Politics of Planning..

On 3 September 2002, alarmed by media reports about Member of Parliament Mr Madan Lal Khurana’s misleading public remarks about the Parliament approved Master Plan for Delhi and its revision, I had written an open letter to the President [1]. My contention was (and firmly remains) that Mr Khurana’s worldview of planned development, entirely shared by nearly all his party colleagues as well as his political colleagues in ‘opposition’ and best described as planning-for-the-past through politically expedient ‘regularisation’, is definitely dangerous. It is certainly not ‘pro-poor’ as the ‘humaneness’ of ‘regularising’ the poor in places they have come to live or work in out of desperation, not choice, amounts to short-changing them on their statutory entitlements to benefits of planned development. It is also not ‘pro-people’ as the ‘pragmatism’ of ‘regularising’ unplanned commercial, etc, uses illegally initiated by some enterprising citizens only protects their private investments at the cost of neighbourhood amenity, besides encouraging violation of laws. It is not pro-city as it ‘spares’ land meant for uses regularised in unplanned situations for other, usually up-market, uses that stress carrying capacity. It is not democratic as it is about (politically) powerful individuals, rather than statutory frameworks and processes, deciding what is good for all even as they truly represent only a few. It is not professional as it does not leave space for trained planners to discharge their social responsibility of informing the development dialogue, making public investments in their education and employment rather redundant.
I had written this open letter ‘anonymously’ (though with my address, etc) only because I thought I could not possibly be the only planner alarmed. Perhaps I was wrong. At a press conference that I had called on 4 September 2002 (at which only one reporter showed up), senior planners simply did not take a clear stand against Mr Khurana’s remarks and the marginalisation of the profession implicit in them. None of the ‘professional trustee’ institutions have, to the best of my knowledge, taken exception or otherwise reacted to Mr Khurana’s remarks. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has anyone reacted to the open letter I had presumptuously written on behalf of the planning fraternity.
From 5 September 2002 onwards the discussion on ‘development’ of Delhi in the media has been dominated entirely by histrionics surrounding the statehood ‘debate’ that successfully diverted all attention from the politics of planning, not to mention land scams. It has been my opinion for long that this is a non-debate because its starting premise, namely that the fact of different political parties being in power at the centre and in Delhi creates conflicts that get in the way of Delhi’s development, is hogwash. On development issues I am unable to see any ideological difference whatsoever between the BJP and the Congress who govern us at centre and state practically turn by turn (as, really, it is only anti-incumbency that wins every election). In any case, the statutory framework for Delhi’s development, as provided by the Master Plan and its enabling Act, is sufficiently strong for any one, from treasury or opposition benches in Parliament or Delhi Assembly to ensure planned development if they so desire. The tragedy of this city is that there is a clear political consensus amongst the major political parties and their allies on subversion of planned development and an unfortunate crisis of confidence in the rest of the political spectrum that prevents it from effectively opposing this consensus. From this perspective the ‘control of Delhi Development Authority’ issue that keeps surfacing in the statehood debate clearly has nothing to do with DDA as the custodian of planned development of Delhi and everything to do only with DDA as custodian of nearly all the land in Delhi. In the recent round, perhaps the greatest give-away came from the Chief Minister herself who, while continuing to stake a claim for the duly elected Delhi government to have ‘control of DDA’ in the name of democracy, said development of Delhi would be guided by the vision for it for 2021 prepared lately by the World Bank. Perhaps Ms Dikshit is unaware that the Delhi Development Authority comes, besides with all its land holdings, its enabling Act that requires it to secure development of Delhi only according to the Master Plan (not, say, World Bank Vision) and it is only for this express purpose that public land has been placed in its custody.
