Running Aground: how land use can destroy a great city (Unabridged)
Jagan Shah

Since the very beginning of its planning efforts for Delhi, enshrined in the first Master Plan for Delhi (MPD1962)—and unfortunately perpetuated in the latest master plan—the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has been practising a style of urban planning that believes in the functional separation of urban life into spaces for dwelling, working, circulation and recreation. This novel compartmentalisation of life was conceived by a handful of European visionaries in 1933 while consuming caviar and wine on a ship in the Mediterranean, and its principles and guidelines were enshrined in what came to be called the ‘Athens Charter’. Its principle author was Le Corbusier, the architect of Chandigarh — which is one of only two cities, the other being Brasilia, where the charter was wholeheartedly implemented (but who would wish Delhi was Chandigarh?) — and it came to represent the singularly modern form of planning. The Americans had little patience for such eccentricity — they reserved such clinical logic for provincial industrial townships and suburbs — and Europe had already evolved sophisticated theories for dealing with their cities, which all had ancient pasts. In 1947, Delhi also had historical cores that together represented a rich heritage of city planning, but Shahjehanabad and New Delhi were too un-modern to appeal to a post-war developing nation that looked westward to know its destiny. After the Partition of 1948, and burdened with an unprecedented influx of refugees and a weakening of civic institutions, Delhi became a laboratory for experimenting with fancy notions about modern life.

History of Failure

The DDA informs us that the planning effort in Delhi “could be seen mainly as Land Use Plans,” thus the story naturally begins with the acquisition of land. In 1962, the DDA earmarked 45,000 hectares of countryside for urbanization, to accommodate a population of 53 lakhs by 1981. Through the instrument Master Plan Delhi 1962 (MPD 1962), this land was subjected to segregated land-use, “elaborate zoning” and regulation of building development. A ‘neighbourhood’ of 15,000 people was the basic unit of residential life while business was dictated by the “poly-nodal hierarchical development” of district, community and local commercial centres. Industries were divided into ‘Extensive’, ‘Light’ and ‘Flatted’ factories, and transportation was yet another hierarchy of roads.

At the end of the first plan period in 1981, the DDA had achieved chaos: “rapid population growth [had] overshot plan projections by 15 lakhs; despite land use controls, mixed land use in residential areas continued; land was put to extensive use resulting in overshooting of envisaged densities; exponential growth of the informal sector had outstripped infrastructural facilities; and the proposal for shifting of non-conforming industrial units “did not yield desired results.” For reasons supposedly unknown to itself, DDA’s multi-coloured land use map, each colour representing a different zone and function, had failed to transform into vibrant reality.

Like all the government-owned and government run establishments in this country, the DDA too believes in the transforming capacities of lucre and has little faith in intelligence and hard work. Thus, its basic instinct—indeed, its very definition and practise of town planning—is to purchase huge tracts of land en masse, to subdivide the aggregate into plots whose sizes are determined by outdated development controls, and then to either auction off the plots to developers and builders or to add minimal quality infrastructure for water-supply and sanitation and then float ‘public housing’ schemes, where individual home-owners from all economic strata can hope to be allotted the home of their dreams. Given that the government has kept a loose rein on this process by allowing the sale and purchase of real estate to be unregulated—essentially meaning that the real prices are not declared on paper—and that prices are volatile, the DDA’s officials have been skimming substantial cream off the top of the urban pie, and are famously reported at regular intervals to have amassed personal assets out of proportion with known sources of income. In short, ever since the founding of the DDA, the story of land-use planning in Delhi has become a story of corruption. This fact best explains their failure to manage the land-use of Delhi and achieve its sole objective: to achieve equity.

After making extensive modifications to MPD1962 to extend it over another decade, and responding to the Regional Plan 2001 formulated a year before by the National Capital Region Planning Board, the DDA released MPD2001 in August 1990. Emboldened by the fact that a vast National Capital Region (NCR) of 30,242 square kilometres had been put at Delhi’s disposal, the DDA set out to accommodate the 128 lakh population it projected for 2001, acquiring more land and apportioning it according to 10 use-zones: Agriculture and Water Body, Commercial, Manufacturing, Public and Semi-Public, Government, Special Area, Residential, Recreational, Transportation and Utility facilities. Using a dark grey pencil, they blocked out the walled city and its western extensions including Karol Bagh and called it a “Special Area”, which basically meant that all attempts to control the usage of land and the density of population in these parts of Delhi had inevitably failed. The violation of planning norms in this ‘special area’ is now so advanced that the land use plan for MPD2021, approved in January 2005, does not even bother to mention it as such. Instead, there is a mysterious gray area in the heart of Delhi, and to maintain the magical figure of ten use-zones, DDA has added “Ridge/Regional Park” to the list. The fate of this new use-zone is equally uncertain.

