Finding Meaning in Invited Spaces:  An Analysis of Institutionalised Participatory Processes in Infrastructure Planning in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, India


  • Nikita John ALU Freiburg


capacity building, citizen engagement, participative democracy, sustainable development




The Indian government signed on to the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, which acknowledges participation and its role in planning for climate change mitigation in Goals 11 and 16. Literature about participation in urban planning popularly showcases the issues regarding the exclusion of poor sections of society and the work of civil society organisations in this gap. However, less literature provides an overview of the participatory processes that connect the local government with the growing urban middle-class population, allowing better social inclusion in plans while simultaneously being pro-poor.

The Indian government recently also acknowledged the lack of public participation in urban planning processes in a report by the NITI Aayog (2021), corroborating scientific literature on the urban population's indifference towards governance issues. With the increasing education rates and earnings, there is reason to revisit the invited spaces provided to the Indian urbanite and better understand if public engagement could help supplement the limited state capacity, moving away from India's technocratic planning past.

Invited spaces, as coined by Cornwall (2002), are those (institutional, legal, organisational, political and policy) spaces that allow for non-parliamentarian participation. Intending to make existing invited spaces for participation count (Kumar, 2016), this contribution analyses the institutionalised participatory processes in infrastructure planning in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, India.

In the context of Delhi NCT, this paper analyses all identified instances inviting public participation in strategic and other infrastructure plan documents created by current programmes or laws. While there is the occurrence of public participation on paper, it does not necessarily contribute to sustainability or ensure legitimacy in planning. To that end, this contribution identifies how participation in these invited spaces impacts planning decisions and creates meaning using the concepts of participatory democracy. This results in participation in each space described based on authority, power, participants, communication, and decision modes (Fung, 2006). The developed results are to be used as the basis to explore if and how the use of invited spaces could ensure meaningful participation and bring to the surface mitigation efforts that could be a game changer in urban infrastructure planning in India.


Cornwall, A. (2002) Making spaces, changing places: situating participation in development. Available at:

Fung, A. (2006). Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance. Public Administration Review, 66(s1), 66–75. Available at:

Kumar, A. and Prakash, P. (eds.) (2016) Public Participation in Planning in India: Introduction: Framings and Formulations. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

NITI Aayog. (2021) Reforms in Urban Planning Capacity in India: Final Report. Available at: