Municipal Corporation of Delhi Municipal Corporation of Delhi has staked a claim to having its say on the Master Plan for Delhi, which is currently being revised.1 This claim is based on the view of at least some of its officials and councilors that the Constitution (74th) Amendment Act envisages Master Plan preparation by civic bodies not development authorities, that MCD has a better grip on ground realities and problems, especially through its experience of dealing with encroachments, than Delhi Development Authority and that its councilors represent people as well as public opinion on planned development.
It is true that the 74th Amendment Act, 1992 envisages a planning role for civic bodies. Under Article 243-W they may be empowered by the state legislature in respect of (a) preparation of plans for economic development and social justice, and (b) performance of functions and implementation of schemes as may be entrusted to them in matters listed in the Twelfth Schedule. (The Twelfth Schedule includes, at the first three items, (i) urban planning, (ii) regulation of landuse and (iii) construction of buildings and planning for economic and social development). But does that mean Delhi Municipal Corporation and not Delhi Development Authority is empowered to revise the Master Plan? Article 243-ZE provides for the constitution of a Metropolitan Planning Committee for metro-cities to prepare a draft development plan paying regard to plans prepared by municipalities, to central and state government priorities, etc. It does appear to me that these provisions envisage a nested planning process. Civic bodies have roles in short-term planning and implementation in their jurisdictions. A metropolitan committee is to prepare medium term plans for the city as a whole (with regard to municipal plans). The Master Plan is neither of these plans. It is a long-term plan with a regional perspective, made once in 20-25 years. Since the 74th panacea, although ubiquitously exhorted over the last ten years, has yet to make its impact felt I personally see no reason why this round of Master Plan revision should be tried to be ‘fitted’ into an untested framework. If, by the time the Master Plan becomes due for revision again in 2021, our civic bodies have taught themselves that the 74th amendment was not about powers for them but about empowered responsibilities for them and power for the people, we might consider reconsidering the Plan revision process.
I would also like to posit that the statutory process for Plan revision envisaged in the Delhi Development Act and the Master Plan, which is part and parcel of it, does not appear to be in any way contrary to the spirit of the 74th Amendment. Under the Delhi Development Act, the Master Plan and Zonal Plans have to be submitted by DDA to the central government for approval. Section 10(2) of the Act, which spells out the procedure to be followed in the preparation and approval of plans, requires DDA to "give reasonable opportunities to every local authority within whose local limits any land touched by the plan is situated, to make any representation with respect to the plan" before it is submitted to the central government for its approval. Clause-3 of the Development Code in the revised master plan approved in 1990 (p.51) requires the constitution of a high level policy making committee with representatives from, among others, MCD to "formulate policy guidelines for the sanctioning of all layout plans", etc. This committee is to be assisted by a Technical Committee with Chief Planners and Architects of, among others, local bodies. To me it looks like there are already statutory provisions for civic bodies to have their say in the planning process at all levels, including quite substantively at the level of layout planning, which is the level at which the 74th Amendment also largely contemplates their planning role. And if the contention is that MCD should be involved in the Master Plan prior to the preparation of the draft, for this too the Act and Plan have provisions. The Act envisages Plan making based on surveys with inputs from expert committees. As a public agency MCD should have absolutely no problem getting itself represented on any committee to which it has information or institutional views to contribute. The Plan offers more. It has explicit provisions for monitoring Plan implementation, outputs of which are envisaged to form the basis of Plan review. Since the Plan is statutory and binding on all, there has been nothing stopping MCD from monitoring its implementation in aspects that it deals with. Its monitoring data would give it an automatic stake in Plan review.
The point is not whether MCD can have more planning powers under the 74th Amendment or any other alternative to the current dispensation. The point is if and how effectively it has used powers already available to it to be able to say that it is able and willing to work towards planned development in the interest of the city, with or without more powers. Of the myriad problems that MCD claims to be constantly faced with, let us consider its performance on a few that are not operation and maintenance problems and also have potential solutions in the existing Master Plan in order to assess the genuineness of MCD’s claims to wannabe-planner on its revision.
One of the biggest of MCD’s and the city’s problems is the ‘slum problem’. The Master Plan as revised and approved in 1990 not only has comprehensive provisions for resettlement but also explicit norms for reserving 25 per cent of residential development for cheap plots and another 20 per cent for small homes for low-income groups. The obvious thing for MCD Slum Wing (vested with the onerous responsibility of ‘dealing’ with Delhi’s slums) to have done was to solve the slum problem using Master Plan provisions for land for low-income housing, in the manner of a ‘drive’, treating slums as housing backlog meriting implementation priority. And what did MCD Slum Wing do? It distributed token numbers and identity cards to all slum dwellers, reducing them to the same common denominator irrespective of whether they were on the river bank or railway track or on land anyway meant for housing. And it came out with a most ridiculous slum policy that left ‘poor’ families with a dubious choice between either being upgraded with repeated rounds of cheap paving or resettled in sub-standard housing certain to deteriorate into slum-like conditions and no choice at all of being settled. Land meant for settling them was profitably used up for other things and more land was wasted on resettling them in unplanned ways. Lately the MCD commissioner himself called for a review of the relocation policy.2 But surely MCD’s celebrated ‘grip on ground realities and problems’ would have shown it much earlier in the decade-long operation of its celebrated but defunct slum policy with no basis in the Master Plan or anything else in the spirit of the Constitution