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Exercising Citizenship: Invited and Negotiated Spaces in Grievance Redressal Systems in Hubli–Dharwad

Different groups of citizens exercise their citizenship through various channels in Indian cities to realize their social rights. In classic urban management systems dominated by government, citizens’ rights are allocated by governments. New forms of network governance see governments as enabling actors for private sector provision, relegating citizen rights to ‘consumer rights’. New e-based grievance redressal systems in many Indian cities are part of this new perspective, designed to make government–citizen relations more transparent and effective. This article is based on a case study of a north Karnataka city, where e-based grievance systems have been introduced.This article describes how various social groups (low income and middle class) exercise their citizenship differentially, making use respectively of political and e-based grievance redressal systems. We argue that government entitlements are of limited value for low-income groups when governments do not deliver, forcing these groups to utilize ‘political society’ channels and strategically negotiate with government for realizing rights. In contrast, middle-class citizens who are provided basic services, utilize alternative forms of mobile-based grievance systems to obtain better quality of serivices. Internet-based systems are not yet used by anyone.The implications are that new forms of grievance redressal systems result in an e-based divide between those who utilize newer forms of grievance redressal for quality improvements in service provision and adverse incorporation of those who still work through ‘negotiated spaces’ to realize a basic level of service provision. Such systems currently do not provide more effective channels for low-income groups to exercise their citizenship, nor reduce differences in governmental accountability towards various social groups.