Sender: Gita Dewan Verma
To: V Risbud for DDA and its expert groups, S Rohila and P Prakash for other planners, D Roy for others interested
Urban India has entered the new millenium with nearly a thousand Master Plans – and we only have to look around us at the myriad urban problems that have overtaken them to see why public faith in Master Plans is low, to say the least. Many development thinkers, notably ones whose thinking is in line with that of World Bank, think Master Plans are an out-dated concept. Many others, especially amongst planners, argue that “the only substitute for a Master Plan is a better Master Plan”. I support the latter view, not only because I am a planner but also because I believe a serious effort to make what we have work is in order before rushing into any alternative ‘on the rebound’, if only to ensure that the alternative, if needed, is indeed better. I further believe that ‘better’ (Plan or alternative) should be defined as ‘implementable’. Even a cursory scrutiny of Delhi’s Master Plan, shows that most city problems are rooted in implementation failures rather than in planning failures. Unless implementation failures are addressed no amount of ‘better’ planning (rather, just Plan-making) is likely to help. In this context, I think that the most needed paradigm shift is one that will ensure greater ownership of the Plan and, thereby, a greater chance of its implementation.
In principle all agree on the need for a participatory planning process in place of merely the obligatory formality of calling public objections after the Plan is drafted. There is also considerably greater interest in the Master Plan than there was when it was last being reviewed. Unfortunately, despite this, a meaningful dialogue is NOT happening. On one hand, planners in DDA seem unwilling or unable to effectively engage with citizens. (At the first of a series of public discussions that IHC launched on February 20, for instance, DDA’s Commissioner Planning – the ‘speaker’ – did not show up or send someone to set the ball rolling straight). On the other hand, citizens wanting to engage also seem to be going about their efforts in the manner of the blind men around the elephant, so to speak. (At the same public discussion the motley group that made up the ‘public’ was talking of so many different dimensions of planning that coherence was impossible). With this sort of thing having gone on for some time now in Delhi to the dissatisfaction of all, everyone also seems to be fighting rather than talking. For the said IHC meeting, for instance, a message was doing the rounds for anyone wanting to raise any issues against DDA to land up. In general, planners outside DDA seem upset with non-planners for derailing possibilities of a productive dialogue by their unfocussed comments and non-planners seem upset with non-DDA planners for getting between citizens and DDA planners with their ‘jargon’. DDA planners seem quite content not to engage with either set. And once in a while announcements about some forthcoming detail in the revised Plan are made, such as was done by the LG in January, to confound all those who are screaming to be heard on their concerns.
I am presuming to write this note to make some suggestions for a framework for “citizens’ participation” in the ongoing revision of Delhi’s Master Plan. I do not carry the brief for DDA planners or mainstream planning fraternity outside DDA or NGOs/other non-planners wanting to engage. On the contrary, I have the dubious distinction of enjoying a degree of disapproval from all three groups. Yet (or so) I think I can suggest a framework to all of them. I think I can do so to DDA planners because I was among the first and few to point out through letters in mid-2000 the urgent need for the same. I think I can do so to the planning fraternity outside DDA because I am a planner who has been consistently engaging on implementation issues. I think I can do so to others because, like them, I too ‘represent’ slum residents, hawkers, RWAs, etc, by virtue of being their planning consultant/advisor.
Before proceeding further I would like to propose a demystified DEFINITION of the Master Plan and its role to establish a starting position (as well as boundaries) for participation. The Master Plan is basically a broad landuse drawing – a map of the city and proposed extensions indicating in different colours what might be where – with an explanatory text. It might be useful to think of the role of the landuse plan in relation to urban land as one would think of the role of a family budget in relation to income / wealth. Both can help ensure – but neither can (on its own) guarantee – that everyone’s needs and reasonable wants are met. Neither is carved in stone but willful changes to either usually benefit a few at the cost of many. No intelligent planner will stubbornly argue that any Plan is perfect. But all intelligent planners will agree that nearly all Plans are better than anarchy.
