Death by Administration (Unabridged)
Ajai Sahni

Delhi’s Master Plan is a statutory document that, once legislated, has the force of law, and must lend itself to judicial enforcement. It confers specific and wide powers and ought, consequently, to be drafted with the precision of law, not the airy incoherence of a political manifesto.

The Master Plan must, moreover, clearly define objectives, articulate policies, and identify the means, strategies, agencies and processes for their realization in concrete and quantifiable terms. The functions of each agency must be clearly outlined, implementation must be scheduled, and accountability must be made legally binding.

The Master Plan for Delhi 2021 (MPD 2021) does none of this. If anything, it creates a discretionary rampage that can only compound manifold the corruption and inequity of the multiple and notorious agencies of Delhi’s local governance, even as it creates administrative and urban chaos, further eroding public confidence in institutions that are already long discredited.

The essence of this failure is the non-specificity or vagueness, and the lack of uniformity and underlying principles, through most of the provisions, clauses, programmes and schemes under MPD 2021. It is not possible, here, to list the innumerable instances in which this occurs throughout the extended documented, but a few examples are instructive.

A declining public sector role, and increasing private sector participation is integral to the MPD 2021 perspective, and it is clear that the physical development of the city is to be progressively hived off to the private sector. Various incentives have been provided for this process in terms of the pooling of properties, enhancement of Floor Area Ratios (FAR), transfer of development rights, and several generalized statements of intent. But if the private sector is to effectively take over these responsibilities, then the contours of such ‘private participation’ should have been clearly defined, laying down explicit and detailed criteria for its operation, and ensuring parallel and adequate growth of infrastructure – sufficient to support the projected and enormous ‘densification’ that the Master Plan repeatedly speaks of, so that new, ‘densified’ and ‘redeveloped’ areas do not decay with the rapidity that has characterized many of Delhi’s localities in the recent past – would become the primary function of the Master Plan and of Government agencies under it. But this is entirely neglected. Indeed, builders – often in collusion with corrupt officials – have widely been known to use sharp, unethical, illegal and coercive tactics to acquire properties, and with the new provisions for ‘pooling’ and other incentives, there is no protection for the individual resident or property owner, particularly among the economically weaker and middle income groups, who would be specially vulnerable to coercive acquisition. The ubiquitous and generalized provisions for ‘densification’ and increased FAR, moreover, absent any coherent context of integration with the larger trends in provision of infrastructure and other technical needs – such as water, energy and waste management – can trigger a much wider collapse. Indeed, it is precisely these ‘formulae’, applied sporadically and arbitrarily in the past, that have already transformed most of Delhi’s ‘elite’ colonies into ‘rich slums’, with ‘builder’s flats’ piling up skywards even as infrastructure disintegrates.

Augmented FAR norms have been defined according to plot size, and a ‘flexible’ system of mixed use, to be approved on a ‘scheme basis’ is outlined. At different places in MPD 2021, it is stated that 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 along the crucial ‘transport corridor’ which is to be transformed into an ‘intensive development zone – generalized norms for FAR and height of buildings have been prescribed, though ‘special provisions’ are (yet) to be defined to protect some of the heritage areas. But the Metro runs through widely diverse areas across the city, including the commercial, the overbuilt and the completely degraded, and with densities ranging from 1,300 persons per square kilometre (ppsqkm) to 100,000 ppsqkm and more. Once again, these norms cannot, consequently, constitute general statutory principles, to be applied mechanically. Clearly, their application will have to be on a ‘case by case’ basis. But ‘case by case’ is just shorthand for untrammelled discretion, corruption and chaos.

MPD 2021 is almost entirely silent on the issue of financing Delhi’s future. No costing, no phasing and no reconciliation of revenues and expenditures is visible, as should be expected of any coherent plan. The basic logic and processes of rational resource management are altogether absent. According to some estimates, the cost of MPD 2021 would be in the region of Rs. 60,000 crores, and no single Government or agency can mobilize such an amount. Clearly, then, some effort should have gone into defining the dynamics of resource mobilization under the Master Plan, and bringing into operation at least the beginnings of the ‘double-entry’ accounting systems that the Comptroller and Auditor General has repeatedly been exhorting municipal and city administrations to adopt. There must be some correlation, if not a clear balance, between how much an administration is able to generate in funds through the activities of the city, and how much is expended on the city’s development. Some assessment of inflows and outflows is necessary, as is the identification of the specific agencies charged with generating these, if the entire process is to follow a planned trajectory – and not rely on the sporadic injection of grants from the Centre. Delhi has, for long, 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, Government and Cantonment lands may be sold or commercialized to finance ‘development’; zoning norms may be diluted to commercialize residential and public use areas, and through these devices, the various projected elements of ‘densification’ are to be financed. Experts estimate that the value addition through such ‘socialization’ of land – putting it to residential and commercial use – is in the region of 1,000 per cent, and often more. It is crucial, in any system of such ‘socialization’, to determine who would harvest this profit and to ensure that considerations of equity and public interest are met. But the MPD 2021 schemes are silent on this, and appear to implicitly divert most of these surpluses to the ‘private sector’, that is, the builder lobby. What appears to be under construction, in other words, is a ‘looters’ Master Plan’; not one that lays down the structure of the maximisation and management of the city’s resources, but one that would simply hive these off to profiteering agencies, with no clear conceptualization of any benefits to the city. In all this, we see a privileging of the commercial over the individual, and of the private over the public. As Umesh Sehgal, former Secretary of the NCR Planning Board expressed it at a recent seminar, “The Master Plan is very useful for land grabbers and colonizers, but what is its utility to the common citizen, to 90 per cent of the people?”

