Plan Bengaluru at BMRDA level, not in BDA level

Recent events in Bengaluru have again brought the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) issue to centre stage. It is a welcome development since it is a constitutional requirement as per the 74th Amendment. An MPC was constituted in 2014 covering the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) jurisdiction. Until May 2016, the MPC had never met although there is likely to be a first meeting on June 1, 2016.  

What is the ideal jurisdiction of the MPC for Bengaluru while providing background context about the MPC? We feel that Bengaluru will be better served if the MPC is constituted at the Bengaluru Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (BMRDA) scale instead of the currently notified Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) scale. This is an idea advocated by the erstwhile Kasturirangan Committee, the BMRDA Revised Structure Plan as well as the more recent BBMP Restructuring Committee.

MPC Jursidiction. Pic: WRI India

What is an MPC, and why is it important?

Circa 1992. The Constitution of India underwent two seminal amendments which were the 73rd amendment for rural areas and the 74th for urban areas. As per the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA), a new third tier of government at the municipal level emerged within the previously two-tiered federal system of the Centre and the States. Aimed at enabling urban local bodies to perform as vibrant democratic units of self-government, a series of important functions were entrusted to municipalities.

Urban centres however, do not grow keeping in mind their municipal or development authority jurisdictions. A look at the following map indicates (in red colour) just how much urban spatial growth has occurred in the city and its region in just five years. The numbers are staggering. Metropolitan Region Authority (BMRDA): Development Authority (BDA): Municipal Corporation (BBMP) = 60 sq km: 29 sq km: 13 sq km spatial increase per year.

Increase in urban area from 2005-06 to 2011-2012. Pic: WRI India

To manage this rampant growth of the larger urban agglomeration will require not only addressing inter municipality issues but also to make larger decisions on connectivity, transportation, infrastructure services, spatial planning, water resources, waste disposal, environmental networks etc. Hence, to manage these concerns and functions article 243ZE in the 74th CAA provides for the setting up of a Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC).

While State legislatures may decide on the jurisdiction, composition and seat filling of the MPC, not less than twi-thirds of the members shall be elected by and from the elected members of the municipalities and chairpersons of the panchayats in the Metropolitan area in proportion to the ratio between the population of the Municipalities and of the panchayats in that area.

What has been the experience of other States in implementing MPC?

Due to legacy governance and administration issues as well as political considerations, it has been difficult to implement MPC across Indian States. If the MPC is to coordinate spatial plans of multiple municipalities and panchayats then what becomes of the Regional Development Authorities like the BMRDA? Or if municipal bodies are now enabled with much stronger city functions including spatial planning then what becomes of the City Development Authorities like the BDA?

This confusion is further fuelled by a lack of political interest in devolving several powers currently exercised by the State to local agencies. In case of separate political parties being in power at the local level versus the State level, the State’s control on its economic powerhouse cities too will weaken. These factors have led to very poor implementation across States.

The first and relatively more successful MPC was constituted in Kolkata in the year 2001 with a term set to expire in five years when the next committee would be elected in. Over time five sectoral committees were set up to deal with aspects such as infrastructure, transportation, education, health, employment and environment. These sectoral committees were considered fairly productive while the MPC meetings themselves were prone to more grievance redressal rather than planning for the future.

The Mumbai Metropolitan Planning Committee was to be set up as per the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC) Act, 1999 but did not move beyond a few meetings that were again largely grievance redressal oriented. The Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) was appointed as the technical secretariat to assist in the Regional Plan preparation.

Other states such as Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat have enacted enabling legislation though not much follow through action has been taken by the respective metropolitan cities. Cities in Kerala, Nagpur and Pune too have MPCs set up. Most MPCs however have been non-starters. Interestingly, a draft new law is underway in Maharashtra where a Metropolitan Region Development Authority at the State level headed by the Chief Minister will come in to blur boundaries of municipal boundaries and city limits tightening the role of the State in various cities other than Mumbai. We have to see how this pans out.

