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Why India needs to invest in planning

The recent outcry over the draft Mumbai Development Plan (DP) 2014-34 has left many wondering what really goes on in the run up to the creation of such plans. With the nature of urbanisation and the Indian scale of problems being fairly complex, urban planning and management is an important area requiring better focus. It is one thing for the Municipal Corporations to put out ads for consultants; it is another for them to find a critical mass of people who can actually carry out the mandate. We need to have bench-marked standards for planning and mapping in the country as well as teaching and training for urban planners, so that plans beset with mistakes do not pass off as acceptable. It is critical to put in place systems, processes and people empowered to deliver, if cities are to act as engines of growth – without sputtering as we turn on the ignition.

I have been listening to conversations on the Mumbai DP off and on from the sidelines for about 3 years now; apparently this was the first opportunity in 30 years to set right the errors and miscalculations of the previous plans. Several developers, real estate funds, civil society actors, academics and also officials of the BMC have looked forward to this opportunity to rework things. While they might have been optimistic in their expectation of what a plan can do for a city, some of the highlights have been the consultative process being adopted, and the fact that this is the first time a plan for an Indian city has been put out in the public domain at the draft stage.

So why has the plan met with much criticism? Architects argue that the hows and whys of FSI increase and densification have not been suitably addressed. Civil society actors feel that the provision of affordable housing and access to basic services for the poor find little mention in the plan. For environmentalists, the development of environmentally sensitive zones and reduction of per capita open spaces has been a matter of concern. As serious errors in the land use plan (including omission of certain heritage cites and known landmarks) come to light, even the aam aadmi is left questioning the veracity of this document. All these factors have led to the scrapping of the plan by the  CM, with the announcement of a four month period to work on the revised plan.

What is there to learn from this experience? Two critical areas that emerge from a management systems perspective are:

–          Team Size and Structure: While heads will roll and the blame game may get more intricate, the real crux lies in whether the ethos of ‘designing solutions that work’ lies at the centre of the planning process. And how much are we truly willing to invest in the process to get it right. I am given to understand that the internal urban planning team that has worked on the DP comprises of a team of seven persons. If this is indeed true, then for a city the size of Mumbai, this team size appears to be highly insufficient. How can individual members then do justice to the task at hand?  Mumbai and every city needs to be willing to invest in (and listen to) a credible team of urban planners, with tight deadlines and uncompromised deliverables.

–          Nature of Diligence: The job of a survey (for land use analysis and related activities) is often farmed out to external agencies or consultants and the internal team works on what has been collected. Can we have more stringent norms for what is acceptable in the name of surveys and research, and can we blacklist agencies that have glaring mistakes in what they provide as data?  For instance if agencies like PWC can be held accountable for not doing a complete diligence of Satyam, then why cannot such systems be brought in for the development sector? For a plan of this nature, the stakes and the quantum of impact is much larger.  This also calls for better access to data sources at the city level.

Cities in India come in for a lot of flak for their inability to plan ahead and provide for the inevitable influx of people, jobs, industrialization and so on.  Most of our cities are busy playing catch-up and are almost always caught off-guard by predictable elements like labour and capital flows and unpredictable elements like natural disasters.  Hence the importance of trying to get things right from the DP stage itself.

 

Poornima Dore

Poornima Dore

Poornima Dore is from the Tata Administrative Services (TAS) and works as Senior Program Officer with the Tata Trusts.
Poornima Dore

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6 Responses to “Why India needs to invest in planning”

  1. Mukta Naik says:

    Great post, Poornima. Thanks for expressing so well the several (complex)issues at hand. It frustrates me that the reaction to poor planning is often a criticism of the idea of planning itself. What other options do we have especially in India, where our cities are at the brink of ecological and economic ruin? However, as you point out, processes, institutions and standards are critical. Imagining new ways to plan is vital. Equally important are the need for issues around the city to become part of public discussion and debate and the need to talk about our vision for cities.

    • Poornima Dore says:

      Dear Mukta, Thanks for your comments. It is true that city planning has far reaching implications on everyone and hence the need for constructive engagement.

  2. […] crisp critique of planning in the context of the events unfolding around the Mumbai DP offers : Why India needs to invest in Planning. Poornima, who is associated with the Tata Trusts, is a Mumbaikar and a passionate advocate of […]

  3. Poornima, You have raised some very valid points. For one thing, it is possible that India simply does not possess the expertise in urban planning of these dimensions. Some suggestions:

    1. It would make eminent sense to get planners who have been involved in the development of Los Angeles or New York. The population of Metropolitan Los Angeles [12.8M] is comparable to that of Mumbai [12.7M].

    2. The political class should be involved minimally, by public diktat. A referendum asking residents how much involvement of politicians is desired and in which areas, will make this possible. Most politicians/municipal executives are corrupt and will feather their nests without batting an eyelid, at the cost of the common man.

    3. A team should be devoted to designing affordable housing within the city, so that one don’t have to be a film star, industrialist, or crooked politician, to live near where he/she works.

    4. The plan should pay great attention to developing integrated public transit systems to ease the flow of people and vehicles.

  4. Avantika says:

    Very well written and succint representation of the Mumbai DP issue. The Indian government needs to take cues from Singapore’s planning for land allocation and use, green corridors, water management, and the use of IT, needless to mention the super efficient public transportation system. Theres a lot to learn!

  5. Radha Janardhan says:

    Hello Poornima,

    Although not a student of economics ,I’m interested in better planned cities for the comfort of the Aam janatha which puts up with anything and everything offered by the authorities on the platter. I’m glad people like you are insisting that we do a better job at the planning level. Execution level would be the next step and aaah… that’s another story altogether! After that would come the maintenance level where a sense of passionate public responsibility has to be invoked.Gosh, this could and should become a movement!

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