When issuing guidelines for the preparation of MPD2021, the Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation (MUD), DDA’s parent organization, noted that “there is a growing variation between the plan for Delhi and the city on the ground. It is, therefore, essential the Master Plan policies should be implementable in an effective manner and vigorously enforced.” This was not merely an admission of fifty years of failed Master Planning — indeed, the document abounds with such shameless admissions — but also a confession that it is almost impossible to implement and therefore needs ‘vigorous’ enforcement. It has taken five convenient decades, during which its officials have famously lined their own nests, for the DDA to concede that “there have been large gaps between the area targeted for, and/or actually acquired, as also between the area acquired and that which could be developed”, and that this mismatch between targets and acquisitions has created “shortfalls in the planned development of shelter and allied facilities,” leading to the rampant growth of unauthorized colonies. Perhaps sensing the shortage of bulldozers in the city, the only instrument that might force the city back to its intended shape, the DDA would rather concede defeat.

Number Games

Every chapter of MPD2021 cries failure. At a regional level, it describes a ‘spatial distortion’ whereby “only the towns adjoining Delhi have developed and not the NCR towns with a spatial gap from Delhi.” While the “virtual urban continuum” between the city and its region is plain to see, the DDA has still not realized the wisdom of conceiving a single comprehensive plan for the entire region. Rather than effectively implementing the concept that the NCR is meant to reduce the population pressure on Delhi, the DDA decides that “in future, urbanisation has to be in the areas that have development pressure/potential like the areas along the major transport corridors and fringes of already urbanised areas. [emphasis added]” Thus, its strategy for accommodating the projected total population of 220-230 lakhs for Delhi in 2021 is driven by the need to cook up the requisite numbers:

Of the 1483 square kilometers (sqkm) of the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCTD), 47% is already urbanized. Leaving aside the 13% that is occupied by natural features like the Ridge and the Yamuna, 40% land remains to be urbanized. 21% has to be left aside for services, greenbelts, agricultural land and transportation needs, which effectively leaves 19% for further urbanization. In a masterful ploy that reveals its mischievous intent, the DDA adds the 47% already urbanized to this 19%, thus claiming that 66% land (978 sqkm) is available for urbanization, assuming a density of 225 persons per hectare (pph), whereas elsewhere it assumes 40 square metres (sqm) per person and reaches a different figure of 920 sqkm. The basic demographic convolution extends itself into ground reality through the projected accommodation of 153 lakh persons in seven existing zones of Delhi through an unexplained (and probably arbitrary) assessment of ‘holding capacity’.

Thankfully conceding that Zone A (the Walled City) cannot take any more people, the DDA somehow calculates that Zone B (including Karol Bagh and the Pusa area) will accommodate 600,000 more people, Zone C (in north Delhi, from Jehangir Puri till Civil Lines) can take 109,000, Zone D (bounded by the Ring Road to the south and Lutyens Delhi to the North, the ridge to the west and the river to the east, including Chanakyapuri and Nizamuddin) can take 226,000; Zone E (what is called east or trans-Yamuna Delhi, from Trilok Puri in the south till Gokul Puri in the north) can only take another 200,000; Zone F (bounded by the ring road to the north and the Mehrauli Badarpur road in the south, from Vasant Vihar in the west till Madanpur Khadar in the east) will accommodate another 258,000, Zone G (from paschim Vihar to the north till Palam to the south) another 326,000; Zone H (from Mangol Puri till Ashok Vihar) will take 639,000; and the Urban Extensions will accommodate a total of 2,830,000 (1,103,000 more in Dwarka, 686,000 in phase 3-5 of Rohini, and 1,041,000 in Narela.

According to the DDA’s calculations, the total number of people that can (and will) fit into the existing city is 153 lakhs. Of the remaining 77 lakhs, it discovers that “29 lakhs already exists in villages, census towns, unauthorized colonies and JJ clusters in the present rural areas.” It thus concludes that new land has to be acquired to house a net balance of 48 lakh persons for whom 20,000 to 22,000 hectares of land will need to be acquired. In its hurry to project a requirement for newly acquired land (which is calculated at two different places assuming two different densities: 225pph and 250pph), the DDA completely disregards the fact that it has condemned 29 lakhs to continue to live in degraded conditions. Such is the grand logic of urban development in Delhi.