that it was not working. MCD is empowered to influence policy for sanctioning layout plans. Did it say at any point that sub-standard resettlement layouts in violation of the Plan are tantamount to a waste of public land and should not be sanctioned? Did it ever suggest anything to ensure at the time of layout sanction that 45 per cent statutory reservation for low-income families in all new development as well as in redensification be used to solve the slum problem? No, it did not. It only kept telling all that there was no land for slum dwellers. MCD is empowered to make representations when Master Plan or Zonal Plans are made or amended. Did it make a representation to object to a government order permitting 12.5 sqm plots even though the minimum size normally permissible under the Plan is 25 sqm and the Plan specifically cautions against layouts with sub-standard plots as they are prone to deteriorating into slums? No, it just went about developing such layouts for a miniscule proportion of slum population ‘chosen’ in the most arbitrary manner, treating the rest only to repeated rounds of cheap paving. There can be no denying the fact that the slumming of Delhi owes very largely to MCD Slum Wing.
A similar tragedy is now unfolding in respect of the city’s ‘hawker problem’. The revised Master Plan approved in 1990 has excellent and unique provisions for planned hawking space for 3-4,00,000 hawkers to be integrated into the city in ways entirely in line with the natural propensity of hawkers to locate themselves in markets, at transport nodes, near schools, hospitals and large housing clusters, etc. These provisions are to be ensured at the time of layout sanction. Did MCD use powers available to it under the Master Plan to influence policy guidelines for layout sanctions to ensure implementation of these provisions? No. It continued, instead, giving hawking licenses to a miniscule fraction of the city’s hawkers on roadsides (where they are open to eviction even afterwards under the provisions of the Police Act) even though the Master Plan explicitly noted limitations of hawking licenses and sought to address these by providing for planned space for hawking. Last year the Prime Minister’s office, in its wisdom, inspired by that of an NGO, came out with a ‘policy’ for de-licensing Delhi’s hawkers and dividing the city into red, amber and green areas where they might be forbidden, permitted against payment or freely permitted to hawk. MCD, in its own wisdom, responded to the Prime Minister’s desire by coming out with a scheme for ‘haats’ in bad locations all over the city where a total of 80,000 hawkers could pay-and-hawk. The scheme was a non-starter. The NGO whose ‘initiative’ had precipitated all this loudly cried foul and started implementing, in its own wisdom, a scheme for a small pocket of hawkers. MCD cried foul and said it had no business doing so on its own. The NGO decided, in its renewed wisdom, to cooperate with the government and had soon impressed MCD with its good work. Last week MCD has approved a new hawking ‘policy.3This is ‘in tune with the desire expressed by the Prime Minister’ and under it hawkers will not be licensed any more, only registered against a payment of Rs.500 or 1000 per month. (It is not clear to me how monthly payments for no facility other than the license to hawk are not tantamount to hawking licenses and why this is being projected as part of municipal reform.4 They will also be ‘organised’ with help from NGOs, starting with the one that precipitated the PMO intervention, in the pocket where it had intervened on its own. To implement its new ‘policy’ MCD is planning to move the Supreme Court for a review of its orders that have guided issuing of hawking licenses over the last decade. All this falls way short of statutory space entitlements of hawkers under the Master Plan, ‘spares’ space meant for them for more lucrative purposes, condones usurping of the same that has already taken place and places the city on course to making the ‘hawking problem’ intractable because it cannot be solved in a ‘space-less’ manner. It is estimated that the ‘worth’ of the ‘real estate’ spared through the non-implementation of Master Plan provisions for hawkers may be well over Rs.3000 crores. Real estate worth a similar or larger amount has been ‘spared’ by non-implementation of statutory provisions for low-turnover shops. This is over and above other costs of non-implementation borne by citizens – hawkers as well as others – on account of haphazard hawking and extortion payments (estimated to add up to about Rs.3000 crores over the last decade) made by hawkers for being in the wrong places.
Against portraits of performance such as these, MCD’s celebrated ‘experience of dealing with problems of encroachments’ holds no water as basis for its claim to wannabe-planner on the Master Plan. MCD cannot really claim any ‘experience in dealing with the problem’ within the ambit of the framework of planned development as it has consistently ignored opportunities available to it. Its ‘policies’ of denying land to the ‘poor’ in the city have been driven by, besides petty corruption, vested interests in sustaining ‘vote-banks’ and, by facilitating misuse of land meant for the ‘poor’ by others have serviced vested interests in sustaining ‘note banks’. That the ‘poor’ in the city are all labeled ‘encroachers’ is only because it is the state that does the labeling and the powers of the state have been hijacked by those who themselves have ‘encroached’ on the land meant for the poor. MCD’s role in this brazen subversion of planned development in the service of vested interests has been significant. Any doubts about this hypothesis are set to rest by the other big problem faced by this city, that of misuse of all sorts of premises for more profitable or more extended use than permitted on them and MCD’s consistent failure to ‘deal’ with them, its powers to do so notwithstanding.5
MCD’s track record in respect of implementation of planning provisions and of checking plan violations – twin aspects of planned development – is dismal. It really has no track record at all on "preparation of plans for economic development and social justice" (the responsibility – not power – that the 74th Amendment envisages for it), except one of missed opportunities. As an institution it seems singularly inexperienced in any serious role in planned development. It claims ‘grip’ on the ground situation, but must surely be aware that most see this in terms only of a vise of vast extortion rackets run by its functionaries rather than of any sensible insights. And it claim that its councilors represent public opinion on planned development, but surely must be aware that most see them otherwise in the current state of democracy where politics is about corrupt control and favours (not ethical representation or responsibility), thrives in chaotic (not planned) development and, so, abets it in self-interest.6

