Soumyadip Chattopadhyay and Arjun Kumar

Planning is central to any activity and building a city is no exception. Indian cities are expected to generate nearly 70% of the country’s GDP by 2030. However, the existing infrastructural deficits and basic service delivery gaps jeopardize the quality of life of the urban populace and undermine the competitive edge of these cities. In this backdrop, adequate planning of the cities is of paramount significance. And if the city in question is the seat of the Indian government, the planning has to be as big as it can get. The Master plan is the only statutory document which is used to plan urban infrastructure, land use and development control in India cities. Albeit, the Master Plans have failed to capture the constantly evolving nature of the cities and the requirements of the urban poor.

The Master Plan for Delhi 2041 is in the making and it is expected to reconcile several of the lacunae that the earlier MPD’s failed to address. The MPD 2041 is the one that is expected to develop the capital city as a world-class city; a city which will be futuristic and yet sustainable and inclusive.

Speaking at a webinar on Expectations from Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) – 2041, organized by Center for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi and IndraStra Global, Dr Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF), highlighted the importance of an adequate and inclusive plan coupled with robust implementation strategies to make Delhi a world-class city.

#CityConversations Expectations from Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) - 2041

Dr Aijaz structured his presentation around 4 key aspects, the drawbacks of the previous MPD’s, the preparation of the MPD 2041, the impact of urbanization in Delhi and the importance of planning and its framework.

Talking about the three MPD’s of the post-independence period, Dr Aijaz tries to draw attention to the fact that all the three MPD’s, from 1961 to 2021, tried to tackle the issue of the increasing population of Delhi through a dense development approach. The focus was on accommodating more people within a smaller space using instruments like increased Floor Area Ration (FAR). Throughout the three MPD’s (1961 – 2021), there was an emphasis on regional development and deflecting the immigrating population to the areas being developed around Delhi and in the towns and settlements of NCR.

Briefing about the preparations that are underway in the drafting of the 4th MPD for the period of 2021-2041, Dr Aijaz highlights the efforts of the DDA to make the planning process a participatory activity by conducting interviews of the different stakeholders. An innovative approach of gathering citizen inputs through a microsite called the Citizens Engagement Portal is also operationalized. There would be an appraisal of the existing conditions and deficiencies and appropriate projections would be made w.r.t the possible demands of the population of Delhi in 2041.

Dr Aijaz enlisted a couple of challenges that the MPD 2041 would have to address. Population growth, according to him is still a major issue that occupies centre stage in Delhi’s planning process. According to projections by UN-Habitat, Delhi would soon surpass Tokyo as the most populous city. This emphasizes the need to provide quality of life and adequate infrastructure to the inhabitants, especially in the peri-urban areas, census towns and the unauthorized settlements that have cropped up due to poor planning in the past. Air pollution is another major threat to the life and health of the residents with the AQI often falling into the hazardous category, particularly in the winters. Other pertinent issues include the poor roads and increased traffic congestions, inadequate water supply and waste management infrastructure, poor drainage and waterlogging episodes, lack of safety for women and the rising crime rate, according to Dr Aijaz.

Drawing a picture of what an ideal Master Plan should encompass, Dr Aijaz dwelt upon how the past MPD’s have been marred with delays in notification of the plan and its implementation. He emphasized that the Master Plan should be notified in good time and implemented in toto. He believes that the plan should address the diversity of Delhi and make the process participatory. There should be the availability of reliable and up to date data which could be utilized to plan efficiently with the use of other available resources and technologies. Dr Aijaz stressed that the role of the multiple agencies like the NDMC, MCD, DDA and the Delhi government must be clearly defined to ensure proper implementation of the Master Plan.

Concluding his presentation, Dr Aijaz highlighted the key aspects that are crucial to the planning framework of a city. He reiterated that an ideal plan should envision a city which is inclusive, innovative, technology-driven, creative, people-friendly, efficient, resilient, safe, healthy and financially strong.

Prof Shipra Maitra, Head, Urban Development Department, IHD and Member, 4th Municipal Valuation Committee of the Delhi government expanded upon some issues highlighted by Dr Rumi Aijaz. She stated that even with a reduced migration rate, Delhi accommodates an absolute migrant inflow of 1 to 1.2 lakhs due to the pull factor of Delhi and hence population growth is still a significant aspect. Prof Maitra shed light on a few inherent problems that are continuing since the first MPD like delays in implementation and insufficiency of reliable land use data. She opines that modern technologies like GIS should be tapped to create valuable datasets.

