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Planning for Urban Development in IndiaIsher Judge Ahluwalia1

1IntroductionThe achievement of rapid growth that is both inclusive and sustainable, presents formidablechallenges for urban planning in India. New cities will have to be built and additional spacesgenerated within existing cities and their peripheries so as to facilitate and accommodate rapidurbanisation. Since systems of urban planning practiced in India have not been in sync with theprocesses of economic growth, they will need to be revitalized to address the challenges ofstructural transformation of the economy with rising share of non-agricultural sectors in GDP,relocation of people and resources from rural to urban areas, and the associated increase inurbanisation. This paper presents a review of the major aspects of urban planning in India. Itmakes a case for an integrated approach recognising the interplay of factors which have abearing on the urban condition for better living as well as better environment for economicgrowth, which should be inclusive and sustainable. It focuses on reorientation of urban planningto address the challenges of existing cities and emerging towns, which are likely to be veryimportant in India’s current stage of development.Section 2 presents a brief overview of the present approach to urban planning in India. Section 3discusses the importance of design in urban planning with special emphasis on the role of FSI(Floor Space Index). Section 4 presents an integrated approach to the planning of transportationand land use. Section 5 highlights the challenges of inclusion of low-income households inplanning for urban development, and Section 6 concludes.I would like to thank Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Vidyadhar Phatak, Bimal Patel, Chetan Vaidya and OmMathur for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Our special thanks to Kanak Tiwari for veryhelpful and detailed comments on the paper and to Tanushree Bhan for very able research assistance.2

2The Approach to Urban Planning in IndiaThe current urban planning regime in India is rooted in the Town and Country Planning Act ofthe United Kingdom of 1947, and is primarily focused on detailed land use zoning. This practicewas followed by many developed as well as developing countries, but for some years now, therehas been a move away from rigid Master Plans in many countries, including the UnitedKingdom. Cities all over are now exploring more flexible ways to accommodate changes in landuse and density patterns over time. The earlier approaches treating urban transportation as theconsequence of land use planning are being given up in favour of simultaneous determination ofpolicy, recognising the two way relationship between land use planning and transportation.These changes are especially important for India in its current phase of structural transformation.A Master Plan in India typically covers a time horizon of about 20 years, presenting a road mapfrom the present state of the city to its ideal end-state with spatial details in the terminal year. InDelhi and Mumbai, it has taken over 10 years to complete the preparation of the Master Plans.1The process begins with the projection of population of an urban area and an estimate of anaverage household size, which together with income levels of different household categories,determine the demand for residential space. The requirements of industry, office, and retailspaces are based on projections of the economic prospects for the cities; the transport patternsfollow from the land use pattern and the space requirement for transportation is typically aresidual. The space needs for conservation of natural resources and protection of built heritageare also determined residually, unmindful of considerations of sustainability or contextualnuances.The principal flaw of the master planning approach in India has been that it has not allowed forthe play of market forces in determining the scale and location of economic activity and build inthese elements through flexibility in the approach to urban planning. Master Plans have notincorporated financial planning particularly, since instruments of unlocking land value can be1Mumbai probably holds the record of 17 years, exhausting two thirds of the Master Plan period in its preparation.The Delhi Master Plan 2021 started in the late 1990s as an extensive modification of the earlier 2001 Plan but cameinto force only in 2007.3

used as a major source for financing the development of urban infrastructure. The Plans havealso come in for a lot of criticism because either they have not been well-conceived to begin withand have not explicitly and consciously incorporated inclusion of economically weaker sectionsof society in planning for space, or they were finalized in a top down fashion with littleconsultation with stakeholders, or once finalized, they have been applied too rigidly whenchanging circumstances called for flexibility.2 A command and control approach toimplementing Master Plans was combined with compulsory land acquisition for enforcing theintended land use.The principal instruments of urban planning such as a progressive land policy, functional landuse and zoning regulations, policies of urban design and renewal, and transport and otherinfrastructure, have worked in India in isolation and sometimes in opposing directions albeitunwittingly, so as to come in the way of an integrated approach to planning. Also, with theirstringent land use and density norms, the Master Plans in India are the only ones in the worldwith uniform or quasi uniform FSI and no allowance for differences between residential andcommercial areas.Being restricted to physical planning of a city and its immediate periphery, Master Plans have notbeen able to pay attention to the challenges of metropolitan and regional planning. MetropolitanPlanning Committees and District Planning Committees which were proposed way back in 1992,have been formed in some states but they have not forged links with city planning authorities orbeen effective as regional planning agencies. Even in Maharashtra where formal statutoryregional plans were adopted as a framework for city level master plans as early as in 1966, largescale unauthorized development in peri-urban areas demonstrate that the master plans wereunable to anticipate demand and consequently plan for services where demand for land was high.The Plans have mostly neglected the requirements of low income households for living spaces aswell as workplaces, perhaps because of a normative approach rather than an approach based onaffordable consumption of floor space by low income groups.2In its application, the Master Planning approach has varied across the states of India4

