Methodical Neglect
Jagan Shah

The DDA has ostensibly followed a systematic approach to preparing the draft master plan for Delhi 2021. It appears to have invited public participation by organizing preparatory seminars and inviting comments from the public. It claims to have incorporated the inputs from various organizations responsible for different aspects of urban development. And its recommendations in the plan document are said to be based on a ‘scientific interpretation’ of data. In short, it has followed the same process that was followed for the making of the 1962 Master Plan and the 2001 Master Plan. But if the process is sound, then it ought to have produced a sound future for the city. It has evidently not achieved this purpose.

The MPD2021 document offers a case-study example of how the spirit of a process can be betrayed without attracting undue attention, by eating away at its heart without scarring its outward appearance. Several aspects of DDA’s master plan exercise offer cause for serious concern.

First, the process of preparing MPD 2021 has been articulated as an “extensive modification” of the Master Plan for Delhi 2001. Given the twenty-year perspective for the master plans, it would seem necessary that every time the exercise is undertaken—the world changes rapidly and extensively in 20 years—it will have to start afresh with an appraisal of successes and failures and an analysis of existing ground realities. If MPD2021 is a reworking of MPD2001, which was in turn a reworking of MPD1962-1981, then we are faced with the disturbing realization that the last time when actual ground realities dictated the master plan was four decades ago.

The ambiguity in defining the nature of the exercise — whether MPD2021 is a review or a new plan — explains many things: why the so-called “vision” stated in the beginning bears no relation to the body of the document; why MPD2021 abounds with worn out statistics and “photocopied” sections from earlier master plans; and why time seems to be of little essence in both the conceptualisation and the projected realization of the plan (to the extent that the plan for waste management will only kick in halfway into the plan period!). Indeed, the time-warp surrounding the master planning process is so complete that 25% of the period for which the plan is being made will already have lapsed before it becomes law. In the hands of the DDA, Delhi will never know whether it’s coming or going.

Second, the DDA must display a modicum of scientific temper when dealing with facts. A conspicuous example of a lapse in reason is the statement of 250 persons per hectare as the desirable average city-level density, without justification. Calculation of density per hectare is a useless figure when it has no correspondence in reality, and when the per capita share of infrastructure and services is a more significant factor in the city. The arbitrariness of this figure is obvious if one notes that it is used only to project future needs for land acquisition, and not, as one might expect, to establish that such a density will ensure a better quality of life in the future.

Another best practice in scientific research relates to the use of valid and authoritative sources of information. For one of the most crucial aspects of the master plan, pertaining to the policy on industries, trade and commerce, the DDA has referred to the Economic Survey of India 2001-2002. To stand the test of rigour and reliability, it is expected that all data would be the latest available, but even when the latest Economic Survey is available for the year 2004, the DDA chooses to use data that is three years old.

Numbers in MPD 2021 need to be meaningful, and they should also carry the weight of truth. This is only possible if there is consistency between the numbers quoted in different parts of the document. Here too, the density figure is a good example. There are two variations used in the document: 250 and 225pph (persons per hectare). In projecting the per capita requirements for water—a figure of vital importance, especially given the staggering shortages prevailing today—the DDA and the Delhi Jal Board use different thumb-rules and arrive at different numbers. The fact that this inconsistency is unabashedly admitted in the master plan document makes a mockery of the whole exercise. Numerical inconsistencies devalue the facts as such, and suggest that the data being quoted is far from being a representation of reality. This has not deterred the DDA from throwing figures around throughout the document.

The DDA cannot be bothered with doing its own research and claims that all the data used is from secondary sources. But no mention is made of the fact that the most important data for the master plan, which the DDA withholds from the public with an almost criminal obstinacy, is that pertaining to its own operations. As stated in the plan itself, the urban development strategy for the last forty years has been the “large scale acquisition of land”. The acquisition has been so extensive that some sources claim that DDA is the largest real estate agency in the world, with holdings of over 50,000 square kilometres. Despite this awesome fact, there is not a single figure in the master plan that suggests that, in fact, the master plan is a strategy for making the best use of lands that are already in the ownership of our premier public agency.

The lackadaisical approach to numbers, despite the fact that numbers form the mainstay of the entire approach to problems, is a subtle reminder that facts have not played as much a role in the formulation process as have other concerns. MPD 2021 cannot stand the test of rigor because the policies framed therein are not guided by ground realities and real problems, but by the perceptions, biases and vested interests of the authors. And here we come to the heart of the matter, full circle, back to the issue of due process.