The 2019 decision to confer ownership rights to encroachers on the unplanned areas, slums, unauthorized colonies and villages has emboldened more people to encroach land hoping to receive ownership rights in future, according to Prof Maitra. She goes on to add this is a dangerous trend that needs to be arrested. She also comments on the inability of the DDA to tackle unauthorized constructions despite having powers to demolish such structures under the Delhi Development Act since 1961. Prof Maitra also flagged the uncertainties surrounding various measures such as the land pooling practice that was once in discussion.

In her closing remarks, Prof Maitra opined that to become a world-class city, we have to fulfil all the criteria of the SDGs. This she believes will eradicate the question of the city being exclusionary.

Dr Shyamala Mani, Professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), focussed on the historic ignorance of the informal sector. She highlighted the fact that the informal sector provides many critical services and the workers who do these odd jobs are not given subsidized or free of cost areas for setting up their stalls and hence they set it up on footpaths. This calls for decentralized and micro-planning that takes into consideration the aspirations of the people working in the informal sector.

In her closing comments, Prof Mani brought up the issue of industrial pollution and the violation of laws by the industries. She opined that the residents should be actively involved in the city planning and building process.

Adding a practitioner’s perspective to the talk, Mr Aravind Unni, Urban lead at IGSSS, emphasised on the greater importance of implementation of the plans over the act of planning itself. He pointed out that the lack of participatory planning is a major reason why the MPD’s fail to achieve the stated objectives. Mr Unni raised a very valid argument that even the questionnaires provided to elicit the opinions of the residents have a language barrier. Apart from that, there is a technological barrier too with people not being able to attend the online meetings organized by the planning agencies.

Mr Unni went on to add that there is a need to go beyond these questionnaires and zoom meetings and embrace informality. He highlighted that there should be a continuous engagement with the Master Plan with constant review and monitoring.

In his closing comments, Mr Unni remarked that we need to look beyond the objective of developing Delhi as a world-class city and rather focus on other ground realities that are existing now.

Mr Sameer Unhale, Joint Commissioner, Government of Maharashtra, brought the much-needed administrator’s perspective into the milieu. He pointed out that planning In India is more spatial and not temporal and hence the Master Plans do not succeed in the long run as changes take place very rapidly. Mr Unhale was of the opinion that the aspects such as language, gender, poverty etc are not reflected adequately in the Master Plan and this creates an unrealistic expectation from the MPD to radically transform the city base on just one aspect of land use. He concluded that there is a need for a renewed approach towards managing cities and the utility of the land-use plan would need reconsideration.

Dr Arjun Kumar, Director of IMPRI, commenting on the talk of Dr Rumi Aijaz and the other eminent discussants, briefly touched upon several pertinent issues. Speaking on the issue of brownfield redevelopment, he cited the example of the biggest slum in Pakistan, Aorangi town which was redeveloped through the recognition of property rights. He remarked about a similar effort which was seen in Delhi before the elections. Dr Kumar stated that aspects such as the governance of water and electricity must reflect in the MPD. He put forth queries regarding the utility of the 30,000 odd GSIDC flats that are built and ready for the past 5 years or so, about the falling circle rates in the NCR and regarding the bottom ranks earned by Delhi in the ease of doing business and ease of living indices. Summarizing, Dr Kumar flagged the lack of accountability, rising corruption and rent-seeking which is affecting the implementation of the Master Plan.

In the last leg of the talk, responding to the question put forth to him by the CEO of IMPRI, Dr Simi Mehta regarding the issue of air pollution, Dr Aijaz remarked that although agencies like EPCA are created to tackle pollution, the solutions proposed are not practically feasible since the issues on the ground are not sorted. He also responded to a query on the already built-up areas conveyed by Prof Arunaba das Gupta and said that it will be difficult to reform the already built-up areas but it is possible given the expertise and experience at the disposal of the administration. Dr Aijaz, in response to Dr Kumar’s query about the level of participatory planning that is desired, stated that participation should extend to any citizen who wishes to share an opinion.

Concluding the insightful session, Dr Soumyadip, Senior Fellow at IMPRI, reiterated on the need to embrace the informality and cited the much-read article by Ms Ananya Roy titled, “Why India cannot plan their cities’ to drive home his point. He rightly concluded that Delhi can certainly become a world-class city while being inclusionary if there exist the right determination and planning coupled with proper implementation.

Acknowledgements: Nikhil Jacob, based in Goa, is a research intern at Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi and is pursuing post graduate diploma in Environmental Law and Policy from the National Law University, Delhi.

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Featured Image Courtesy: Eddy Pellegrino from Pixabay