August 2018

Issue publication date: 10 June 2019




Rapid economic growth and urbanization in India have increased demand for municipal services. In response, privatization has emerged as a policy solution to a growing deficit in urban infrastructure and service provision. But, privatization assumes prior state ownership of those services. Certain waste management services, specifically doorstep waste collection, have never been truly public in the sense that private informal actors have historically provided them. The purpose of this paper is to examine the tensions and contradictions between two related policy imperatives – universal service provision and privatization – that appear to be guiding the municipalization of solid waste collection services in urban India.


Research for this paper relies on detailed analysis of key government documents (reports of various committees, regulations and laws) that have been important in defining municipal responsibilities for waste management in India from 1990 to 2016. In addition, where appropriate, research materials from the author’s doctoral dissertation fieldwork in Delhi from October 2012 to December 2013 have also been used.


An analysis of key policy documents revealed that the government’s efforts to document deficits in service provision ignored, and thus rendered invisible, the work of the informal sector. While a consensus on the need for universal waste collection service had emerged as early as the late 1990s, it was not until 2016 that municipal responsibility for service provision was codified into law. The rules issued in 2016 municipalized this responsibility while simultaneously opening up spaces for the inclusion of the informal sector in waste collection service provision.


This paper fills a gap in the existing literature on how policy interventions have brought the space of the doorstep into the ambit of the state such that it allows for the opening up of those spaces for the entry of private capital. Under the guise of universal service provision, the shift to municipalization and outsourcing to private corporations is not in fact privatization – service provision is already private – but involves the dispossession of informal workers and the transfer of their resource to the formal, corporate sector.



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under the Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant number 1202985, the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s Dissertation Fieldwork Grant, the Social Science Research Council’s International Dissertation Research Fellowship and the Johns Hopkins University’s Elaine and Gordon “Reds” Wolman Fellowship, Gordon Croft Fellowship and E2SHI Fellowship. A previous version of this paper was benefitted from comments from Dr Matthew Himley and Dr Erica Schoenberger. In addition, the author would like to thank Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group for their support during the author’s dissertation fieldwork in Delhi.


Luthra, A. (2019), "Municipalization for privatization’s sake: Municipal solid waste collection services in urban India", Society and Business Review, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 135-154.



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