Heavy dependence on public acquisition of land has been a major feature of India’s urbanplanning. Land owned and/or acquired by the state, which is then developed for urban use withpublic funds or private, provides an opportunity to speculators to appropriate the value generatedin the process of development. With public acquisition of land becoming politically verycontentious and serious conflicts emerging between farmers, private developers andgovernments’ Development Authorities, it is extremely important to develop a workable andtransparent framework to guide the development of land in urban areas. The Right to FairCompensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013tried to address these issues. However, the issue has been reopened by the newly electedgovernment in India and legislative resolution is awaited.Indian cities have been greatly hampered by the lack of a properly functioning land market,based on clear property rights, ease in transacting the purchase or sale of land, effectiveenforcement of contracts to buy and sell developed properties, and transparent rules andregulations for redeveloping land and/or property. As a result, market transactions in land andproperty in India are highly opaque. As changes in land use are notified or FSI regulations aremade in a piece-meal fashion without a clear spatial policy framework, or astransportinfrastructure is put in place, these changes enhance land values. This becomes a breedingground for speculation and corruption through insider trading.Land markets are also distorted by legislations in respect of urban land ceiling and rent control,and these have led to large areas in central cities being withheld from coming into the market forredevelopment.3 The Urban Land Ceiling & Regulation Act (ULCRA) of 1976 with its controlson landholding, made it impossible to develop large contiguous areas in a planned fashion. Moststates have now abolished this Act, but the repeal was prospective and all cases already in courtcontinue to be governed by the earlier Act. While 25,000 acres of land is estimated to have beenfreed by the repeal, only about 10,000 acres are in developable zones, i.e., in other than forestlands or coastal areas.43The presence of outdated rent control legislations in many states also dampened the incentives of landowners tobuild low income housing for rental purposes.4For an analysis of the impact of land use regulation on urban growth and affordable housing in Indian cities, seeSridhar (2010).5

Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) made it mandatory for cities toprepare a City Development Plan (CDP) and make their demands for specific projects against thebackdrop of the CDP. But the hastily prepared CDPs for JNNURM were typically reduced to alist of projects for the city instead of a strategy document. For urban planning to work, Districtand Metropolitan Development Plans as well as CDPs will have to become legal as well asspatial documents, and CDPs will have to be integrated with master plans and/or developmentplans as well as financial plans.An important challenge for urban planning is of capacity both at the local government level toenvision and prepare a city development plan, a master plan and a financial plan, and at the levelof the state government to provide legislative and administrative support and an enablingenvironment for facilitating the process of planning at local and regional level. This requiressetting up and strengthening municipal cadres in the states which provide the basis for trainingand building human resource capability. Information Technology is playing an important role inurban planning through the use of GIS, remote sensing, GPS, geo-informatics, etc. The scope forinnovation has to be expanded by building the necessary infrastructure and also human resourcecapabilities at the local government level. There is need to focus on business process reengineering to realise the potential of IT for better planning and governance.3Role of flexible FSI in Urban Design and PlanningUrban design is the discipline that forms the interface among multiple disciplines related toplanning of cities including architecture, engineering, transport, and environmental planning.There is increasing recognition that density and design both play an important role in shapingcities. Singapore is well known for its ‘smart’ densification with limited land at its disposal. Anumber of studies have shown that design intervention through planning leads to anenhancement of economic and social value of a city.5 However, urban design has been an area ofdarkness in India’s Master Plans.5The Value of Urban Design by CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and DETR(Department of Environment Transport and Regions), London6

Demand for urban land is essentially a demand for floor space. FSI (total permissible built-uparea divided by plot area), sometimes referred to as FAR (Floor Area Ratio) is an instrument forregulating as well as enhancing urban form especially for high activity nodes and areas withproximity to high frequency intra-city public transit systems. The higher the FSI, the more thefloor area available that can be built on a plot of land. But higher FSI requires higherconcentration of infrastructure investments in some places. It does not increase the population ofa city, but concentrates the population in a smaller area.Urban planning regulations in most countries prescribe differential FSIs within a city with veryhigh FSI around the central business district which is the node of agglomeration, moderatelyhigh FSI around sub-centres, and very low FSI in areas further away.6 Thus, in cities across theworld, FSI ranges from 5 to 15 in central business districts and 0.5 or less in the suburbs.Admittedly, efficient mass transit systems play an important role in making this work. Forexample, in Seoul, FSI of 10 in central business district and 8 in sub-centres is supported by itshighly used mass rapid transit network. In Hong Kong and Bangkok, the FSIs in central businessdistricts of 9 and 8, respectively, are several times higher than in their suburbs. It is worth notingthat historical cities around which new development has taken place, adopt FSI strategies whichfocus on heritage conservation. They adapt their development controls and building regulationsto assist in the regeneration of the area and in preserving its historicity. Since there are manycities in India with abundance of built heritage and historic inner cores, this aspect is importantwhen considering modification of FSIs within such cities.Average FSIs in Indian cities are low by any standards. While Mumbai is an extreme example oflow FSI, the permissible limit being 1.33 for the island city and 1 for suburban areas (withadditional 0.33 as incentive on fulfilling certain conditions), other metropolitan cities of Indiaalso allow only relatively low FSIs. For example, Chennai allows FSI of 1.5, and Delhi permitsFSI in the range of 1.2 to 3.5. In designing new FSI values for Mumbai, for example, Bertaudcalls for identifying high accessibility nodes and designing a spatial land use strategy based oncurre