by Shipra Narang Suri
What do cities in India need to be more livable? In the four part series “Spotlight on livable cities”, ISOCARP Vice-President Shipra Narang Suri aims to answer this question by approaching it from various angles, giving examples from different areas of urban planning. In this second part, she talks about urban building master plans, the land housing market in India’s cities and the urban poor.
Urban planning and local governance in Indian cities
Urban planning in India has traditionally taken the form of master plans, usually developed and implemented by specially constituted development authorities which are outside the purview of the local administration and hence not directly accountable to the local population. The disconnect between urban planning and local governance was sought to be corrected through the adoption of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) in 1992, which proposed that Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) be established and strengthened in order to improve the quality of the urban environment, provide services in a more responsive and effective manner, and enhance participation of local stakeholders in decision-making processes.
While the Act directly addressed the issue of planning, this aspect has remained marginal to the development of India’s towns, cities, districts and regions. According to a report prepared by the NIUA in 2005 assessing the implementation of the 74th CAA in 27 states and 1 Union Territory, District Planning Committees (DPCs) and Metropolitan Planning Committees (MPCs), which according to the Act should be established by each Municipal Authority, are yet to be established in most states.
The ineffectiveness of planning has become endemic across Indian cities. Ansari points out some key drawbacks of the Master Plan. Economic planning or local economic development strategies are rarely incorporated into the spatial planning exercise, with the result that the plans are unrealistic and impossible to implement.
Furthermore, the implementation of urban plans in Indian cities is hampered by the fact that water and sewerage systems, power and telecommunication services, roads and public transport, housing and slums, are controlled by other parastatal bodies or line departments of central and state governments. Local governments are responsible only for solid waste management, maintenance of public spaces, and some basic repair and maintenance of other services such as roads, street lighting and drainage systems.
The launch of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) towards the end of 2005 has significantly influenced both the local governance and urban planning systems in India’s large cities. Covering 63 cities across the country, the JNNURM’s overarching goal is to encourage reforms and fast track planned development of the identified cities, with a focus on improving efficiency in the delivery of urban infrastructure and services. Community participation and building accountability of local authorities towards citizens are the other objectives of the Mission.
One of the prerequisites for any city to access funds under the JNNURM is the preparation of a City Development Plan (CDP), including an assessment of the current situation, development of a vision for the future in consultation with stakeholders, strategy formulation and the development of a City Investment Plan.
While this is indeed a welcome step forward, and has encouraged the cities included to formulate CDPs, one is unable to decipher how different these plans are, or will be, from old-fashioned master plans (other than including an Investment Plan). It is also unclear whether CDPs will replace master plans, or are to be developed in addition to master plans. It is too soon, of course, to comment on the extent to which each CDP has been implemented, and its long-term impact on the city concerned. While the JNNURM demands that over the duration of the mission urban planning become a designated function of elected local bodies. However, without significant institutional reforms to streamline and reorganise the responsibilities of local bodies and various parastatal (unelected/ technical) organisations, the development and implementation of the CDPs could well remain as fragmented as it has been in the past.
A revised version of the JNNURM is now in the pipeline. Titled unimaginatively as the “New Improved JNNURM” (NIJNNURM), the new scheme will target all cities and towns, small or big, and will focus on capacity creation within the local governments. Funding will be linked to a city-specific reform agenda, rather than imposing one-size-fits-all solutions. Regarding the governance of planning, it is proposed to strengthen Metropolitan and District Planning Committees, with Urban Development Authorities and Unified Metropolitan Transport Authorities as their technical arms. City planning would be made a function of elected local governments rather than Urban Development Authorities. It remains to be seen if this version of the Urban Renewal Mission would be any more effective as compared to the previous one.
Addressing the complex and contentious issue of urban land
Of course, urban planning reforms cannot be complete without addressing the issue of land. Urban land has always been, and continues to be, a contentious subject in most Indian cities. Like urban development and local governance, land is also a state subject under the Indian federal system. The central government provides policy advice and guidance in this area, but it is up to the state governments to adopt any central policies or directives. One of the major legal instruments which has significantly impacted (in fact, hindered) the development of urban land has been the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act (ULCRA) of 1976, which was applied in cities with populations of 200,000 or more in the year 1971. The key objectives of this Act were to
“…curb the activities of private land developers, to check undesirable speculation, to operate a land bank to keep land prices within reasonable limits and to ensure plan development with special reference to the needs of the poorer segment of the population.”
Although these goals were undoubtedly noble, the Act led to the freezing of large tracts of land in the big cities, ostensibly for planned development. The slow pace of such development, in turn, led to a scarcity of developed land and skyrocketing prices. Thus, in effect, the Act shut out the urban poor from the housing market in most large cities, Delhi being a prime example. In 1998, the central Act was finally repealed. Most states have also repealed the corresponding state acts. Some states have also made other attempts to reduce barriers to private supply of land, such as reforming Rent Control Acts.
In recent years, two other initiatives have been tried to overcome the existing constraints. These are: (i) township development and (ii) land pooling and readjustment. The Integrated Township Policy, adopted by certain states, is an attempt to mobilize the private sector for the supply of land for urban housing, infrastructure, and other public purposes. Under this mechanism, a developer assembles land by paying private landowners the prevalent market price, without the deployment of Land Acquisition Act (LAA) provisions to acquire land. The role of the public sector in this process is restricted to that of a facilitator and a regulator of town planning, environmental, and social welfare norms.
Another effective approach being deployed for the delivery of serviced land for urban expansion in the periphery of cities, mainly in the western Indian state of Gujarat, is known as the ‘Development Plan–Town Planning Scheme’ mechanism. Under the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act (GTPUDA) of 1976, a two-stage process is outlined for urban development. The first step is the preparation of a statutory Development Plan (DP) for the town or city as a whole, which also demarcates the area of the rural hinterland where the city is expected to expand. In the second stage, the expansion area is divided into a number of smaller areas, usually between 1 and 2 sq km each, and for each of these, a Town Planning Scheme (TPS) is prepared. This is a combined land reconstitution, infrastructure development, and financing proposal.
While these measures are innovative and being usefully deployed in a number of cities, in the long term, the supply of urban land can only be freed by removing constraints such as rent control, high stamp duty and development charges, restriction on sale or conversion of agriculture land, and the weak land title/record and protection system.