THe often jokingly used the word Chalu to support the moral dilemmas required by Patwari’s work, and the residents of Patwari’s house indulged in it. As Laura Beer has argued, neoliberal state development projects that are driven by private sector investment tend to place local bureaucrats. Awkward and ‘parallel’ relations with the private sector through which local state actors broker political and economic space. In Gurgaon, I will argue that this bureaucratic awkwardness is implied through ‘cunning’ practices by local state actors.
A chalu was ‘corrupt’ in a mainstream sense, they would take payments to bypass or fast-track normal procedures, payments that are now almost mandatory for processing all bureaucratic tasks, and the term was used mildly derisively. Violation of ethics required of office. Since most of the people who work in patua houses are not salaried but earn only through these payments, being crafty is an essential requirement to earn a living. This could mean that Chalu bureaucrats are likely to be bound to process mutation scripts and mundane papers as they mingle with local politicians and elites. Ongoing resourceful and innovative: They can navigate systems, find solutions to any problem, and correct mistakes. As the earlier case of the swapped land plot shows, cunning and craft indicate not only the obligation to engage in covert maneuvering, but also the need to resolve the ambiguities and uncertainties that bureaucratic elements constantly throw up.
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Parveen Patwari, an assistant patwari of the house, was very well known and inquired about such chalu work. Parveen originally hails from a village in South Gurgaon, an area that – as discussed in Chapter 3 – has been the subject of significant real estate investment since its inclusion in the Gurgaon-Manesa Urban Development Plan in 2007. Parveen was from an upper caste Brahmin. Used the family and its social networks and connections not only to access a public sector job, but also to generate substantial work through the office. Parveen had an office but rarely used it. Parveen’s office was much quieter as requests for mutations, partitions, income certifications etc. came and went, deftly prioritized and navigated by assistant patwaris that characterized other offices.
The office patwari, involved in party politics in Rohtak, was an occasional feature in the office, and the junior assistant sat in the corner of the room watching the slow drip of ‘village work’ that often came. Parveen, on the other hand, was found around the house of the patwa, often basking in the midday sun surrounded by village headmen (lambardars), brokers and lawyers. They came to access Parveen’s services to navigate the revenue department. Some came to request Parveen for ‘big jobs’, hiring Parveen to work as a private consultant in the office, while others – corporate developers or upper class Delhiites accustomed to Harianvi rural life – hired Parveen to translate the system, access or bypass signatures. Certain prerequisites for property title mutation and registration. Parveen, for example, would work on contracts for local businessmen and property dealers and would often work for the local sarpanch. A village sarpanch in North Gurgaon acted as a loan shark, took the land as security and built a property empire from the business. Where creditors were unable to pay, the sarpanch would seize the land and hire Parveen to dig out the land from the records and organize mutation in title.
Parveen was also well known for fixing clients with lumbermen. Lambardars are village-level and sub-village level ‘headmen’ appointed by the state to collect taxes, assess local cultivation and certify village records. The lowest position in the revenue department hierarchy, the lambardar is the final point of contact between the village and the state bureaucracy. A lumberdar’s thumbprint or signature gives an impression of local connection with the village which is often required to certify notifications and property divisions and mutations.
Like all others of the Patwar household, lambardars’ temporary connections with both the state bureaucracy and the real estate industry allowed many to evade occupation orders, regularize their territorial claims, and develop common property businesses. Parveen was an expert at sourcing lumberyards for far-flung developers, imbuing large multinational property deals with a sense of locality that had to wade through bureaucratic offices.
Ongoing work often involves approving property transactions within the ‘unauthorised’ colonies of Gurgaon discussed in the previous chapter. Officially under the HDRUA, all property transactions on land below 1 acre require a ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) from the Planning Department to regulate unsanctioned, unlicensed neighborhood development. But as in the previous chapter for small-time villagers to cut plots in their agricultural land, the land consolidation requirements and costs of HDRUA’s license system are such that many prefer to register property transactions silently without an NOC. Gurgaon’s planning apparatus may have been shaped by the selective addition of corporate layout plans and consolidation programs, but it is not entirely disposed to small-time colonists. A Patwari is required for NOC.
Parveen’s midday moonlight is characteristic of those who occupy the ‘shadows’, informal spaces of government offices. Parveen is a private actor – informally hired as an ‘assistant’ – deeply involved in the day-to-day running of the public office. The discrete geography of state bureaucracy is certainly the subject of much scholarly work. In her writing on ‘informality’ in South Asia, Barbara Harris-White notes that the rise of the so-called informal economy in Karachi brought with them the ‘informal’ manifestation of the state. The transformation of Karachi from a ‘pleasant’ colonial port to a bustling megalopolis in the post-colonial period, Harris-White asserts, was aided by a ‘shadow state’ apparatus lodged with intermediaries from various social contexts that were informally legitimized and linked. Illegal settlement with state services. These intermediaries – engineers, construction contractors, local party bosses and of course bureaucrats – temporarily held together the sovereign parts of the ‘non-hegemonic’ state, representing the bleeding edge of the code and exercising state power formation in colonial North South Asia. As the respective works of Solomon Benjamin and Partha Chatterjee have shown, the ‘messiness’ of bureaucratic structures opens up space for the urban poor to vest themselves and regularize temporary claims on urban spaces.
And yet, while Parveen and others of the patwar house are involved in controlling the improvised territorial settlements of marginalized village actors to do ‘village work’, they are at the same time using the office in the interests of corporate real estate actors. In Patwa’s room, the corporate real estate bureaucrats and their dual records and maps – both public and private, code and practice – are as much beneficiaries as the urban poor. Indeed, in agrarian cities such as Gurgaon, which have recently engulfed the rural world, where working-class migrants are confined to housing systems within village tenements (and not ‘land ‘basman” as described in other cities), low-level bureaucratic spaces primarily aspire to global real estate with the agrarian world. Places that connect – where temporary and shifting class alliances, based on the Gurgaon model, coalesce and are bureaucratically smoothed over. Since land and labor from colonial-post-colonial agricultural settlements were in the first instance so tightly controlled by agrarian Jat and Yadav landlords, it is perhaps not surprising that the governance of land and labor is imbued with ‘described’ class interests. of the same group.
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Such is the importance of this revenue task to the corporate developers of Gurgaon, there are other actors in the patois house. Besides patwaris, kanungos and their assistants, there are a host of private actors billed as ‘liaisoners’, ‘company patwaris’ or ‘revenue consultants’ who sit in courtyards and offices. These liaisons are employed by corporate developers to dig up land, move papers between and among various revenue offices and facilitate payments and inducements to move files up the clearance chain.
At first it was incredibly difficult for me to understand who was a liaison and who was a patwari. Many liaisons are themselves ex-patwaris and are deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of the office. When not conducting their own work, they help assistants write paperwork and make copies, make corrections to records, signpost visitors, and contribute to office discussions on the best solutions to visitor requests.
Liaison’s job is not just to negotiate with Patwaris – they need to involve themselves deeply in the social life of the office and record themselves. If patwaris like Devendra and assistant patwaris like Parveen are ostensibly of the state, stepping down, liaisons are outside actors stepping into state space. State space, indiscriminately shaped by unstable hegemonic class coalitions, is here constituted as an endless lattice of public faces and private interests spanning the city. Of course, while developers may have projects all over the city, liaisons are more mobile than patwaris, ferrying revenue-related work papers and signed notes between the scattered offices of the revenue department and their employers’ stodgy offices and plans in New Gurgaon. Divisions in HUDA-developed districts of the city.
This excerpt from ‘Subaltern Frontiers’ by Thomas Cowan is published with permission from Cambridge University Press.