On 11 September 2002, while the special session for the ‘statehood debate’ went on in Delhi Assembly, Delhi High Court was hearing the PIL that Delhi Science Forum had filed to pray that DDA’s scheme of high-income flats being constructed since March in the vicinity of Sultangarhi Tomb be stopped on account of it being violative of the Master Plan and Delhi Development Act for not having mandatory landuse change permission and detrimental for the duly notified critical ground water regime. [2] Sitting as a planner in the courtroom that day I was dismayed by the proceedings. On the side of the petitioners was a lawyer passionately and very persuasively arguing for planned development. On the side of the respondents (custodians of Delhi’s planned development), the Ministry of Urban Development had simply not shown up. Delhi Development Authority, represented by no less than Mr Arun Jaitley, also a Member of Parliament, admitted that the scheme that had been under construction since March 2002 did not have land use change permission, meaning it was violative of the Plan and the Act and, so, clearly illegal. Still, Mr Jaitley was defending the scheme and DDA for carrying it out. Not being a lawyer, I do not understand the nuances of his arguments, but being a planner I know that they could not possibly have a basis in Delhi Development Act and the Master Plan which is part and parcel of it. Mr Jaitley argued that the land had been acquired by DDA for ‘planned development’, that its scheme of HIG flats was in the public interest of reducing ‘housing backlog’, that its haste in building flats for the well-heeled – even without mandatory permission under law – ought to be construed as ‘enthusiasm’ in the service of public interest, not only of reducing ‘housing shortage’ but also of saving public land from nearby ‘encroachments’ spilling on to it. Perhaps Mr Jaitley was unaware that what he was calling ‘encroachments’ were settlements that pre-dated the Plan as originally promulgated in 1962, with explicit statutory entitlements for housing that his client had not implemented even on sustained request [ Right housing Rights / Rangpuri Pahari ]. But surely he would have been aware that Delhi Development Act has sufficient provisions for DDA to take action against real encroachments (which it seldom does) without having to take recourse to building up-market housing on all public land in violation of the Plan to ‘save’ it from the public. Perhaps, being more concerned as a lawyer with Delhi Development Act than with the Master Plan, without which the Act cannot be fully interpreted, Mr Jaitley was also unaware that ‘housing backlog’ must be defined on the basis of Master Plan provisions for monitoring and in relation to Master Plan targets and norms for residential development. Within the ambit of this statutory framework, there is no doubt whatsoever that there is already an excess of up-market housing in the area and housing shortage is only by way of cheap plots and small units, long overdue backlog entitlements of people like those conveniently labeled ‘encroachers’. But surely, as a Member of Parliament from Delhi, Mr Jaitley would be aware, if only because a committee headed by a party colleague of his lately pointed the same out to the Planning Commission, that this is the general truism in the city entirely because of his client’s penchant for using land meant for low-income housing for high-income housing. What I found most frightening in Mr Jaitley’s defense of DDA’s unplanned and illegal scheme was his insistence that it was ‘planned development’ because DDA acquires land for planned development. Delhi Development Act clearly defines planned development as development according to Plan and clearly states that by ‘Plan’ is meant only Master Plan and Zonal Plan. The Act does not really contemplate land ownership by DDA, only custodianship for development according to Plan, so contemplated. To suggest that anything DDA does on land it has acquired is planned development only because it is on acquired land, even if it does not conform to the Master Plan, is bizarre. But this, nevertheless, was the view of ‘planned development’ that Mr Jaitley placed before the court on 11 September 2002.
