The Revised Master Plan (RMP 2031) was a golden opportunity to take a long-term view of what’s needed to fix Bengaluru and suggest a robust, implementable road map to get there. The report card could well read B for effort, D for results. Firstly, a look at where it fairs well. The RMP team did build a good spatial dataset and their internal maps of building footprints and estimated areas was impressive. They have done considerable data collection through surveys, extensive transport modelling, population projections and analysis. The results are very good for heritage conservation (a first for a master plan), good on ecological considerations and above average on mobility solutions. There is little else to cheer.
A master plan needs a simple overarching vision, a clear set of guiding principles and a sound implementation framework. This RMP has loads of English but not a core vision for the future. Just embracing liveability and relentlessly pursuing it for every class of citizen through the plan would have got us better outcomes. For instance, decades ago, Singapore’s water bodies were worse than what we have in our ‘white’ Bellandur today. A single line vision of ‘one day a human being will swim in our lakes’ and taking every related decision taken against whether it helps that goal got Singapore the unpolluted lakes of today. Similarly, wanting to move people efficiently instead of vehicles led to them having a mobility ‘czar’ institution called the Singapore Land Transport Authority that governed and delivered on every aspect of movement. This RMP does not bat for a new UMTA, a badly needed alphabet soup for mobility.
On guiding principle, a basic one to adopt would be ‘infrastructure provisioning to precede building permissions’. We tend to draw imaginary lines in our maps that has alphabet soups like PRR or promises of road widening (a bad idea incidentally) and the water board says we will give you water when available and voila we have buildings mushrooming all over another alphabet soup, the BMA. One wishes this report had set out a simple measure of the last RMP 2015 — how much of the new roads activity mentioned there materialised or the extent of violation of residential to commercial? Regarding implementation frameworks, the response of RMP 2031 is to set up another committee. While such committees are okay for some coordination across agencies, unless government agencies are mandated to follow the plan with dire consequences if they don’t, all the English in the RMP 2031 is of no avail. One does not foresee this document guiding any serious action in say BMRCL, BMTC, BWSSB, BESCOM and the many other alphabet soup agencies that operate in silos.Statutorily, the RMP 2031 determines land use (those coloured plots) and zonal regulations (the rules governing the plot). There are population projections made and a desire that the chosen differential strategy will result in just two crores population by 2031 - one can only hope the incoming population reads the RMP 2031 and realises that the place is full up vis-a-vis the quota set out and stays away! The harsh reality is that Bengaluru has a certain carrying capacity and plans must be made around that reality — so you plan policies, give incentives, impose penalties to get the desired outcome of liveability with sustainability. Here we have taken a view that growth will be in the outer corridor of Zone B with high Floor Area Ratio, which has the weakest infrastructure, including access to mass transit. And the plan hopes we will go to 70% modal share for public transport from 45% today, while shrinking FAR in Zone A and very limited Transit Oriented Development in areas that have the maximum Metro rail investment.
The Existing Land Use (ELU) and Proposed Land Use (PLU) are riddled with inconsistencies. There are many cartographic errors in the map in terms of missing streets. It would be safe to say that over 2000 streets are missing, and citizens must take the effort to rectify it. It would help if these maps were put up online in GIS format with an underlying Google map for easy search. Residents have been complaining about commercialisation of residential areas. The response of RMP 2031 is to colour the blue plots yellow, resulting in a 35% decrease in commercial area on paper. The ground reality though is unlikely to change and will only result in more rent seeking behaviour.
It is appropriate that they have adopted the NGT buffer zones covering nearly 10% of the area. That is the law as it stands. But we need to address the issue of how to compensate private property owners in these zones who legitimately built their structures when the law was different. The RMP could have suggested that subject matter experts, academicians could study the buffer zone and give more scientific guidelines based on vulnerability of areas and how the buffer zones should be treated to serve the ecological purpose. Those could be adopted with NGT concurrence.
The vision statement has a ‘governance’ mention but RMP 2031 has not bothered to draw from reports done by other Government committees like the BBMP Restructuring Committee which has made suggestions on MPC, Municipalisation, Governance and Administration structures from wards to city and regional scale (Disclosure - I am a member). Maybe its based on their realisation that Committees don’t work, although they bank on the RMP Implementation Committee to make their plan happen! There is mention of sustainable redevelopment but no mention of the detailed community impact and consent issues that are mainstreamed as processes in cities like Mumbai.
Cities across the world are moving to dynamic, strategic spatial plans with loads of innovative approaches to improve liveability. We unfortunately are stuck in a past relic called the Master Plan which is static, archaic and still relies on land use and zonal regulations as the only instruments for planning. We had a chance to be visionary and break the mould. We have chosen a pedantic, statistician’s route in RMP 2031. Our collective loss.