What is the current status of MPC in Bengaluru?

The provision for setting up MPC’s in metropolitan areas was enabled through an amendment (Act 35, 1994) in the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, 1976. However, as recent as 2014, the Bengaluru MPC (BMPC) Rules were passed indicating that the MPC will have a total of 30 members. 10 members are to be nominated by the State Government which includes the Chief Minister, 18 members are to be elected from urban and rural local bodies, and further special invitees and permanent invitees will also be members.

The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) is to provide Secretariat Assistance to the MPC and may appoint officers, employees and experts to take on technical work as necessary. The BDA Commissioner is to be the member secretary and shall convene the meetings of the MPC.

Functions of the BMPC include having regard to plans prepared by the local authorities, matters of common interest, extent, nature and pipeline of investments to be made in the metropolitan area, natural resources, population assignment and settlement pattern of rural centres as well as small, medium and large urban centres and their functional specification etc.

The Bangalore Metropolitan Area delineated for the MPC is approximately 1300 sq.km which is the current extent of the Bangalore Development Authority and encompasses BBMP and excludes parts of the NICE Corridor.  Not a single meeting of the MPC has happened till date. It has just been announced that the MPC would meet on June 1, 2016.

Should the MPC have been set up at the BDA scale? Was there a better option that we missed?

The State legislature may decide on the constitution of Committees such as the MPC, and declare its own Metropolitan Area and it has chosen the BDA jurisdiction. However, the spirit of setting up the MPC, as indicated at the outset was to address the challenges and opportunities of Bengaluru’s rampant urban growth that cuts across administrative jurisdictions. The worldwide trend is to think of City-Regions as inseparable and a regional perspective is essential to managing the city’s economic growth and environmental sustainability.  

The BDA has for decades prepared a single master plan for its entire jurisdiction. This Revised Master Plan (RMP) or Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) as it is sometimes called will continue to be prepared with or without an MPC across the very same jurisdiction. Ideally, going forward as per the 74th CAA, the powers of spatial planning should not rest with city development authorities but be devolved to municipalities like BBMP who will then undertake the plan preparation.

The whole point of an MPC is to ensure that it consolidates plans prepared by the various municipalities and those of rural local bodies in the metropolitan region and thereby prepare the larger Metropolitan Development Plan. The heart of the idea is multiple-municipalities plan coordination. In many ways the Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) is already performing this function. So it is appropriate that the political entity, the MPC is also at this scale.

Does this mean that the BBMP should prepare the City Master Plan? What happens to the BDA then?

Yes, municipalities as per the 12th Schedule of the 74th CAA are to take on tasks such as urban planning including town planning; regulation of land use and construction of building; planning for economic and social development, basic services, slum upgradation etc. Even the current BMPC rules indicate that it should have regard to ‘plans prepared by the local authorities in the metropolitan area’.

The BDA however, has a conflicting role of a planner and a developer. In general, while city wide planning is one of the roles of Development Authorities, they are also able to acquire and develop land and this could lead to a conflict of interest as they could prioritise and favour planning, services and roads only in areas that they plan to acquire. The Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation & Implementation Guidelines for India (URDPFI) for example suggests that such development authorities could be merged with municipalities going forward so that there is no retrenchment of staff and the Chief Town Planner.

The Kasturirangan Report prepared specifically for governance in Bengaluru’s city region suggests that the BDA should be enlarged so that it may function beyond its present jurisdiction and take on the role of a metropolitan level infrastructure development agency with jurisdiction over the entire Bangalore Metropolitan Region. It could be reconstituted into a company and wherever Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) develop plans and projects to be funded by them, the BDA may execute projects on a contractual and commercial basis or execute some projects on a preferred agency basis as is presently the case with BWSSB.

What happens at the Ward level? How can citizens partake in city planning?

Decentralisation was meant to move beyond the city scale down to the ward scale where Ward Committees are required to be set up across one or more wards depending on the population and is enabled by the 74th CAA under Article 243S. This enables public participation at the neighbourhood level while ensuring accountability of the ward councillor.

