Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

For urban planning, most states rely on the Central Government’s Model Town and Country Planning Act of 1960, which itself is derived from the British Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, while in Britain it has been completely replaced.

Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

Whenever our cities face a major crisis, such as the recent floods in Chennai, the ‘chaotic’ state of urban planning in India habitually becomes a matter of debate.

Since urban planning and its enforcement are often blamed for India’s ‘dormant’ cities, it is important to examine the roots that underpin the current urban planning system.

Who has the authority to make city plans? Why are India’s urban planning laws and procedures designed to be as they are?

Although in India’s constitutional system, urban planning is the function of locally elected governments, planning in Indian cities is mainly carried out by non-representative bureaucratic agencies under the state government.

India’s local governance system underwent significant changes in 1992 with constitutional reforms (in the form of the 73rd and 74th Amendments) empowering rural and urban local governments to function as ‘self-governing institutions.

Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

The 74th Amendment empowers elected municipalities to prepare and implement plans for economic development and social justice and subjects listed under the 12th Schedule.

Urban planning, regulation of land use and planning for economic and social development are the first three subjects listed in the 12th Schedule.

In addition, the 74th Amendment mandates the creation of a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) for metropolitan cities with a population of more than one million, with at least two-thirds of the members being elected local representatives, to be prepared by the local bodies.

To prepare a development plan for the metropolitan area incorporating the plans made.

Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

Therefore, constitutional reforms have combined the elected municipalities with the task of urban planning, as well as the MPC, which is responsible for preparing plans for a larger area.

However, instead of the municipal government or MPC, these are the state government-controlled development authorities, which mainly carry out urban planning in most of the major cities of India.

Development authorities are statutory agencies, responsible for infrastructural development and housing projects as well as urban planning in the city.

These are bureaucratic agencies with no accountability to any local representative or local government. These agencies prepare master plans, which govern land use and development across the city, every 10-20 years.

India’s current urban planning system has its origins in planning institutions and laws established by the British colonial government in response to the bubonic plague that struck Bombay in 1896.

Until the onset of the plague, the British mainly meant the administration of the cantonment and the surrounding civil lines, where they lived.

Although the plague killed about six per cent of Bombay’s population and brought business to a standstill in the city, the colonial government felt the need to regulate it by intervening throughout the city.

The Bombay Improvement Trust was formed in 1898. The trust was responsible for physical planning, construction of new roads, construction of houses and decongestion of congested areas intending to prevent outbreaks of diseases.

Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

The colonial government believed that the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions in the areas where Indians lived were the main reasons for the spread of the plague and therefore empowered the Trust to demolish and improve slums.

Such trusts were later established in different cities like Calcutta, Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Delhi and Bengaluru.

These trusts functioned autonomously and parallel to the municipal corporations. The operation of such trusts ensured that the colonial bureaucracy could direct and regulate urban development without interference from elected municipalities.

The practice became a post-colonial legacy, with the City Improvement Trust becoming the development authority.

Over time the development authorities became powerful and the constitutional intervention to decentralize power to the local governments did not dismantle the power structure of the bureaucracy, which became embedded in the state.

Nearly three decades after the passage of the 74th Amendment, the laws governing urban planning and development authorities have not changed much to establish democratic planning processes.

For urban planning, most states rely on the Central Government’s Model Town and Country Planning Act of 1960, which itself is derived from the British Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, while in Britain it has been completely replaced.

While much of the world is adopting more dynamic planning processes, the planning system in India rests on the ‘master plan’, which in principle determines and controls any development in the city.

However, according to state planning laws, the master plan is mostly a spatial tool for regulating land use and buildings and the plan is not required to include key areas such as transportation or the environment.

Urban Planning: Who Plans Indian Cities

Even though these areas are included in the plan document, as some new master plans do, such provisions are not legally binding. Thus the plan focuses on the strict division of the city into different categories such as residential, commercial and industrial.

Such a planning system talks little about the urban realities of India, which is characterized by diversity and dynamic space, whose character has historically been a mixed-use of places. Consequently, in Indian cities, the vast contrast between the plan on paper and the form built on the ground should not be surprising.

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AUTHORDeepa Chandravanshi

Deepa Chandravanshi is the founder of The Magadha Times & Chandravanshi. Deepa Chandravanshi is a writer, Social Activist & Political Commentator.


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