Another disturbing aspect of MPD 2021 is its ominous silence on the various agencies charged with the execution and implementation of the Plan, not only within the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, but also crucial components that must be operationalized in the much wider National Capital Region (NCR) that extends into the territories of three neighbouring States. There are, of course, some vague statements regarding efforts for ‘better coordination’, but no effort has been made to rationalize the multiplicity of agencies that often work at cross purposes – a need that has repeatedly been stressed. Thus a report of the Delhi Government’s Planning Department notes: “…the duality of control and separation of the lines of control and reporting have been creating problems of integrated and comprehensive sustainable development in Delhi.” The Guidelines for the Master Plan issued by the Union Ministry of Urban Development, similarly, state: “A review and harmonization mechanism should be included in the Master Plan. Needless to say, in the endeavour of infrastructure development there has to be complete coordination between the Government of NCT of Delhi and its relevant organizations, the municipal bodies, DDA and the various public and private sector entities engaged in building and running the infrastructure”; and again, “The synergy between the NCR plan and Delhi’s Master Plan has to be strengthened”; but there is little evidence of anything in MPD 2021 that could address these concerns or clean up the ‘administrative rigmarole’ that has undermined both planning and implementation in the past. Indeed, the document repeatedly, albeit fitfully, concedes this. Thus, it emphasises the need for “evolving a system under which planning for, and provision of basic infrastructure could take place simultaneously”; but such a system should have been an integral part of the Master Plan itself! Similarly, it is “important to see whether the existing statutory provisions are adequate to realize the basic objectives underlying the concept of the National Capital Region”; the Master Plan is already four years late, and this is yet to be ‘seen’. It speaks of the failure of the “past two Master Plans” to secure “practical convergence between the Master Plan and actual development of infrastructure services”, and the need for a “legal framework and actual implementation and enforcement of legal provision”; but no provisions for such ‘practical convergence’, ‘legal framework’ or mechanisms for ‘implementation and enforcement’ are visible in MPD 2021. Indeed, far from such rigour in applying necessary restraints on illegalities and infringements, the Master Plan itself contains several provisions that would ‘regularize’ all past infringements, and, as already noted, also contains several provisions for various ‘relaxations’ and dilution of standards and norms. And instead of streamlining and reducing the multiplicity of agencies, MPD 2021 creates a few more, including, for instance, a new ‘monitoring agency’ for plan implementation and a new Slum Clearance and Urban Renewal Authority, both of which would duplicate work already done by other agencies in the existing setup.

None of this should really surprise anyone. It is useful, in this context, to recall that 70 per cent of Delhi’s built areas are illegal, unauthorised or ‘regularised’. That means that an overwhelming proportion of Delhi has come up not only outside the planning process, but outside the legal process as well. And the capricious agencies that permitted, even facilitated, this mass violation of the law, are the very agencies now charged with designing and constructing the city’s future!

MPD 2021, at its very best, seeks to tinker with the peripheries of the system, but this cannot salvage Delhi – and certainly cannot transform it into a ‘world class city’. If the disaster that is currently being constructed by the dozens of conflicting and overlapping agencies in Delhi and the NCR is, in fact, to be averted, radical administrative reorganization is imperative, with a single planning authority controlling the entire NCR to create and implement an integrated and truly visionary plan – rather than the patchwork rehash of earlier plans that MPD 2021 is – that is then to be implemented by appropriately designated and equipped technical agencies, and not the hotchpotch of bureaucratic outfits that have mismanaged Delhi’s urban affairs since the Master Plan of 1962. The problem is not just an administrative but a conceptual failure. The truth is, the sheer complexity of the tasks of managing a contemporary megapolis – indeed, reconstructing a gigantic and significantly degraded city – does not lend itself to the fitful and piecemeal resolution that is evident in Delhi’s successive Master Plans. What the city needs is integrated strategies, command and control, and responses on a war footing.

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

(The writer is Associate Director, Urban Futures Initiative)





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