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Say no to band-aid approach

A city's planning requires a good understanding of the particular local context, writes AG Krishna Menon.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2006 15:58 IST

A city is a complex organism whose planning and management requires not only a variety of technical and professional expertise, but also a good understanding of the particular local context.

In dynamically transforming countries like India, the situation is further complicated: not only is the local context changing faster than it can be dealt with, but the technical and professional expertise available is often inadequate.

Hence, one finds that attempts at urban planning in India are unable to tackle the unique parameters and consequences of the country's urbanisation.

There have been few efforts to understand the roots of this generic failing.

In the case of the recent demolitions, both the public and the government shared the opinion that the problem was created because the 'rule of law' had been subverted.

Both reflexively hold that a good Master Plan could not be implemented because property owners broke the law in several ways.

To set matters right and resurrect the original visions of the good Master Plan, it became necessary to demolish/seal illegal structures.

This is too facile an explanation and solution to a very complex problem. It is like the US government expecting the Marines to resolve foreign policy.

Sending a strong message to law breakers by insisting on demolition/sealing might temporarily assuage our conscience, but, in actual terms, all it does is put Bandaid on the problem — it does not solve it.

We must understand the complexity of the urban process, particularly under conditions of rapid economic and social transformation in order to develop appropriate tools that address it.

We must initiate a critical examination of 'law' itself, which in the context of urban planning is represented by the Master Plan of Delhi, 1962 (MPD62), updated up to 2001 (MPD-2001).

Given the tenor of public opinion and the mood of the Courts, however, can such critical examination be undertaken without attracting contempt of Court, outrage of the righteous or the opprobrium of condoning illegal construction?

The MPD-62 was a landmark in its time. With the help of foreign consultants brought in by Ford Foundation, the Master Plan recommended a multi-centred pattern of development with clearly demarcated areas for different urban functions - residential, commercial, retail and wholesale activities, parks, industrial, etc, for an estimated population of 5.5 million by 1981. This is termed separate or discrete land use planning.

This pattern of development has no roots in traditional Indian urbanism, which can best be described as mixed land use planning.

In mixed land use conditions, work places and residences are in close proximity. This characteristic can be seen in historic cities like Jaipur and Shahjahanabad and even modern cities like Mumbai, Kolkata.

(The writer is a noted architect and director, TVB School of Habitat Studies.)