This presentation is a comparative reflection on welfare policy implementation in an Indian city–the city state of Delhi, which is also the national capital,in the light of lessons from Brazil’s Bolsa Familia social protection programme. What it does is that it maps the policy terrain for poverty reduction as seen from the portals of the state, along side grounded experiences of the poor in terms of how they “receive” these policies, and their actual experience of interactions with street-level bureaucrats. This juxtaposition is then raised to discuss a process of practical policy change in Delhi with respect to social protection–the failures in identification of citizens “Below the Poverty Line”, its replacement by a broader concept of social vulnerability, and finally the entrenched hold of political patrons reversing this process. While the pre-existing policy discourse and implementation arrangements for identifying the poor as “BPL citizens” was one that held out benefits for a politics of patronage and control, the concept of social vulnerability was one that threatened the strong control of the “gatekeeper state”.
The Brazilian Bolsa Familia in contrast, took strong measures to reduce the hold of the patrons, and rationalise social policy programmes on the platform of integrated benefits transfers. This change in the macro-architecture of social policy happened not just as a measure of technical rationality, but by fostering unmediated links between the state and its most vulnerable citizens. A change in the attitude of state functionaries towards its most poor and vulnerable citizens was critical. Much of the protest and political change in Delhi beginning 2011-15, was in reality an assertion of the poor against the control of the patrons–an assertion of citizenship. The lessons for Delhi therefore are it is important to think about social policy renewal as embedded within the lives of the poor. The state, its policies, and implementation must veer close to what the city’s poor expect of the state.