Repair as Infrastructure: Case of Bengaluru, India


The different practices of “repair” offers a framework to unpack inequalities in provisioning of infrastructure in Indian cities. This paper draws on fieldwork in a Bangalore neighbourhood with diverse socio-economic characteristics (caste, religion, language and income) and built form (incrementally built self-constructed housing and slum resettlement housing).The paper discusses the lifecycle of repair practices across multiple forms of water supply that sustain the neighbourhood; from the city level grid of treated piped water supply to local grids of untreated borewell water and off-grid systems of water tankers and water ATMs. It highlights that water provisioning is not only about pipelines and water ATMs, but equally about systemising practices and materialities of repair for both gridded and off-grid arrangements of water provisioning. The paper argues that repair as a practice, allows infrastructure to be built incrementally across gridded and off-grid arrangements, and plays a significant role in actual provisioning, over and beyond the laying of infrastructure grids. The notion is significant as local government budgets in many Indian cities are limited. While local governments may have budgets for capital expenditure to build infrastructure, operational budgets for repair and maintenance are often constrained. For marginalised neighbourhoods experiencing inequities in provisioning through the formal grid- system, repair becomes an essential feature of coping in everyday life. Who asks for repair, where does the repair happen, at what scale and what kind of material is used for repair are all questions that link to systems of local skills, local social and political mobilisations, gendered structuring of time for households, etc. and thus become critical for understanding urban infrastructure itself. We present a case for focussing on repair as an integral part of building/ rebuilding infrastructure, involving both state and non-state actors, especially for marginalised neighbourhoods in Indian cities.