Strategy Revealed

We now have the three basic dimensions of the DDA’s strategy for the future: to accommodate 15.3 million in the existing developed areas of the city, to develop new urban extensions for 4.8 million persons by acquiring 22,000 hectares of land, and to leave 2.9 millions in their substandard habitat, to which a backlog of over 400,000 dwelling units, that the DDA forgot to build, will have to be added. The future thus naturally divides itself into new development and re-development.

Regarding new developments, it is shocking that after brutally frank admissions of its past failures, the DDA will make the same baseless allocation of percentages to different land uses that rendered its prior exercises at planning— MPD 1962 and MPD 2001 — abject failures. It would behoove any self-respecting public agency to rethink their methods and strategies, but Delhi cannot be so lucky. Thus, in a surreal return of the familiar, MPD 2021 also works with the thumb rule that 45-55 per cent of land will be for residences, 3-4 per cent for commercial use, 4-5 per cent for industrial, 8-10 per cent for public and semi-public facilities, 10-12 per cent for circulation (although it claims on another page that “roads already occupy 21 percent of the total area of the city) and 15-20 per cent for green/recreational. The 3-4 per cent of commercial area will be further apportioned into a “five-tier system” that links populations of “about 5 lakhs”, “about 1 lakh”, “about 10,000” and “about 5,000” to district centres, community centres, local shopping centres and convenience shopping centres respectively. Leaving aside Tier I, which is already occupied by the metropolitan city centre, the already developed central business districts in Connaught Place and the Walled City, the remaining tiers will be allocated 40 hectares, 4 hectares, 0.4 hectares and 0.1 hectares respectively. There are detailed but meaningless tables where ‘permitted’ types of businesses and functions are listed in agonizing detail in inverse proportion to their relevance. Apart from giving the DDA engineers some numbers to play with and the power to misuse authority, these meaningless thumb rules do nothing but produce planned chaos.

It is the policy of redevelopment through densification of existing areas that will most profoundly affect the city. If MPD 2021 comes into effect, Delhi will become a playground for developers and the city will become an endless agglomeration of redevelopment ‘schemes’. Riding on the successful introduction of the Delhi Metro, the DDA wishes to make the MRTS corridors into an extended one kilometer wide belt of densification running through the whole city, claiming that it wishes to exploit the “synergy” between land-use and transportation, when it has spent fifty years in developing an urban sprawl without an integrated transportation system, despite the existence of a ‘ring’ railway and an extensive bus system. Thus, it does not have any idea of how to structure this sudden change and has not even begun to figure out how a linear development like a Metro line will negotiate the existing zonal segregations of the city, which are not linear but ‘poly-centric’. However, it makes the redevelopment of the Metro corridor into a centerpiece of the master plan, not even bothering to overlay the map of the Metro on the existing land-use map and working out the on-ground implications of their intentions.

The DDA is incapable of doing the hard-work that is required to coordinate all the different provisions of the Master Plan, the concerns of the different categories of citizens of the city, and the specific needs of the areas where they live. It thus devises the masterfully evasive ‘policy’ called mixed land-use and a decidedly ham-handed one called ‘Enhanced FAR’ (floor area ratio, a formula relating the total area of a plot with the amount of covered area permitted on it). Only hapless adolescence and incipient schizophrenia could explain why the DDA devotes most of MPD2021 to the separation of functions — again out of force of habit — and then throws in a chapter titled ‘Mixed Land-Use’ that effectively overturns the whole logic of separation. We thus have two contradictory patterns of logic operating at the same time: zoned development and mixed land use. But these will conveniently allow DDA officials the kind of discretion that they can cash at every step of the urban development process.

Examine the DDA’s working out of the on-ground implications of enhanced FAR and mixed land use and you will find that this strategy has all the makings of disaster. As such, this is a test-case in studying how a simple ministerial directive can take a monstrous shape in the hands of an inept public agency. In its guidelines for MPD 2021, the MUD recommended the following: “To encourage the growth impulse for regeneration in the target redevelopment areas, the possible incentives and modalities recommended include grant of planning permission at the scheme level with permission to reorganize/pool properties for planning purposes, provision of social infrastructure through Transferable Development Rights or Accommodation Reservation and reduced space standards for unplanned areas, enhanced FAR for specified redevelopment areas and application of flexible concept of mix-use zones in Special Area & Villages on scheme basis.” In response, the DDA indiscriminately and without adequate insight, tries to fit the existing city into this new mould.