If Mr Jaitley’s defence of DDA scared me a lot as a planner sitting the courtroom, DDA’s counter-affidavit scared me even more. The affidavit, signed on behalf of DDA by a planner (or at least someone who is paid out of public money to serve as one), takes the same view of ‘planned development’. Indeed, a large part of the affidavit is by way of annexed documents to prove that the land in question has been acquired and vested in DDA, although DDA’s custodianship of the land has not been challenged by the petitioner. By way of ‘plans’ the counter-affidavit has in its annexures revenue maps of the area on which ‘land use’ has been coloured in with felt-tipped pens! What legal standing these have, apart from the fact that they use stationery of the public authority statutorily mandated to be custodian of Delhi’s planned development, is completely unclear. The petitioner’s question about land use change by due process is entirely skirted by the affidavit except to the extent of routinely, repeatedly and vehemently denying illegality of the scheme (though, as mentioned, in the courtroom DDA conceded otherwise). The petitioner’s contention that the scheme will jeopardise the critical ground water situation, a reservation also expressed by Central Ground Water Authority through letters to DDA, is denied as not being based in ‘facts’. On its part DDA argues (without ‘facts’ or figures) that its scheme will use ‘Modern Scientific Methods’ like rainwater harvesting and dual water supply system and will, therefore, not affect the local water resource. Although a full fourth of the affidavit waxes eloquent about these ‘Modern Scientific Methods’, it fails to mention (by conveniently omitting ‘facts’ and figures) that given the amount of rainfall in Delhi, ‘rain-fed housing’ is simply not possible. Nor does it mention that, despite it raining quite heavily and despite the fact that CGWA has directed all in general and DDA in particular not to extract ground water in the area, DDA has had to dig two bore-wells to start construction on just a fifth of its scheme. The affidavit also skirts the petitioner’s argument that the area has since 1962 been noted as a water constrained area by the Master Plan, foolhardy development in departure from the Plan has stressed the groundwater regime, CGWA has duly notified the area, ground water depletion is continuing, etc. Instead, it argues that greater public interest (than the one of groundwater protection invoked by the petitioner) is served by DDA’s HIG housing scheme by ameliorating ‘housing shortage’ and saving public land from ‘encroachment’. The counter-affidavit goes beyond willful definitions of planned development, plans, public interest, housing shortage, encroachment, etc. It begins with a reference to a Prime Ministerial directive in order to justify its scheme, without clarifying how the same rises above statutory mandate. And it ends with an offer to place Rs.10 crores in an escrow account to take care of any deficiencies that might arise out of this illegal scheme – as ‘proof’ of DDA’s commitment to planned development, completing due process of law, honouring citizens’ views, etc. Frankly, the lengths to which DDA is willing to go – in no less than an affidavit filed in the court – to subvert the Master Plan, of which it is custodian, in its enthusiasm about a Prime Ministerial direction and whatever else that bears no relation to statutorily defined planned development leaves one speechless.
11 September 2002 was not through with me, the planner. I had been asked by someone whom I hold in high regard to go to a ‘civil society’ seminar or workshop of the kind that I normally avoid to raise the matter of Master Plan entitlements in a discussion on housing and civic amenities for migrant workers. I disapprove of classifications like ‘migrant workers’ because I think they are unconstitutional, but I saw the usefulness of mentioning statutory entitlements of ‘workers’ in regard to ‘housing’ and ‘amenities’ and the sensible provisions relating to ‘migrants’ in the Master Plan. So I went in a state of dismay from the Court to the seminar or workshop, only to be even more dismayed. Firstly, I was dismayed to find that there were no planners there even as the Master Plan is what provides the only statutory framework for the issues under discussion. (My presence must be discounted not only because I went with just a ‘second-hand’ invitation, but also because I have been long ‘disowned’ by the mainstream planning fraternity). Secondly, I was dismayed to see that the ‘panelists’ (apart from me) were all people who, in my opinion, have contributed immensely to undermining the Master Plan and, thereby, statutory entitlements of those in whose name we were seminar-ing. I was especially dismayed to see as an invited panelist the lately retired Additional Commissioner (Slums), Mr Manjit Singh. Mr Singh held this very important position for 18 long years before he retired and at least I hold him largely responsible for the slumming of Delhi through misguided policies doomed to sustain rather than solve the slum problem largely on account of their failure to connect with the statutory Master Plan. [3] Mr Singh has been a permanent fixture in the dialogue on Delhi’s slums, seen at practically every workshop, seminar, conference or convention he chose to attend. I had always believed that he got invited, especially by civil society, only to make acquaintance that could be encashed either for some project or study or, in more ‘genuine’ cases, slum upgrading interventions or negotiations for more sensitive relocation or staying demolitions, etc. And, frankly, I was surprised to see that those whom he had ‘betrayed’ when in ‘power’ continued to invite him to pontificate even after he had retired. I had resolved to myself that I was only going to enumerate Master Plan provisions for low-income housing, hawkers and industries and connect land-scams to infringement of personal entitlements and plead for support for the pro-poor provisions of the Plan so they are not down-sized in the on-going revision. I did, I think, largely manage to stick to this agenda through my presentation. Later, however, a number of people raised a number of ‘grievances’ relating to slum interventions in Mr Singh’s charge. That, combined with Mr Singh’s exhortation to all to organise and crusade and his ‘experienced’ view that the problem was about access to land, provoked me to ‘behave badly’. I bullet pointed for Mr Singh the numerous ways in which his policies had had no basis in law or Constitution, [4] the occasions on which at least I had drawn his attention to these flaws as well as to the obvious need to use Master Plan provisions for land for low-income housing to solve the slum problem, something he had refused to do. I asked him why should we have to organise and crusade for what he had been paid to do and failed to do as a public servant for all these years. As I left I knew that it was I, not Mr Singh, whom the organisers saw as ‘badly behaved’ and that Mr Singh and other public servants, such as perhaps the planner who signed DDA’s affidavit, would always find space in civil society seminars and workshops to keep abetting, long after their retirement, subversion of planned development. And professional planners would continue to be denied space in the same because if they are fashionable they are no good and if they are good they are not fashionable.
