Ashwin Mahesh is an urban expert.

Why don’t our authorities learn from their mistakes?

Published Jan 22, 2017, 2:54 am IST
Updated Jan 22, 2017, 7:15 am IST
The steps taken so far are highly unconstitutional. BDA has not followed any of the statutory processes for developing a plan as per law.
Drafts of the city map at the BDA’s public consultation of its Revised Master Plan 2031
 Drafts of the city map at the BDA’s public consultation of its Revised Master Plan 2031

Wherever the Bangalore Development Authority shows its Master Plan to the public, there are strong objections to it. People point out that it is flawed in many ways.

For one, it is undemocratic, having been developed with no input whatsoever from the people of the city. It is almost as if the Master Plan is being shown to us after every detail of it is done and dusted, and even this superficial consultation is only to comply with the legal requirements and cannot be called a genuine effort to understand what the citizens of Bengaluru want.

 

Secondly, the proposed plan is ill-conceived. Somehow, BDA and its consultants have come up with the notion that the existing 1320 square kilometers within the BDA's jurisdiction should support twice the population we now have — a rise from 11 million to nearly 23 million.

As it is, many have pointed out that the region cannot sustainably support more than 7 million residents, but BDA now wants to stress this region further, rather than look for ways to distribute the new growth more widely.

Third, the steps taken so far are highly unconstitutional. BDA has not followed any of the statutory processes for developing a plan as per law. The Metropolitan Planning Committee, which is the right body to carry out the plan, has been totally bypassed. And the historical error in trying to decide what the land use in different places should be without any understanding of the sectoral needs - for transport, energy, health and so on - is simply being repeated.

Frankly, the whole plan is just wishful, given how little of its last plan BDA was able to implement. No lessons have been learned from previous failures, and no effort has been made to change how we plan the city. Almost certainly, this plan too will collapse - keep in mind that compliance with the last Master Plan, developed in the same way as this one, was less than 10%. This too will be largely ignored by the public, and by BDA itself, judging by the past.

A lot of people have pointed out to the government that BDA doesn't have any clue what needs to be done. The people that it has put in charge of planning the city cannot even be presented outside its premises as planners. It is by virtue of their position that they pretend to know what is going on, but in fact they will reliably produce total disasters, and in the process embarrass the government repeatedly (the steel flyover, for example). Even the Chief Minister agreed with this assessment of the BDA, when it was pointed out to him.

That being the case, why do we still do it this way? The answer is quite simple. There is a political economy around land in the city. And that economy depends strongly on secrecy in planning, and on protecting the vested interests of a few people rather than what is good for the city. Only when that changes can we have a real Master Plan. And when that happens, the 'master' of that plan will be the people of the city, as they should be.

The writer is an urban expert

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