*Date:15/07/2006* *URL:
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 * Participatory city planning is vital *

 What the city needs is a synthesis of expert-driven plan with citizen drawn
plan, writes Bharath Jairaj

  Photo: K.V. Srinivasan.

* A BIRD'S EYE VIEW: The cityscape of Chennai. *

 City Planning is a fairly complex process since it must be conceptualised
in several different `contexts' including its planning area, climate,
geography, and so on. City planning also seeks to marry quantitative
elements with the qualitative elements of city life. Like most Indian
cities, Chennai city adopted a centralised `top-down' planning process as
provided for in the Town and Country Planning statute. Chennai city
developed its First Master Plan in 1975 to guide and determine city
development. Since City Master Plans are dynamic processes and not
`products', they are reviewed every five years and modified to adapt to the
changing contours of a city.

However, no review was ever carried out in Chennai and the city grew in all
directions. In 1995, nearly 20 years after the First Master Plan was
developed, the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) brought out
a Draft Second Master Plan (SMP). The CMDA later argued that they were
engaged in collecting background data and studies on urban growth in Chennai
from 1988-1995, and this data formed the basis for the Draft SMP.

Chennai residents were provided 60 days to scrutinise comment and respond to
the proposed master plan. The CMDA had copies of the Draft SMP available at
Rs.1,000/- per copy and Detailed Development Plans (at the ward /
neighbourhood level) at a further cost of Rs.500 per Detailed Plan.
Interestingly, Detailed Plans were only available for less than 1/5th of the
city, and so interested persons were forced to limit their scrutiny and
comments to the larger macro plan for the city. The draft SMP was also
printed in English only and the CMDA did not organise any public meetings or
hearings to discuss the document.

This lacuna was debated and discussed by various organisations. It
wasoverwhelminglyfelt that the proposed master plan lacked simplicity. . The
plan did not carry mechanism to encourage or evaluate public reaction and
participation. .

Around the same time, there were a series of articles in Chennai newspapers
pointing out inadequacies in process and content of the Draft SMP. A Public
Interest Litigation was filed by CAG asking the Madras High Court to direct
the CMDA to (i) provide more time to study and evaluation of the document
and (ii) separately reach out into the general citizenry and seek inputs on
the Draft SMP. The Madras High Court accepted CAG's arguments and stayed the
notification of Draft SMP. This stay order continued till 2001, when the PIL
was eventually dismissed.

Much of this could be avoided if the top-down planning process was given up
and instead avenues for participation were opened.

In late 2005, the CMDA began discussing about a new Master Plan they were
working on. However, this document is said to still be in the draft stage
and the CMDA has not yet shared its details. Meanwhile, Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission
(JNNURM) on December 3, 2005. At the launch, the Prime Minister observed
that: "Our vision of urban development has so far been unidimensional. This
must change. We have thus far focused more on space and less on people. We
need to have an integrated framework, in which spatial development of cities
goes hand-in-hand with improvement in the quality of living of ordinary
people living there."

The JNNURM promises to inter alia ensure that all cities will establish
citywide frameworks for planning and governance. The Government of India is
committed to providing large financial assistance to such cities that reform
their planning and governance to carry out construction of infrastructure
projects important to the city.

One of the first requirements for cities to do in order to be eligible for
JNNURM funds is to develop a City Development Plan (CDP) - a broad vision
document that lays down the larger aspirations of the city. The JNNURM also
envisages the development of a Community Participation law and an
Information Disclosure law - as part of a larger agenda for urban governance
reform. However, much to our disappointment, the CMDA has developed and
submitted the Chennai City CDP in April 2006 without any public knowledge
and in an almost clandestine manner. The Chennai Plan is currently "under
appraisal" at the Ministry of Urban Affairs, Government of India. What
concerns is that citizens of Chennai are unaware as to what kind of vision
the CDP has proposed? How does the new vision address issues like building
violation, public transport and public participation. It would be worth
reminding that in 2000 CMDA declared that 50 per cent of Chennai buildings
were unauthorised and initiated the regularisation scheme. The Supreme Court
came down severely on CMDA on this and found it as an administrative
failure, regulatory inefficiency and callousness.

 Alternative approach

 It is important that the Government in Tamil Nadu encourage CMDA to adopt
an effective alternative approach to city planning. What the city needs is
to synthesise the `expert-driven' plan with a city plan that adopts a micro
approach, which is drawn up by citizens. Citizens are today more informed
about the benefits of good governance process - improved transparency,
participatory decision making and strong accountability processes.

The author works with CAG, Chennai.

     * *

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