All across the world, in governments and businesses alike, the decision-making process places a high order of responsibility on individuals who are proven leaders and represent specific areas of competence. A successful process hinges on the reliability and accountability of these individuals and their ability to make commitments that are likely to be fulfilled. The procedures followed by the DDA in preparing MPD 2021, and the master plan document itself, fail primarily because of the inherent redundancy of a process that is guided by those who are party to the creation of the very problems that that process seeks to redress. In lay terms, this is the principle that every citizen intuitively understands: the solution to a problem cannot be found by those who are part of the problem.

Even the United Nations needs only one representative from each country at its table, but in preparing MPD 2021, the DDA requires more than twelve committees with over 130 individuals and three consulting institutions.

While the sheer numbers of representatives might delude the public into assuming that the DDA follows a collaborative and multi-disciplinary planning process, there are some critical problems that might undo that assumption. Firstly, the presence of politicians on several panels vitiates the process, unless they are representatives of an urban body or institution. Town planning legislation must be clearly devoted to the notion of a public good and commonwealth, and partisan interests would corrupt the process. Added to this is the presence of vested interests in the form of practising professionals (say, architects) and consultants whose personal incomes are embedded in the business of urban development and in dependencies on governmental agencies involved in these processes, as well as representatives of state-owned corporations (HUDCO, MTNL, DTC) that will profit from the outcome of the process. For a plan that harps on the value of public-private partnership, only about 20% individuals—experts, professionals and eminent persons—are not drawing salaries from the Government of India and its various organs, and they invariably represent the interests of big business and capital.

That several of the committees were either not adequately convened or were sidelined in the final outcome, seems to be evident from a number of ‘members’ who have vocally conveyed to the media that the master plan is seriously flawed and needs revision. This did not stop them, however, from putting their names to the document.

Any experienced administrator will testify to the fact that the assembly of large numbers of redundant ‘experts’ and the co-optation of ‘independent’ professionals are sure-fire means of scuttling a decision-making process. The DDA is obviously wise to this principle, but it is not wise enough to realize that the public is bound to wonder, at some point, how such a large number of experts and such a comprehensive list of organizations and institutions can produce such a flawed plan.

The list of institutions and bodies that have supposedly contributed to MPD2021 reads like an apex ‘who’s who’ of skilled manpower for planning and implementation:
Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Town and Country Planning Organization (TCPO), Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Surface Transportation, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL), School of Planning & Architecture (SPA), National Capital Region Planning Board (NCRPB), Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO), National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), New Delhi Traders Association, Delhi Chamber of Commerce, Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Delhi State Industrial Development Corporation (DSIDC), Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (GNCTD), Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Delhi Factory Owners Federation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), Delhi Police, RITES, Indian Town Planning Institute (ITPI), Indian Medical Association, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), Operations Research Group (ORG), Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), Central Public Works Department (CPWD).
Given the concentration of highly specialized manpower in the making of a single document, it boggles the mind to figure out how public interest and welfare, and the values that drive good governance could have evaded their attention for the three odd years they have been at the task. The only explanations are the most horrifying: that this elite cabal had nothing but political and self-interest in mind, that MPD 2021 is nothing but a tribute to their collusion.

Several startling facts are thrown up by scrutinizing the composition of committees. Although it manages some of the most prominent areas of Delhi, the NDMC is represented by a sole member and that too in the committee for Development Control! This fact might be further proof of the politicisation of the master plan, as the MCD, which is amply represented (with 19 councillors and technical staff) and the NDMC (with a single representative, and that too in the superfluous working group on Development Controls), are urban bodies under the control of different political parties. It is obvious that the representation on committees and working groups is not decided on the merit of an individual’s or organisation’s capacities or even their position and role in the planning and implementation process. DDA’s own Director of Planning is strangely absent from the entire process! Also, a number of ‘experts’ serve on various different committees, which raises a question about the precise nature of their ‘expertise’ and on the criterion behind the formation and selection of groups.

Commensurate with the slavishness and collusion that characterise the collective authoring of MPD 2021 is the arbitrariness of the ‘chapters’ produced by the ‘sub-groups’. The allocation of specialized agendas, the formation of groups and the resulting chapter-wise breakdown of the master plan document are all indicators of the fuzzy logic that dictates the planning process. There is no attempt to bring even an editorial consistency to the whole document, which is merely a compilation of the reports by different groups. Different chapters use different jargon and methods of calculation. Basic data used in one chapter does not always coincide with the same in another chapter. In addition to such shoddy management of information, there is a more fundamental inability to grasp the need for clarity. The Master Plan can only be expected to succeed if there is an organized process linking research and analysis with the conclusions and recommendations. If the laws governing its future are drafted with such whimsy, the city of Delhi is doomed.

The twenty-one sections of the master plan document tell a story of incomprehension. The overall task before the master plan for 2021 can be stated with brevity: to analyse the problems and potentials of the existing city, to project a vision for the future of Delhi, to gauge the capacities that are likely to be available by 2021, and to devise a sustainable strategy to achieve the vision, based on ground realities. The authors of MPD 2021 abandon clarity and purpose and show a marked proclivity for obfuscation and betrayal of trust.