  • 1. 2002-09-14: ‘MCD should’ve a seat in talks on Masterplan’, Express Newsline,
  • 2. Slum relocation policy review sought
    By Our Staff Reporter

    NEW DELHI SEPT. 3. The Municipal Commissioner, Rakesh Mehta, today called for a cost-benefit analysis and review of the existing policy of relocating slums in the Capital besides scrapping the distinctive character of the Slum Department of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

    After a visit to Bhalswa Jahangirpuri Phase-I in North Delhi, where about 4,000 slum families have been relocated from various parts of the Capital in the past few years, he said crores of rupees were being spent on slum relocation annually but hardly a few thousand clusters were rehabilitated and the people still remained unsatisfied. (Retrieved 20th August, 2013)

  • 3. ‘ New policy on Tehbazari’, The Hindu 
    By Our Staff Reporter

    NEW DELHI SEPT. 15. Doing away with "licensing-raj system of Tehbazari'' in the city, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has decided to introduce the registration system wherein their number would be determined by market forces.

    The new policy on Tehbazari is in tune with the desire expressed by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, in a letter dated August 23, 2001, to the Delhi Lieutenant-Governor, Vijai Kapoor, in which he had said "it is time that the licensing system is reformed'' so that the hawkers belonging to the poorest sections are able to pursue their modest livelihoods without extortion. (Retrieved 20th August, 2013)

  • 4. ‘MCD ready for reforms’, The Hindu 
    By Lalit K. Jha

    NEW DELHI SEPT. 15. A series of civic governance reforms are being unleashed in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi over the next few weeks that will change the face of the MCD. The reforms would also be considered a milestone in making the civic body a transparent and people-friendly organisation.

    On top on the agenda is decentralisation of power to the Zonal Deputy Commissioners. By giving them more financial and administrative powers, it is being ensured that petty and routine matters are not referred to Town Hall, the MCD headquarters, which is right now being done resulting in delay of projects and work. (Retrieved 20th August, 2013)

  • 5. 2002-09-16: ‘Encroachment of public land hampers traffic’, Times of India,
  • 6. Some recent reportage about the role of our councilors in relation to planned development:
    • Hawkers: 2002-09-10: ‘Cong MLA shouts slogans against Mayor’, Hindustan Times (; ‘Cong. infighting intensifies’, The Hindu. ( Councillor, MLA rain charges on Mayor Panwar ', Express Newsline; ‘(Party councilor and MLA “upset because none of their nominees had got [hawking licenses]” “took to the streets alleging that Mayor …and her family have removed 200 license-bearing hawkers to bring in people who have paid her a hefty amount” and that MCD “at the behest of the Mayor was indulging in selective removal of encroachments”)
    • Misuse / violations: 2002-09-05: ‘ Local MCD staff used to bribe Sharda Jain’, Hindustan Times (A councilor “named some municipal officials, including some junior engineers, who had been bribing her regularly” and “also disclosed that a majority of the councillors were bribed by MCD officials in their wards. Those in the building department were particularly culpable"). 2002-06-24: 'Illegal construction boom, courtesy councillors', The Hindu (“a large number of instances have come to light where newly elected local Councillors are said to be abetting [illegal and unauthorised construction] in total contravention of the rules …ably supported by some officials in promoting the interests of the land and building mafia in the Capital).
    • Slums: 2002-06-07: ‘Tainted’ officer gets nod for another term’, Hindustan Times (“In an unprecedented move the municipal councillors cutting across party lines have passed a resolution to re-appoint Additional Commissioner Slum and JJ department” who “has been holding on to the post …for the past 18” and is to retore on June 30. “A criminal case of misappropriation of funds and cheating is also pending against him …for which he got bail in January 15 this year). 2002-06-11: ‘Councilors queer pitch for control of slum department ‘, Express Newsline (“Everybody wants a slice of the Slum and JJ Department cake… its budget at Rs 700 crore is higher than any of the other MCD departments… such was [the Additional Commissioner’s] clout that he was re-appointed to the same post by a resolution passed by councillors last week. They all wanted him to continue. …There is the element of risk that the department might get a man with integrity whom councillors will find hard to manipulate”).