Revising revised master plan for Delhi 2021

Kamal Nath questions the plan of his own ministry. We ask, how did the plan go wrong?

While inaugurating a local facility in Delhi last week, Union Minister of Urban Development Kamal Nath pronounced that the Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) 2021 is largely irrelevant. Referring to the massive irregularities on the ground, he stated that the MDP needs significant revision.

The Minister needs to be commended for his forthrightness on an output of his own Ministry, via the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). DDA is in the enviable position of having the largest pool of qualified planners?around 400?available to any urban planning authority in the country. So if the Minister suggests that the plan is irrelevant on the ground, and the usual challenge of technical capacity doesn?t apply, how did the plan go wrong?

There are two assessments that can be made of the MPD 2021. The first is a technical one, from a planners? perspective. Let me begin with this.

Technical perspective

The MPD 2021 has been prepared for 1,483 sq km of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD). But the NCTD is itself part of the Central National Capital Region (CNCR) that comprises a much larger 2,000 sq km The CNCR, in turn, is within the regional plan territory for the National Capital Region (NCR), which is 33,500 sq km. So we have 3 nested territories?NCTD, CNCR and NCR, all of which need spatial plans. Each of these plans will serve different needs, given their differing scales, but each will impact the other.

The good news is that the plans have not only been prepared for all 3 geographical footprints, but also synchronised for the same time period of 2021. This is no mean feat?for example, master plans for Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan etc have minimal connection to the larger metropolitan regional plan for Mumbai, and display a cacophonic disarray of timelines.

The tiered planning done in Delhi is entirely the right approach. It allows for integration of the priorities and projects of national, state, regional and local governments. Of course, the success of such an integrated approach can only be evaluated over time when these plans are translated from paper to ground reality.

Citizens? perspective

A second way to assess the MDP 2021 is from the citizens? perspective. Two things matter most to citizens. First, the big infrastructure of the city that defines its connectivity, livelihood opportunities, leisure activities, and cultural identity; and second, quality of life at the local level?ultimately, people live in neighbourhoods, and look for a vibrant sense of community and local spaces, access to housing to suit all wallets, proximity of home to schools, hospitals, shopping, public transport, parks and playgrounds.

The extensive Delhi Metro network is an example of recent infrastructure investment that has a significant impact on citizens.

The expanding network of the metro rail service has been widely accepted as a boon to residents, efficiently connecting them to far-flung extensions and the many business and commercial centres of the city. Ridership is already at 1.8 million people per day.

While the metro has been planned in coordination with the DDA, the influence of the metro will now need to be retro-fitted into the master plan. This impact is even greater because the Metro Rail Corporation has around 10 acres of land around most stations, where it can decide land use and Floor-Space Index (FSI). This will have a major impact on commercial and residential real estate: for example, commercial areas and housing that are closer to metro stations will become much more desirable (and valuable) than the district centres defined in the master plan. Given that metro lines and stations will triple by 2021, the metro network is the biggest force field on the city?s spatial patterns. One example of the change needed is how re-densification options for central city areas need to be re-thought given how the metro allows people to live in peripheral areas and commute into central parts of the city.

Ideally, the master plan should have been the blueprint on which the metro network was already envisioned. But here is the rub. The MPD 2021 plan was prepared in 2005?four years late. And notified in 2007?two years after that. With these kinds of delays, it is no wonder that action-oriented infrastructure leaders keep pushing ahead, requiring planners to scurry behind and retrofit their developments. If the master plan is to fulfill its role as the translation of a collective vision onto physical space, planners will need to be relevant by matching the timing of infrastructure agencies and political leaders.

The neighborhood is where the minutiae of the MPD 2021 planning concepts are realised?mixed-use, re-densification, influence zones, re-development, mixed income housing, transit-oriented development, green belt, etc, and where urban design meets urban planning.

This is where Mr Kamal Nath?s assertion on the shortcomings of the MPD 2021 is most visible. Four years into the MPD 2021, the Local Area Plans(LAPs) are only just being prepared. Out of a total of 273 such LAPs that are needed, 33 pilots are currently underway, with no clear timelines for the rest.

Without such detailed plans, the political economy has free reign.

Already, the (estimated) 144 requests for changes to land use and 750 applications for regularisation are a reflection of this.

The cityscape is a complex organic canvas that is constantly being impacted by multiple forces. Without credible, timely and multi-tiered plans, we get stuck in a dysfunctional equilibrium. All the players critical to the success of the plan?the planners, the politicians, the bureaucrats, the infrastructure players?are in a circular firing squad with everyone blaming everyone else.

Regrettably what gets a bad name in all this is the Plan itself?we end up unfortunately shooting the messenger, and revert to the classic Indian approach of ?jugaad? instead?adjust as we go along, and use our innate powers of negotiation to navigate the chaos.

This is the chasm of credibility that the planning profession faces. There are no incremental steps to bridge this gap?what we need is one gigantic bold leap, which means massive investments in planning competencies to generate comprehensive, competent and timely plans that can become the basis for all stakeholders to work with, with non-negotiable rules of engagement. For this to happen, the voice that matters most is that of the political leadership. For Delhi at least, this means that the buck stops at Mr Kamal Nath?s table.

The author is Co-Founder, Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship & Democracy

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First published on: 02-12-2011 at 02:55 IST