In two major urban agglomerations – Mumbai and Gurgaon - planning has been in the eye of the storm. Needless to say, both have been the highest contributors to state exchequers and hotspots of commercial activity.
When the Mumbai Master plan 2034 was withdrawn after serious consumer and industry outbursts on the authenticity of data and the fact that sensitive planning issues had been overlooked, it was a wake-up call for many planners in the city. I had several planners expressing dismay about the credibility of the entire planning community in the city and if there was any way of working together with the government to come out with a credible draft. The biggest issue was the price the city would have to pay with a flawed master plan. As the residents of the creek areas said in their protest, regularization of encroachment on the CRZ I areas posed a danger of flooding in the legitimate developed areas.
For decades planning has been the least addressed activity in the municipal governments. Land, being a state subject, was already open to many interventions by vested parties including politicians, bureaucrats and influential developer lobbies. As a result, actual planning took a back seat. The statistics tell their own tale. To be certified as an urban planner, there is a separate stream of education required.
Today, across the country there are only five education institutes across the country, which offer these courses. The draft Town Planners Act has been pending with the Parliament standing committee for over two years and there have been only about two meetings in this period. Obviously the existing 50,000 urban planners in the country are all that the 350 cities and 50 per cent urbanization model can bank on. As a result planning and design firms from countries such as Singapore are practicing freely. A recent order by the Ministry of Urban Development declared this functioning illegal and punishable as there is no reciprocal trade agreement on the issue present between the two countries. However, for the draft plan of the first planned new Smart city in Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has drawn upon the Singapore government to help him.
In an unrelated planning issue in Gurgaon, the city authorities declared Aravali areas as unforested and open to new development. Again the issue is of the ecological and environmental impact. Gurgaon is located in the foothills of the Aravalis. If we selfishly allow the Aravalis to give way to only property development then the chances of a Mumbai-like deluge when water finds its own level in an intense precipitation cycle are huge.
Those impacted most are the end consumers and residents and occupants of the cities in question. Can lack of trained planners at development authority levels and intense political lobbying be allowed to compromise their safety?
World over the effort is to open up more public spaces for the urban citizen so that these act as stress busters to choked city conditions. Can we not clean up and enhance the quality of natural fragile eco-systems to work as the lungs and stress relievers of citizens? If this is to happen, citizens themselves have to take up the cudgels on behalf of their city.