I would also like to propose ownership of the Plan for implementation and monitoring support as the PURPOSE of participatory Plan-making. This is because every one seems interested only in (participating in) inventing or reinventing the wheel, but not in the responsibility of rolling it. NGOs are especially very given to blaming planners for all problems whereas the truth is that they themselves are perhaps most responsible for monitoring failures since they are best positioned to draw timely attention to implementation delays and lapses. Planners also tend to skirt implementation failures as they are more comfortable with making new, newer and newest plans to solve problems, not realising that reducing planning to wallpaper production will not lead to planned development, only to lots of wallpaper. One of the most recent cases of confusing between planning failures and implementation failures was seen in the ‘policy dialogue’ on hawkers that raged in Delhi in 2001. This was precipitated by premier NGOs, engaged the highest level of governance (PMO, MoUD, LG, etc) and promptly led to ‘policy initiatives’, research funding, etc. In the topical enthusiasm over the ‘problem’ all overlooked the ‘solution’ that not only existed in the 1990 Master Plan but also arguably offered a better deal to the city and its hawkers than what was being suggested or demanded in 2001. With implementation failures in respect of statutory provisions having been ignored (and thereby condoned) it is hardly surprising that the latest policy initiatives look like they are headed towards a worse fate. And there now also seems to be some risk of Plan provisions getting downsized in light of the ‘policy dialogue’.
Within the ambit of the boundaries and purpose of participatory Plan-making as defined above, I suggest the following three-stage framework for citizens’ participation in the ongoing Master Plan review. I propose a first-stage consultation on OVERALL VISION. Based on studies that DDA has or is supposed to have already done, it should make an assessment of growth potential in the regional context (based on projections of population, employment generators, etc) as well as carrying capacity optima (including environmental, infrastructural and institutional). It should then come up with options for growth scenarios (intra-regional dispersal, expansion directions, etc) in the context of these assessments of, respectively, projected needs and available resources. These options, outlined in the form of a discussion document on overall vision, should form the basis for the first stage of citizens’ comments. At the end of this stage it would be possible to eliminate some of the growth options and keep a few for iterative choices in the context of more detailed further work. I propose a second-stage consultation on SECTORAL AGENDAS for core sectors like housing, transport, social infrastructure, physical infrastructure, heritage, etc. In each core sector an assessment has to be made of the existing situation (including implementation status / experience), emergent needs (including future needs as well as renewal / redevelopment) and capacity optima (including environmental and sustainability concerns). I personally think it would be a good idea to clearly indicate ‘backlog’ arising out of implementation failures (notably on pro-poor provisions of the Plan) for priority in further development for restoring equity in benefits of planned development. It would also be a good idea to take redevelopment and renewal in all core sectors more seriously than ever before so we can shape the past before we shape the future. The starting point for core sector consultations should be sectoral discussion documents that place sectoral assessments in the context of the growth options in the vision document to outline sectoral imperatives / priorities. DDA has already set up expert groups for such sectors as well as for cross-cutting concerns like environment and renewal. It is important to initiate a process for focussed sectoral discussions because most people wanting to engage on the Plan review process have inputs to make only to particular sectors. As long as the dialogue remains general it will continue to tend to become a cacophony with everyone talking of everything at the same time. At the end of this stage it would be possible for the expert groups to refine / expand their sectoral agendas before detailing out sectoral proposals. The last stage is for IMPLEMENTATION / MONITORING PROCESSES. Once expert groups have fleshed out sectoral proposals and DDA has done some preliminary inter-sectoral synthesis and iterative review of options in the overall vision, discussion on participatory implementation, monitoring and review will become possible. An afterthought chapter or annexure containing a half-baked monitoring schedule, which has usually substituted such a process in earlier Plans, will not do. A dynamic Plan implementation process that defines the pace of and responsibilities for implementation/monitoring as well as degrees of flexibility and when and how they may be used must not only be put in place but also negotiated so that the implementation process reinforces ownership of the Plan.
The specific suggestion I have made is illustrative, but the need for some framework is both evident and urgent. On one hand, it is clear that this time the review process must be different, with those working on it not only giving techno-legal shape to citizens’ concerns (as they have done in the past) but also making this obvious through a high degree of transparency to ensure ownership. On the other hand, it is also clear that loosely structured general-purpose seminars, workshops, etc, to create space for this sort of a thing are not proving very effective and something much more systematic is needed. There is little point, in my opinion, in holding general discussions on planning aspects or failures in the name of Master Plan discussions. Unless DDA tables discussion documents to focus each consultation nothing of real value is likely to emerge. Obviously, the onus of an effective participatory process rests on DDA. I do believe, however, that it would help a great deal if all would broadly concur on a strategic approach so that DDA’s task becomes easier, or at least more clear cut.