If I did not write an obituary for the planning profession already on 11 September 2002 it was only because as a planner I am loathe to let The Planner die so easily. But on Friday the 13th I realised for the umpteenth time that The Planner was already dead, reduced to a ghost, privileged only to haunt. The Times of India [ L-G calls for major changes in urban planning 1] reported more of the premature views of the Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, who is also the ex-officio chairperson of the Delhi Development Authority, on the ‘revised’ Master Plan for Delhi. The process for Master Plan revision is clearly spelt out in the Master Plan and Delhi Development Act and requires the revision to be based on extensive surveys and monitoring data collected over the years. Expert groups have been set up by DDA for analysis and recommendations for various aspects and most of these have yet to complete, or even start, their reports. So far, DDA appears not to have carried out baseline and status studies on the basis of which sectoral working groups would normally develop sectoral inputs, which would normally be placed before wider audiences for discussion before being synthesised into an overall draft, perhaps with simultaneous discussion on implementation aspects including strategies for land assembly, substantive changes in development control norms and landuse regulations, etc. Obviously, therefore a ‘revised draft Master Plan’ is no where near ready by due planning process. But our Lieutenant Governor, Mr Vijay Kapoor, just told the Times of India that it is in place, awaiting only ‘political consensus’. It needs to be mentioned here that DDA does have, for several months now, a power-point presentation titled ‘Vision for the millenium’. This is a vague ‘wish-list’ type document that makes no reference to the existing Master Plan provisions (in fact, it denies the existence of some of them, including those meant for hawkers, mixed land use, etc) or their implementation (or non-implementation) status. DDA has come out with this ‘vision for the millenium’, at the behest and to the satisfaction of Mr Kapoor, even as it is only mandated by its enabling Act to revise the Master Plan, not chart a vision for the millenium. This sort of thing, if at all needed, surely needs to be a far more broad-based exercise in the capital of the world’s largest democracy. And DDA only ‘shows’ its ‘vision for the millenium’ rather fleetingly at presentations by its officials rather than, says, put it out on its website and sales-counters to solicit wider opinion. What seems to be happening is that Mr Kapoor, quite independently of the tedious but necessary in both planning and legal terms, survey-analysis-plan process of plan revision, is making ‘recommendations’ based on this dubious ‘vision for the millenium’. Already in January 2002 he had announced that the revised Master Plan would soon be ready and that it would have a greater role for private sector in land assembly, dispense with rural / agricultural land use, etc. (Incidentally, his contention that there is no need in urban areas for agricultural use – one of 9 use zone categories in the Plan inclusive of plant nursery, green belt, water bodies, etc, with planning basis in regional dispersal and carrying capacity concerns – was reiterated in DDA’s counter-affidavit mentioned earlier). At the time also, I had protested and asked senior planners to protest the fact that Mr Kapoor was pre-empting the planning process by making premature remarks. Other planners, obviously more tolerant than I, only said the he was only trying to set the pace of Plan revision. In my open letter of 3 September to the President also I had said, “the government seems to be taking far greater interest in ‘liberalising’ land ownership than in regulating land use, even as the Master Plan and its enabling Act are entirely focussed on land use regulation. Indeed, from a planned development perspective, it hardly matters who owns the land as long as it is used optimally and equitably. It is noteworthy that even as land use decisions have yet to establish (a) if carrying capacity