Death by Administration (Abridged)
Ajai Sahni

Delhi’s Master Plan is a statutory document. Once legislated, it has the force of law, and must lend itself to judicial enforcement. It ought to be drafted with the precision of law, not the airy incoherence of a political manifesto, clearly defining objectives, means, strategies, agencies and processes in concrete terms, so that accountability can be enforced.

The Master Plan for Delhi 2021 (MPD 2021) does none of this. If anything, it creates a discretionary rampage that can only compound the corruption and inequity of the notorious agencies of Delhi’s local governance, creating administrative and urban chaos.

A declining public sector role and increasing private sector participation are integral to MPD 2021. Various incentives have been provided for this, but no explicit criteria laid down for such ‘participation’, and no mechanisms to ensure parallel and adequate growth of infrastructure, so that ‘densified’ areas do not decay with the rapidity that has characterized many of Delhi’s localities in the recent past. Builders – often in collusion with corrupt officials – have widely been known to use sharp, illegal and coercive tactics to acquire properties and under the new schemes there is no protection for individual property owner, particularly among the economically weaker groups. The ubiquitous and generalized provisions for ‘densification’, moreover, can trigger a much wider collapse; it is these ‘formulae’, applied arbitrarily in the past, that have already transformed most of Delhi’s ‘elite’ colonies into ‘rich slums’.

A ‘flexible’ system of mixed use, to be approved on a ‘scheme basis’ is outlined. Standards of density, width of roads, infrastructure and community facilities can be ‘relaxed’ and ‘reduced space norms may be adopted’ ‘if justified’. Again, for the densification of the ‘influence zone’ of the Metro – a 500 metre belt on its route – generalized norms for FAR and height of buildings have been prescribed. But the Metro runs through widely diverse areas across the city, including the commercial, the overbuilt and the completely degraded. These norms cannot, consequently, constitute general statutory principles, but will have to be settled on a ‘case by case’ basis. But ‘case by case’ is just shorthand for caprice, corruption and chaos.

MPD 2021 is almost silent on the issue of financing Delhi’s future. Its cost is estimated in the region of Rs. 60,000 crores, and no single Government or agency can mobilize such an amount. Clearly, some effort should have gone into defining the dynamics of resource mobilization, and bringing into operation the ‘double-entry’ accounting systems that the Comptroller and Auditor General has repeatedly exhorted city administrations to adopt. Delhi has been clamouring for ‘full statehood’ and it is high time its administration learned that the city cannot be run with a begging bowl. But there is little by way of financial provisions in MPD 2021, other than passing reference to inchoate ‘user pays’ and ‘polluter pays’ schemes and the recurrent theme of ‘cross subsidisation’. In the last category, to finance ‘development’, Government and Cantonment lands may be sold or commercialized; zoning norms may be diluted to commercialize residential and public use areas. Experts estimate the value-addition through such devices in the region of 1,000 per cent, and it is crucial to determine who would harvest this profit, and to ensure that considerations of equity and public interest are met. MPD 2021 appears to implicitly divert most of these surpluses to the ‘private sector’. As Umesh Sehgal, former Secretary of the NCR Planning Board expressed it, “The Master Plan is very useful for land grabbers and colonizers, but what is its utility to the common citizen?”

MPD 2021 is ominously silent on the various agencies charged with the execution and implementation of the Plan. There are some vague statements regarding efforts for ‘better coordination’, but no rationalization of the multiplicity of agencies that often work at cross purposes. Indeed, the Master Plan repeatedly emphasizes the need to ‘evolve systems’, ‘secure practical convergence’, and create a ‘legal framework’ for ‘implementation and enforcement’; but no concrete measure to these ends are visible. Worse, MPD 2021 contains several provisions that would ‘regularize’ all past infringements, and also dilute its own standards. And instead of streamlining and reducing the multiplicity of agencies, it actually creates a few more.

None of this should really surprise anyone. 70 per cent of Delhi’s built areas are illegal, unauthorised or ‘regularised’ – that is, outside the planning and legal process. The capricious agencies that permitted, even facilitated, these mass violations, are the very agencies charged with designing and constructing the city’s future!

There is nothing in MPD 2021 that could create the conceptual basis for the reversal of the growing urban chaos in Delhi. Delhi is only promised ‘more of the same’, and the Master Plan, consequently, is nothing less than a planned disaster.

(The writer is Associate Director, Urban Futures Initiative)





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