In a conversation with a colleague on the draft Revised Master Plan 2031, I was told that councilors of the BBMP (of the 198, less than thirty sat in on a presentation on the Draft RMP 2031) are convinced that the Master Plan is not a workable plan. When probed further, I was told that many councilors brought up issues that are technically not the concern/ mandate of the Master Plan.
For instance, some mentioned that roads in their wards were in a bad condition. Others mentioned efficacy of water supply. Many others believe that the tool of Transfer of Development Rights (premised on a relatively lower base FAR -1.5 to 2), will not yield desired results.
A fundamental question that comes to mind is how can basic requirements of citizens – be these good roads or the adequacy of water supply – not be the concern of the Master Plan, the only statutory tool that guides the growth and development of the city? Who, or what else is supposed to address these concerns and demands? For the time being, I will push aside another niggling question, in the hope that it will eventually get addressed: why would a discussion on the only statutory tool – RMP 2031- that aims to manage and control the growth and development of Bengaluru witness such dismal political participation.
Flaws in the planning process
The reason for why the Master Plan does not (or cannot) address concerns of citizens, on one hand, and, the argument that these concerns are not the mandate of the Master plan emanate from two fundamental flaws in the current planning practice / process.
First is a flawed conception of what constitutes a Master Plan and the process of Master Plan evolution. Second, embedded in this understanding of the Master Plan and its preparation, is a lack of acknowledgment that planning and governance are intrinsically linked. Current planning processes have little or no regard to how and when the plan will be implemented. The RMP 2031 unfortunately is no exception to this rule.
The Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961 defines a Master Plan as a “series of maps and documents indicating the manner in which the development and improvement of the entire planning area [larger than the municipal area] and within the jurisdiction of the Planning Authority [not the municipal jurisdiction] are to be carried out and regulated.”
The development and improvement of the planning area is to be achieved through zoning of land use (residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational, educational and other purposes) to be regulated through zoning regulations. In other words, the BDA (and not the BBMP) prepares the Master Plan (land-use plan) for the Local Planning Area which includes the Bengaluru municipal area, although is not restricted to it.
In contrast, the 74th CAA, 1992, premised on the principle of subsidiarity mandates that the municipalities – the BBMP in this case- should plan for socio-economic development within its jurisdiction. The amendment requires the Government of Karnataka to devolve the function of urban planning including town planning to the municipalities. In turn, municipalities are required to deliver socio-economic development through a city plan. This plan is envisaged as a bottom-up process that entails collation of, and negotiation among ward level needs and perhaps aspirations, articulated through ward committee plans/ projects.
From a Land-use Plan to a City Plan
For the city plan to steer socio-economic development, it should be more than a land-use plan. It needs to necessarily address issues of mobility, physical and social infrastructure, basic services, inclusion, security and gender in all its dimensions and not just as a function of land use. Clearly, the Master Plan does not deliver on this objective.
This objective can be met, were the 74th Constitutional Amendment, 1992 implemented in its true spirit. The amendment espouses the linkages between planning and governance in defining a planning hierarchy that amalgamates top-down and bottom-up processes. Were Bangalore to be planned and governed per this amendment, we would witness a much-needed departure within the planning profession: from a land-use plan prepared by the BDA to a socio-economic development plan (inclusive of land-uses, although not limited to it) prepared by elected governments such as the BBMP through its ward committees.
The 74th CAA, 1992, in conceiving the Metropolitan Planning Committee further strengthens the planning and governance linkages. The MPC should prepare a ‘draft development plan’ with “regard to the plans prepared by the municipalities and panchayats in the area”. The draft development plan is therefore, also a process of collation of, and negotiation between the urban and rural settlements in the metropolitan city-region.
Top-down approach not helping
There are two things that require critical mention. First, a city-region or a metropolitan region (as per the 74th CAA, 1992) is a multi-municipal and multi-panchayat jurisdiction. Hence, the draft development plan of the MPC has among its objectives resolution of inter-municipal [read jurisdictions] conflicts, addressing matters of common interest among municipalities and panchayats, coordinating spatial planning and planning and management of regional level infrastructure (like water resources and transport) with due consideration to environment and other natural resources.
Notifying the Metropolitan Planning Committee for the Bangalore Metropolitan Area has little meaning as the plan (RMP 2031) for this area (one municipality and several panchayats) is prepared by the BDA as a top-down process. It has little citizen and political involvement and, by extension ownership. If the Government of Karnataka is to achieve the objectives of the MPC in letter and spirit, the Bengaluru MPC should be notified at the regional level i.e. the Bengaluru Metropolitan Region. The region has several municipalities and panchayats and provides a spatial canvas large enough (8005 sq kms) to plan and manage regional level infrastructure while also addressing ecological concerns.
MPC plan by definition, is ‘draft’, not final!
Second, the operative work in the provision of the draft development plan by the MPC is ‘draft’. What this implies is that the preparation of the development plan should necessarily be an iterative process – one that can accommodate the continuous and rapidly changing needs of the municipalities and the panchayats expressed through their respective plans.
In other words, the draft development plan is conceived to be a dynamic plan. Needless, to mention that the dynamism of this plan will best be operationalised when the municipalities and panchayats prepare rolling plans for their respective jurisdictions. This contrasts with the current master plan approach which is revisited once in 10 years. It is for this that Master Plans are often criticized as static.
The RMP 2031 has concluded on the public objection and suggestion stage and is awaiting approval, notwithstanding the results of the Courts on PIL’s filed. In the latest hearing in the High Court, the BDA argues that the Master Plan is not the same as a draft development plan. While this is true, it is a partial argument. Clearly, the master plan and the process behind its evolution is not an appropriate fit within the hierarchy of plans envisaged in the 74th CAA, 1992.
If Bangalore were to be planned as per the latter, we will not have ‘A Master Plan’. Rather, we will have a hierarchy of plans that are rolling, dynamic and embedded – A Draft Development Plan, A City Plan and projects (if not a plan) at the ward level. Such a process will ensure an involved and informed bottom-up planning practice. More critically, it will ensure the participation of the councilors and perhaps a better ownership of the plan.
Note: Opinions expressed here are author’s own.