On the one hand there is “intended mixed use”, which will be incorporated into the layout plans for new areas, and on the other there is an indiscriminate notion of mixed use, which will permit the conversion of residential areas anywhere in the city to commercial functions, subject to vague norms and guidelines that are riddled with loopholes. While the former envisages the earmarking of mixed use plots in new residential areas, “preferably located opposite/adjoining designated commercial areas” — one wonders why, when mixed use should obviate the need for separate commercial areas — the latter has the most profound implications for Delhi. Not surprisingly, the Walled City is the first on the block for redevelopment, but it is diagnosed with a schizophrenic condition: while it is ‘predominantly residential’, it is also ‘the core of a business district’, as well as ‘a heritage zone’. There is a plan to shift wholesale trade and industrial activity out of this area, which is tamely described as being “prone to commercialization,” but no concrete plan, apart from vague references to increasing parking and plainly stupid allowances for basements, as if these are part of the heritage.

The twin policy of mixed use and densification is to be applied to the whole of Delhi. In characteristically insidious fashion, the DDA reveals bad intent even when making exceptions to the rule. The Lutyens’ and Civil Lines Bungalow Zones, the Monument Regulated Zone, Chanakya Puri and a few other areas are seemingly protected from the policy, but even these are only expected to “retain their basic character” — can we trust the DDA to know what that is? — and are the subject for “special provisions” that are not specified in the plan. Given that they are recommending the densification of Government offices, many of which fall within the LBZ, we can only view such vague exceptions with considerable trepidation.

Mixed-up City

If they have happily presided over the extensive violations of zoned land use — the very premise of their entire planning exercise — then can we expect a similar fate from this new and seemingly benign policy called “mixed land use”? What the DDA plans is to permit mixed use on the ground floor of residential plots facing streets of minimum 18 metre width. This rule is to be applied to the entire city, but it is relaxed in the case of primary schools, which can be located on 9 metre roads in the Special Area and 13.5 metre roads in rehabilitation colonies. Not willing to let go of ridiculous clauses, they also specify that the plot size for primary schools must be 209 square metres, as if such plots abound in rehab colonies. They also provide a list of uses that are excluded from mixed land use — although it is unclear why ‘storage’, ‘cycle-rickshaw repairs’ and ‘building materials’ are part of the list — and reserve the right to notify any other activity “from time to time”, thereby maintaining the License Raj culture that Indian society is desperately trying to shed.

Flying in the face of prevailing building practices, MPD 2021 stipulates that mixed land use will be allowed only if there is “unconditional surrender of front setback, which should not have boundary and shall be only used for parking.” Two parking spaces are to be provided within the premises and “no encroachments shall be permitted on the streets.” They do not think about the fact that parking space will also be needed for the residences on the upper floors, besides the impossibility of enforcing their rule regarding front setbacks. Similarly ridiculous is their rule that professionals will have to maintain proper offices elsewhere and “only out of office hours services could be rendered from the residential premises.” They will be allowed to operate from any floor, however, but cannot occupy more than 25 per cent of the FAR or 100 sqm, whichever is less.” Apart from further expanding the scope of their control-freak behaviour and leaving ample scope for arbitrariness and misuse, the DDA achieves little towards the enhancement of the socioeconomic life of the city. Under the garb of a new ‘policy’ they do everything but define policy as such.

There are two fundamental problems with their interpretation of mixed land use. Firstly, it sanctifies the existing commercial use of residential premises, overlooking the abject illegality of the violations that have already been made. There is no thought given to the fact that people have purchased residential properties at residential property rates, mostly from the DDA itself, which provides subsidized housing, and are leasing these spaces out at commercial rates. Not only does this maintain an imbalance in the property market — the availability of residences is less than what it ought to be, given the number of properties and the floor space covered by each — but it also unlawfully favors the interests of the propertied class. In a single policy decision, which is trying to turn a problem into a virtue, the DDA is allowing thousands of irresponsible lawbreakers to make even further profits with impunity. This is not only against the interests of equity and social justice, supposedly concerns that underlie the planning process, but also a violation of the fundamental rights of the poor, who have been denied adequate housing in the city due to the DDA’s mismanagement of land use in collusion with land-grabbing mafias.

