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Covid norms to shape Delhi’s next Master Plan

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByRisha Chitlangia
Jun 04, 2020 11:26 PM IST

DDA has asked the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), which has been tasked to draft MPD-2041, to incorporate post-Covid norms while planning for housing, mobility and public spaces in the next master plan.

Covid-19 norms, including social distancing and better preparedness to tackle pandemics, will be among the key focus areas of the Capital’s next master plan (Master Plan of Delhi-2041) — a blueprint for city’s urban development — prepared by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), according to two people familiar with the matter.

DDA has asked the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), which has been tasked to draft MPD-2041, to incorporate post-Covid norms while planning for housing, mobility and public spaces in the next master plan. It has also asked NIUA to factor in pandemics and new kind of threats while reworking the city’s disaster management strategy, the people said.

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A meeting in this regard was held a few days ago between DDA and NIUA officials, said a senior DDA official involved in the master plan preparation who asked not to be named. “The issues that were discussed included incorporating Covid norms in future planning,” he said.

Until last year, air pollution topped the focus areas for MPD-2041. However, after the breakout of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), DDA officials said the current challenge also has to be considered while making the master plan. “The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live; social distancing and protective gear are the new normal now. Now we will have to rethink about the future development in Delhi keeping in mind the post-Covid norms and the emerging situation,” said the DDA official cited above.

Delhi reported 1,513 infections on Wednesday -- the maximum in a day so far -- with the total cases reaching 23,645. With nine more succumbing to the disease in the past 24 hours, the toll was 606, according to the Delhi government’s bulletin.

NIUA, which has to submit the draft of MPD-2041 by December, is currently in the process to finalise the chapters of MPD-2041, which will govern city’s urban planning for the next two decades.

“DDA has asked us to review the MPD-2041 preparation incorporating lessons emerging from Covid-19 situation. We have to take into account post-Covid social norms in public spaces, mobility, workplaces and housing while laying out guidelines for city planning,” NIUA director Hitesh Vaidya said.

Urban development experts say that housing, commercial spaces, environment, transport or mobility, disaster management, including pandemics, are some of key areas that need to be re-examined in view of the new challenges posed by the Covid pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on disaster management strategy in the master plan, which was largely about earthquakes and floods so far. “Based on the learnings from Covid-19, we should also look into disaster management strategy for Delhi and include this new threat. Till now, the focus has been only on flood and earthquakes,” Vaidya said.

In the past two decades, Delhi has witnessed outbreaks of diseases such as dengue, H1N1 (another pandemic in 2010) and now Covid-19. However, the current master plan is silent on pandemics. With Sars-CoV-2 virus bringing parts of the world to a halt, experts say the master plan of big cities should have a chapter on pandemic resilience.

“Every city should have a plan to deal with pandemics, we can’t be caught unawares. The master plan should also focus on benchmarking health infrastructure,” said R Srinivas, senior town and country planner, Town and Country Planning Organisation -- an urban planning body under the ministry of housing and urban affairs.

Health care infrastructure has to be an integral part of planning, said Dr Jugal Kishore, head of community medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, adding that Delhi doesn’t have good secondary level health facilities. “There are dispensaries and then tertiary care centres. There has to be a secondary level of health care facilities that can take the load off tertiary centres. Currently, there is uneven distribution of hospitals. Areas such as Dwarka and Najafgarh don’t have a single big government hospital whereas there are two tertiary care centres in South Delhi—Safdarjung and AIIMS. Similarly, Lok Nayak and GB Pant hospitals are located in close vicinity in central Delhi. The master plan should focus on even distribution of healthcare centres,” said Dr Kishore.

Urban planning experts also said that housing, especially for poor, public spaces, and mobility are some of the areas, which will have to be re-imagined while factoring in the realities of the post-Covid world.

Slums clusters and densely populated residential neighbourhoods have emerged as hot spots for Covid-19 in the city. At a time when the Centre and the state governments focus on housing for all, they point out that there is also the need to review housing for poor.

“While planning for housing, we will have to ensure density management so that it doesn’t lead to crowding, as social distancing has become essential now,” Srinivas said.

AK Jain, a former planning commissioner at DDA, said it is also time to focus on Transit Oriented Development (TOD), which is mentioned in the MPD-2021 but hasn’t been implemented, and to increase mixed land use developments. “Work from home has to be encouraged, especially now. There is a need to push for mixed land use developments were 50% of the space is reserved for commercial activity. The main focus of the MPD should be to ensure that a sizeable population can walk or cycle to work. Focus should be on planned densification,” said Jain.

Anuj Malhotra, mobility expert and knowledge partner to the high-powered committee of the Union ministry of home affairs, said TOD has become extremely relevant in the post-Covid scenario because it addresses both mobility and housing concerns. “Planned mixed-use development near Metro stations will automatically reduce the number of trips or the need for travel, since it will bring residential and commercial developments in close proximity…TOD is the way forward,” said Malhotra.

DDA officials agreed that fixing mobility would be a challenge.

The restriction on the number of passengers in buses and other public transport modes to ensure social distancing, transport experts say, provides an excellent opportunity to address the problem of crowding in public transport in one stroke.

“Though these are testing times, it is an opportunity to address the issue of crowding in public transport—one of the main reasons why people avoid using it…. We should ensure that the travelling in public transport remain convenient even after things return to normal. This can be done by prioritising public transport lane so that buses can cover more kilometers. Also infrastructure should be built in such a manner that it takes load off public transport by making it easier and safer to cycle or walk,,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, transport at the Centre for Science and Environment.

The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) director Dr Randeep Guleria said, “The impact pandemics can have on economy and livelihood has become more evident now. Healthcare infrastructure has to be integrated with city planning for better and effective management during pandemics. There is a need to have dedicated setup for outbreak management centres in cities which in normal times can work as regular hospitals.”

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