Citizen Participation in Planning the City
A very significant paradigm shift is required in India if Citizen Participation is going to be a meaningful exercise in urban planning! And why not? After all, the city is for the people and they are the major stakeholders in expressing and planning for what they want from their neighborhoods. This movement of involving citizens in key and traditionally governed areas like Urban Planning saw a basic shift in western countries in the 1980s and gained strength in the 1990s. Starting from sharing of information to seeking opinion, then stakeholder participation to citizen empowerment has been a journey that has shifted the way city planning happens. Here the mayor and the elected representatives actually play a very key role in giving voice to the citizens, their concerns and opinions.
However, for Indian cities to see this shift, we will need a major overhaul of the Development Planning process. In Maharashtra, the urban planning is governed by the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MR&TP) Act of 1966. If the systemic changes are not made quickly and supportive to citizen participation, we will see more and more resentment and roadblocks by citizens (through the NGOs and the political leaders) to the urban planning process. Further, this will always trigger political opportunism as well and fuel public sentiment towards gaining political motives.
The Development Plan process outlined by the MR&TP Act, 1966 today, to put simplistically, is as follows:
1. The Local authority publishes an Intent to prepare a Development Plan for a city
2. A Team of Planners (that needs revision of qualifications, as it currently doesn't require any architects) is established as a Planning Cell within the local body
3. An Existing Landuse Plan is prepared through extensive surveys
4. Other surveys such as socio-economic, population projections, transport etc are undertaken
5. A Proposed Draft Development Plan is prepared for the city
6. The Draft Plan is published for Suggestions & Objections by the citizens
7. Suggestions & Objections are heard by a Planning Committee appointed by the State Government
8. A Final Development Plan is prepared, published and taken up for implementation
If you see the broad process, it essentially gives very little time, effort and importance to citizen participation. It essentially assumes that only the Planning team has complete understanding and expertise of the urban planning requirements and hence they plan in almost utmost secrecy and non transparent manner. By the time the Draft Plan is put out to the citizens, the administration has already spent months (in case of Pune, years) in making this Plan and is in no mood to look at revising planning approaches or making large directional changes in the Plan. So essentially, the citizens are just asked to give in minor suggestions (preferably, not objections) if anything particularly adverse is happening to their individual property that is causing economic hardship. At best, this kind of Citizen Participation can be called as Tokenism. There is evidently no more role that is expected from the citizens by the local planning authority and this is where I see a major conflict happening.
Pune has been a city that leads 'change' movements. As people become more aware, have more access to information and can express their opinions undeterred, there is citizen empowerment. If governmental processes do not change to positively include this citizen empowerment, we will always end up in a situation where there is extreme mistrust, political opportunism and resentment at being excluded from major decisions that are going to affect the lives of citizens.
The Development Plan fiasco that we just experienced in Pune, in my opinion, is because of:
1. High citizen empowerment in Pune
2. Lack of transparency, and procedures & processes to tap into this citizen empowerment
3. Public resentment and mistrust in the government due to Point no. 2
4. Political opportunism, that stems from public resentment
5. Knee jerk reaction from the local authority that further fuels Point no. 3
What this will lead into is an inconsequential Development Plan that will be difficult to implement and one that will face opposition during its tenure. In this too, unfortunately, Pune will lead other cities in making a mess of an already unplanned urban growth scenario.
The government is the leader! It cannot and should not wait for any further indication. It should treat the Pune DP case as an example of what will continue to happen in other cities and make immediate and effective changes to include more citizens into their processes and procedures. The MR&TP Act needs amendments not to reduce peoples' power but increase it for positive and empowered Citizen Participation.
Reiterating where I began, we, the government, needs a radical paradigm shift in planning the urban sector if we are to see a golden age for cities in India.