constraints permit additional land assembly, and (b) for who and what additional land is needed, much is being said ‘officially’ about the manner of land assembly (with private partnerships, etc). One does, I regret to say, get the impression that government is more interested in the city’s land than about its citizens”. The Times of India report of 13 September again has Mr Kapoor talking of the role of the private sector in land development, property development along metro corridors, redevelopment of old areas, etc. To me all this looks very builder-friendly and completely divorced from the plan revision imperatives that would logically emerge from any serious and sensible planing process. Like Mr Khurana, Mr Kapoor also freely expresses his views about the matter of regularising commercial use in industrial areas even as the matter is sub-judice in the Supreme Court, listed for hearing on coming Monday. It may be recalled that the ‘idea’ of this particular regularisation came from Mr Kapoor himself in May 2002 [ The Great Terrain Robbery: Industrial land in Delhi ].
Now step back and look at what we have here. A BJP Member of Parliament from Delhi misleading the public about the Parliament approved Master Plan, saying planners do not know how to plan and that he will set up a committee to do the job so as to guide Delhi’s development with BJP-Delhi’s ‘Vision 2003’. The Congress Chief Minister staking claim to control of DDA in the name of democracy, saying that Delhi’s development will be guided by World Bank’s ‘Vision-2021’. Another BJP Member of Parliament whose law firm is counsel for DDA appearing in court to personally defend DDA’s illegal scheme on the basis of DDA’s misguided ‘Vision’ of itself as Delhi’s largest landlord free to define planned development as anything it does on ‘its’ land. The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi pre-empting the statutory planning process with his ‘decisions’ about the statutory framework for Delhi’s planned development for the next twenty years ‘based’ on a ‘Vision for the Millenium’ tailor-made to his specifications. A public servant paid to serve as planner swearing an affidavit in defense of unplanned and illegal development with a medley ‘Vision’ of planned development based on acquired land, modern scientific methods, Prime Ministerial directions, Rs.10 crores of public money, etc. Another public servant paid for 18 years to deal with the city’s most serious problem meriting most serious attention in the on-going Master Plan revision exhorting, with ‘Vision’ of experience, all to organise and crusade for the very entitlements he himself swept under the carpet. A ‘mainstream’ planning fraternity with the ‘Vision’ of an ostrich. And a Master Plan re-vision on which the future of this city, which definitely sits on the brink of its problems becoming utterly intractable, clearly depends caught in the midst multiple ‘Visions’, awaiting only a political consensus!
Will some one please, please, please tell me how I have got all this all wrong?
Gita Dewan Verma / Planner (only by habit perhaps) / 13.09.02

[1] 2002-09-03: Gita Dewan Verma: Open letter to President of India about marginalisation of the planning profession [ IN-Enaction List ]
[2] A massive DDA ‘scheme’ in Sultangarhi / Rangpuri Pahari started in violation of the Master Plan in March 2002. Local citizens’ groups have been opposing this scheme ever since the first indication of it came with DDA’s attempt in July 2000 to ‘clear’ the site by demolishing a more than 40-years old basti. This prolonged protest drew into its ambit, besides basti residents, village and flat residents as well as heritage, environment and planning experts. Once it became clear that the scheme did not have mandatory permissions and with DDA refusing even to provide clarifications sought by several groups of citizens, Delhi Science Forum moved the Delhi High Court in August 2002.
see also: [information] Initiatives / Sultangarhi-Rangpuri Pahari
Posted by Gita Dewan Verma: 2002-09-14, last modified July 20, 2006        
  • 1. source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow.asp?art_ID=21999848