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The Smart Cities Mission aims to address the gap in city-wide basic infrastructure; additionally, it applies IT enabled solutions to city services and does a make-over of ‘Areas’ in cities. In the Smart City local areas are developed in three ways – retrofitting, redevelopment and Greenfield. In retrofitting, existing Areas are upgraded in order to make them more liveable; Areas are completely overhauled in redevelopment by completely replacing the existing built environment with a new layout and built environment; and Greenfield development occurs on the outskirts of cities, where most population growth is happening. This infrastructure up gradation requires a corresponding planning response, which is missing due to the rigid, static Master Planning prevalent in Indian cities.
Historically, the cornerstone of India’s urban planning regime has been the Master Plan. The origin of the Master Plan can be traced to a 1947 British legislation, and nearly all the Town & Country Planning laws of Indian States are largely based on this piece of legislation. The Master Plans primarily segregate areas into different categories, such as residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc. and around 2700 cities have created Master Plans of this kind.
Master Planning based on conventional principles has led to a static built environment, which is largely disconnected from the rapidly changing socio-economic conditions in the urban areas of India. In order to get over this disconnect, State Governments have to resort to frequent land use changes and building regularization schemes to legalize buildings/uses in contravention of existing Master Plans. Such frequent amendments in land uses/building regulations, even though justified, have several unintended deleterious consequences. Some of them are – encouraging frequent violations of regulations, opening up opportunities for rent seeking, making advance infrastructure planning impossible, requiring expensive retrofits and redevelopment programs, leading to revenue shortfalls for cash-strapped urban local bodies and preventing innovation in building designs by architects and home owners.
We need to move beyond rigid, static, land use-based Master Plans and adopt a planning process, which is more dynamic and responsive to the needs of the people. Instead of freezing plans for 10 or 20 years, there should be mechanisms providing for the periodic review of plans. An inflexible urban planning system which is ostensibly based on rationalistic and scientific criteria, and therefore “apolitical”, is also prone to be more exclusionary.
One way to make Master Plans supplement the area-based strategies of the Indian Smart Cities is to make them flexible by, say, generating Local Area Plans (LAP). The way forward is to dovetail LAP with these three strategies of Smart Cities. The LAP will enable cities to meet increasing needs of built-up space of an ever increasing urban population by either peripheral urban expansion or exploring possibilities of redevelopment in existing cities by replacement of existing low-rise development by high-rise development with higher densities and simultaneous infrastructure up-gradation.
(Author is a civil servant and views are personal)