The other, and equally grave, problem with the mixed land-use policy is that it has no aesthetic component and does not reflect an adequate consideration of what will happen to the city if all property-owners take advantage of this provision, as they most probably will. In the best cities of the world, the ground floor was dedicated to commercial life in a structured way, generating the kind of urban form that we find in our most successful local example, Connaught Place. Mixed land use of this kind, which is embedded in the physical form of the city and the structure of life, creates a cityscape that brings different functions of life onto the streets and generates the kind of life that we in Delhi are forever going to be denied. Living in our segregated clusters and performing our activities in cloistered surroundings, we will forever be denied the vitality of modern urban life. The DDA views mixed land use as a lifeless ‘solution’ that “suits the present socio-economic needs of a large section of the society and reduces the transportation needs and traffic movement considerably. However, unless properly regulated and in certain conditions it could have quite an adverse effect in terms of congestion, pollution and general inconvenience to the people of the area.” It does not see a problem in suiting a decision for “large sections of” rather than the whole of society, and it once again builds in a disclaimer, as if it will always be able to dissociate itself from the failure of its own plans.

Privilege City

The DDA’s refusal to take responsibility for the failure of land-use policies in Delhi is shocking with respect to the unauthorized colonies, which have grown because of its own policies of large scale acquisition of land, which has forced the owners of agricultural lands to prefer selling to petty developers or to become ones themselves. Ascribing this widespread malaise in urban development to “the propensity for illegal colonization and related malpractices,” it nevertheless wants to regularize all such colonies, while at the same time admitting that “regularization has not really brought in any tangible improvement … [effectively leading] to de-facto tenure rights on the land and access to services.” Probably never before has the callousness of a public agency been as evident as it is in the MPD 2021 now being finalized by the DDA.

For the payment of “additional charges” and “appropriate levies” the FAR on your property can be increased indiscriminately and the land use can also be changed to anything. Developers can target the lands occupied by illegal “unauthorized” colonies and resettlement schemes for JJ clusters and slums and prepare new “schemes” for the building of residences and commercial space. In fact, developers are to be given free reign over the “unauthorized” colonies and urban villages, which have already become unmanageable concentrations of commercial and industrial activity. The villages are now considered vital contributors to the economic life of the city, regardless of the fact that they are no longer villages, only a virus within the city that continues to destroy its planned fabric.

Whether you are in an industrial zone or in a residential zone, if you are able to consolidate four hectares of land — individually or by forming cooperative societies — then you can prepare a redevelopment scheme in which enhanced FAR of 150 per cent of the existing FAR will be allowed and, in addition, you will get the right to claim ‘Transferable Development Rights’ (TDR) if you have accommodated any “social infrastructure” in your plan, which can mean anything from a temple to a clubhouse or gambling den. In principle, although it is kept deliberately vague in the master plan document, the TDR can be traded in for even more relaxations of FAR. If you are already misusing a residential property for industrial purposes, and you find 70 per cent of the area is also doing so, you can join hands and prepare a scheme for redevelopment wherein you will be granted free-hold industrial plots.

If you want to operate at a smaller scale, then you can also create a cluster of 3000 sqm and claim extra FAR. It is preposterous that the DDA is even willing to let people include the service lanes between their plots into this area. While it will not allow you to include this area towards FAR calculation, i.e. it will not grant you floor area on the basis of the service lane, it papers over the fact that the service lane area adds considerably to the ‘super covered area’ of your property, which is the basis for fixing sale and rental values in the real-estate market. In effect, it is willing to give the service lane to you as a gift for relieving it from the burden of urban development. If you have a plot area of more than 2000 sqm, you can even avail of extra ground coverage of 5 per cent for the construction of automated multi-level parking, thereby further adding to the value of your property.

The other gift that the DDA gives to the wealthy property owners of Delhi, again in contravention of all standards of social justice and equity, is the granting of “accommodation reservation”, which allows you to construct community, public and semi-public facilities without being included in the FAR. Thus, you could allow the construction of a hospital on your land but it would not be considered part of the FAR because it is a public function, never mind the fact that the profits are entirely private. It is precisely these provisions for misuse, privileged access and discretionary sanction that disfigure the planning exercise. Unless the DDA adopts transparency and integrity in their planning efforts, no hopes remain of Delhi ever becoming a sustainable and ‘world-class’ city.

