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.


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  2. A timely article, since I was bothered by the below:
    I always feel that infrastructure projects are done way too late, and that somehow these projects need to get ahead of the curve. So, when an underpass was being constructed on one of the roads in Bangalore, I was a bit surprised as there wasn't an immediate need, however could foresee that the junction would become a problem a few years ahead. However, the residents came in full force, stopped the work and the half made underpass was filled in again and status quo prevailed. A year down the line that junction is now starting to become a bottleneck and we are now behind the curve.
    So, though I agree with citizens participation, in our country where everyone has an opinion and think their opinion is the best, we have to tread cautiously!
    In the above case, I think the people felt cheated (maybe?) because they were not at all aware of the plans and suddenly saw the new development. Lack of transparency is the problem.
    A time bound process to provide the "Plan" visibility, get the inputs from the citizens and get the right committee (with the right citizen representatives) to be part of the decision making process will help immensely.
    But easier said than done, I guess!

  3. I believe Mumbai conducted citizen consultations PRIOR to creating their upcoming DP. Is that being done under a different act? Or is it something that they are doing even though it is not mandated?

  4. A very accurate analysis and neat summary of the present scenario, Anagha. Compliments to you !
    I agree with you entirely when you say that we will need a major overhaul of the Development Planning process an that, if systemic changes are not made quickly in the MR&TP Act, 1966, the process will soon become defunct.
    As a matter of fact, this ‘major’ overhaul WAS recommended to the high powered committee of learned Government bureaucrats which was constituted in 2011 by the CM and headed by the Director of Town Planning of Maharashtra State, specifically to ammend and update the 45 year old MR&TP Act. It was suggested that a new chapter be added to the MR&TP Act, applicable exclusively for larger Municipal Corporation towns, which would have a completely different planning process from the present 8-point system you have outlined. Can you imagine WHY it was not accepted ? Because, to quote the Director, “It is too radical a change for the Government to accept” Can you beat that !!
    What was suggested was on the lines of a development planning model which has been adopted and successfully implemented in most ‘civilised’ western countries and, I believe, even in US & Canada : That of DE-CENTRALISATION of Development planning into smaller Local Area Plans – as in Counties or Burroughs in the West – for the Wards or ‘Prabhaags’ in our case.
    The broad concept of the proposal was that, just as you have a citizens representative Mayor and a Bureaucracy representative Commissioner for the entire municipal jurisdiction, you have a citizens representative Corporator and an administration representative Ward Officer at the local Ward level. Why not, then, have a city level STRUCTURE PLAN – which will ONLY define city-level networks and issues of communication, sanitation and major infrastructure projects – but lay down the development POLICY in fair detail for the different wards within the muniicipal jurisdiction ( and its immediate fringe area outskirts – if possible ). This Structure Plan would be prepared in consultation with the citizen who would be called upon to submit their ‘vision’ of their city on paper to formulate the policy document with transparency. The structure plan would be eligible for revision after a 20 years time span, unless an interim review was found vitally necessary after 10 years.
    WITHIN the Policy Framework of the Structure Plan, LOCAL AREA PLANS would be prepared for every Ward. For Planners - both Govt and Private Sector - these would be relatively small areas to survey, analyse and plan in much greater detail and such plans can be prepared in less than one year and revised periodically every 5 years – or less, if the development was very fast in any particular area. Moreover, citizens participation in their local are plans would be more focussed and specific for planners to incorporate and the administration to implement. This system would spur a competition amongst Wards - which could be further incentivised by Awards, Funding & Publicity. The Local Area Plans can even be taken up and implemented like Wardwise Town Planning Schemes.
    I believe ‘citizens participation’ today happens only in 3 categories: 1) NGOs and Alert Citizen groups 2) Those whose properties are directly affected by some proposals, and 3) The political ‘fixers’ and touts who ‘manage’ modifications – for a price. Should however, the system be revised as suggested, one could ENSURE an opinion from EVERY resident of the area as a part of the survey process. Now THAT would be true public participation in the planning process ! Should we promote this concept further ? It is already on record in the MR&TP Act revision committee.

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