The ‘vision’ for Delhi in 2021 is stated in the first chapter, the Introduction, but the most crucial aspect of this vision, and the most important issue in the plan, forms the subject of Chapter 16. “Mixed Land-use” is the overarching policy with which the DDA proposes to increase the density of the existing city and accommodate more people than the city was planned for. It has a bearing on all aspects of urban form, aesthetics, efficiency and infrastructural capacity but vital information on the implications of this policy are scattered all over the 200 page document.

In Chapter 2, the master plan sets up the regional context for the city, and in Chapter 3, the basic demographics of the plan. Chapter 4, “Delhi Urban Area” describes all the basic assumptions and policy frameworks for the redevelopment of the existing city and as such constitutes the heart of the plan. In the five chapters that follow, the policy of densification is worked out with regards to housing, commercial areas, industry, and government offices.

Having fore-grounded the spatial strategy because that is where its efforts are most centred — in the use and misuse of land — the DDA then includes one chapter each on the Environment, Conservation, Urban Design and three chapters on infrastructure (chapter 13, titled “Transportation” deals essentially with an infrastructural issue). In these six chapters, the utopia of a densified-thus-somehow-world-class Delhi comes badly undone, and all the neat calculations regarding “holding capacities” of existing areas and the “scope for redevelopment” that it somehow finds everywhere, are contradicted by the sheer scope of the infrastructural shortages and structural problems with the existing city, also of DDA’s creation.

If only DDA had known the wisdom of dealing first with the chronic problems of the city before they started projecting illusions of the future. If only they had given heritage and urban design the attention they deserve, rather than the decapitated two-page primer on ‘varieties’ of heritage and the five pages of tripe on the prettified ‘imageability’ of the city, the “provision of appropriate landscape along railway tracks” and the revitalization of the natural & built environment “to give an impression of global city” from the air. If the plan document creates the nagging suspicion that the city being planned is actually devoid of human beings, the chapter on Urban Design confirms its inhumanity with the bluntness of jargon: “A city is an assemblage of buildings and streets, system of communication and utilities, places of work, transportation, leisure and meeting places.”

Even the DDA seems to believe that nothing much can be achieved through the master planning exercise — apart from producing a seriously flawed legal document, that is — and this fact is trumpeted in chapter 19, titled Plan Review and Monitoring. The schizophrenic convolutions of the underlying logic and purpose of MPD 2021 are made disturbingly evident in this chapter, which begins by stating that ineffective implementation, changing socio-economic needs, unintended growth, “time lags between various implementation schemes and emerging needs of the people” and the “appropriateness of the plan policies,” are all issues that need attention. In all its esteemed wisdom, the DDA has not bothered to figure out whether these are issues that ought to have been addressed before the making of MPD 2021 or that can be left for the future. Either 200 very confused individuals have produced the plan or else they wish to thoroughly confuse the public. Neither of these is a happy prospect.

Having stated time and again that the multiplicity of agencies in the city is a definite problem, the DDA nevertheless charts out a program for creating even more agencies to monitor the progress of the plan. Thus, it will set up eight ‘management action groups’ to collect data, and ten other groups to monitor the plan: one each for the Delhi Sub-Region Plan, Environment Planning and Coordination, Delhi Unified Metropolitan Transport, Infrastructure Development, Enforcement and Plan Monitoring, Spatial Data Infrastructure, Local Level Participatory Planning, Common Platform for Building Approvals, Slum Rehabilitation and Social Housing and Legal Framework Review.

Although DDA is able to make lists of what needs doing, it is unable to muster up the intellectual talents and capacities to do prospective planning. Creating a master plan for the future requires a grasp of the idea of the future and a deep understanding of the present. These are intellectual capacities that the DDA clearly does not have, which is why it habitually regresses into listing out what needs to be done, without making any attempt to do it. The so-called ‘plan for monitoring the plan’ is so convoluted in its logic that the planning process will forever be caught in the unfortunate paradox of the precedence of the chicken or the egg. The city of Delhi cannot be forced to suffer the consequences of DDA’s confabulations and blundering.

It must be advocated—if necessary, by legal intervention—that if the capital city of India is to have a master plan at all, it ought to be entrusted to an agency that has more intelligence, a better grip on reality, fewer tendencies towards corruption and an unquestionable commitment to the greater public good. The DDA meets none of these requirements. Now that the indiscriminate programme of land-acquisition, for which the DDA was primarily created, has been exhausted, it is time that the agency is also quietly put to rest. Let the master plan for Delhi be entrusted to more able hands.

The Writer is Director, Urban Futures Initiative






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