Secret City

The DDA has many plans which it does not wish to reveal to the public but it unwittingly lets slip its bad intentions. A great opportunity for unaccounted profit beckons in the form of the 19 drains that cross Delhi in all directions, thus the DDA recommends that an environmental study of these drains should be conducted “before their covering [stress added].” Such a plan is not included in the relevant chapter on Land Use; instead, it is slipped into an innocuous chapter on “Environment”. Like lines of greed, the drains lead us to other, even bigger, stories.

The DDA has prepared a plan for riverfront development that they are implementing in piecemeal fashion — most recently in the trans-Yamuna area and the Wazirabad area — if only to draw attention away from the fact that the plan has not been vetted by the public. In fact, their intentions are insidiously stated in the chapter on environment, “a strategy for the conservation/development of the Yamuna River Bed area comprised in the Master Plan Zones O & P [which did not figure in earlier plans because the river was correctly left untouched], and River Front Development needs to be developed and implemented in a systematic manner.” While they recognize that “this issue is sensitive both in terms of the environment and public perceptions,” it does not compel them to make the plan public, even if there is a thumbnail photograph of the plan on their website (that does not expand into full view!) Now that the river is dead from environmental pollution, its fate is uncertain indeed, especially when the DDA wants to ascertain the “potential for reclamation” and the “designation and delineation of appropriate land uses” for the river. Shrouded in secrecy, the Yamuna Riverfront plan seems to have the same land-scam character as the Taj Corridor downstream the Yamuna in Agra, and should perhaps elicit the same level of scrutiny.

The omissions and commissions continue. An area of 7,777 hectares covering the Aravali ridge has been notified in 1994 as a Reserve Forest and designated as a “regional park” in MPD 2021, but it is already under siege, as in Faridabad, where the land mafia was recently in the news for having taken over forest lands. With characteristic aplomb, the DDA states its complicity in the delay in notification of the lands by the Forest Department, which “is still awaited as there are discrepancies between the area notified and the physical boundaries of the total area owned by various agencies – DDA, CPWD, NDMC, MCD, Forest Department and the Ministry of Defense.” The ‘regional park’ may suffer the same fate as the ‘green belt’ that is supposed to surround the urban area of Delhi, which “has already been utilized for both planned and unplanned developments.” Having all but abandoned the green-belt as utopia, the MPD2021 “provides for agricultural land as Green Belt [extending] from the NCTD boundary up to a depth of one peripheral revenue village boundary, wherever possible.” What are the survival chances of such a green belt, which is composed of villages along a perimeter of hundreds of kilometers, especially when the DDA itself observes that “due to land constraint in NCTD the areas earmarked as rural/agricultural in the previous Master Plans have always been under pressure for utilization for various urban activities and have virtually lost their original character.” No wonder, considering that even the latest plan provides for a “suitable area of about 20 ha, one each along National Highway” and within the green belt, for the creation of amusement parks, a patently commercial use.


It seems odd that the DDA takes the issue of land use so lightly, given that our epics, our literature, our folklore and our history texts repeatedly remind us that the ownership, allocation, distribution and exchange of land is a prime moving force in history. Perhaps they wish to offer MDP 2021 as a tribute to the past millennia, which have amply demonstrated the evil that men do in the name of property. It is amply evident on perusal of the Master Plan document put up for public scrutiny by the DDA that the agency is unfit for the job at hand and is only advancing the evil that it has created over fifty years.

The first two Master Plan exercises (in 1957, for MPD 1962 and in 1981, for MPD 2001) were a grand urban manifestation of “the philosophy of public sector/government led growth and development process,” where the Government assumed the sole responsibility to acquire and allocate land and to sanction different uses for it. They were spatial versions of the ‘license raj’, that accursed instrument of top-heavy governance, and they turned the planning exercise into a farce: with social elites grabbing lands in the name of social housing from every government, DDA officials in illicit liaison with land Mafiosi, and the common man gawping helplessly, wondering where he fits in. The DDA has been one of the monsters created by the public sector, and it needs to be put to rest with a finality that might clear the grounds for a new approach to planning that can achieve the goals of democracy and be subjected to the rigours of professional and public scrutiny and the ideal of transparency. The DDA admits that the time has come for “introspection, which could lead to the development of sound basic policies and strategies, which should inform both the Master Plan and the methodology of its implementation,” but if MPD 2021 is the result of introspection, then they have been chanting the wrong mantra.

(The writer is an architect, historian and Director, Urban Futures Initiative)





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