But while MPCs have at least been constituted on paper in many cities, the ward committees have seen the poorest implementation. Once enabled and recognised within the municipal structure, ward committees can be delegated with powers such as execution, maintenance and monitoring of basic services within that ward, participation in the land use planning of the ward, ward budgets, tracking violations, and even tax mobilisation if so decided.

Wards are the important scale at which citizen empowerment and quality of life can be realised and an elected and recognised Ward Committee can ensure that councillors are not visiting their wards only once in five years at election time. That is an important discussion involving scales of planning along with citizen participation to be had on another day.

Why the BMRDA is most suitable to function as the MPC for Bengaluru. What is the downside if it is not assigned this role?

The Bengaluru Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) enabled by the BMRDA Act, currently prepares a Structure Plan for the region covering an area of 8,005 sq. km. The BMRDA already coordinates the plans of the various area planning authorities that are almost contiguous to Bengaluru such as Anekal, BIAAPA, Nelamangala, Magadi, Hoskote etc. and then prepares the Regional Structure Plan.

As it is also the approver of the master plans in the region, it can thereby negotiate across the various master plans to make changes that ensure a coordinated region. With this current institutional armature already in place performing most of the functions of an MPC, improving its efficiency, functions and enabling mechanisms is a more viable and preferred option.

To explain this in more tangible ways, let us try to answer these questions: Would the Bangalore International Airport set up near Devanahalli have any impact on Bangalore? Would a high speed expressway that connects Bangalore to Mysore along with five townships coming up have any implications on the city? Would Electronics City set up outside of BBMP limits, be of any consequence to city dwellers? With ambitious master plans with high population projections being made to develop smaller cities that abut Bengaluru, have any effects on the city?

If the answer is yes to any or all of them, then immediately a further set of questions will pop up such as: Who will address connectivity to these new facilities and employment centres that people want to access? Are these new facilities being built on lakes and watersheds like how Bengaluru did at some point and who will check on this? Will all the potable water from Cauvery now be routed to these smaller cities? Shouldn’t the prime agricultural lands and forests in the region be preserved rather than developed? The short answer to many such questions is that the MPC when appropriately constituted at the regional BMRDA scale can plan for all of this.

The peripheries of Bengaluru are its most dynamic areas with over a 100% growth rate of population seen beyond both the municipal and development authority boundary. Studies indicate that the areas in the suburbs and peripheries of cities like Bengaluru are growing the fastest in terms of manufacturing jobs as well as being the prime locations for high-tech jobs and not inside the city centre or very far away either.

A closer look at Bengaluru International Airport Area Planning Authority (BIAAPA) jurisdiction for example indicates several hectares of land being taken up for an IT-ITes SEZ, an IT Park, a hardware park, an aerospace park etc.

Rather than denying the reality, it is better to accept that such proposals will have a large impact on Bengaluru and must be managed in a way that regional coordination and cooperation is ensured. The BMRDA’s Revised Structure Plan 2031 which laid out the tenets of how the city region should grow across its 8,005 sq.km region and where development should and should not take place so as to preserve key water bodies, watersheds, forests etc. is the mantra to a vibrant economic and ecologically sustainable growth. This institution today is not empowered sufficiently nor is it a preferred destination for administrative postings. It’s time to change all that.

The evidence is compelling and various reports such as the Kasturirangan Report, the BMRDA Structure Plan, the BBMP Restructuring Report and several eminent experts have in one voice recommended that the MPC should be at the scale of the BMRDA with the BMRDA serving as its technical secretariat. We hope that the State leadership embraces the idea of MPC at BMRDA level.  

 
About V Ravichandar 5 Articles
V Ravichandar is a Bengaluru-based civic evangelist. Full disclosure: Ravichandar is an advisor and one of the investors in Oorvani Media Pvt Ltd, that runs Citizen Matters website. Opinions expressed are his own.

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