Locals lineup their boats at Assi Ghat at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. (HT archive) Exclusive
Locals lineup their boats at Assi Ghat at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. (HT archive)

Indian cities need river-sensitive master plans

Last week, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) released the draft Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) 2041 for public review. The plan generated a lot of excitement in the media and among the citizens
By Rajiv Ranjan Mishra and Victor R Shinde
PUBLISHED ON JUN 18, 2021 06:28 PM IST

Last week, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) released the draft Master Plan for Delhi (MPD) 2041 for public review. The plan generated a lot of excitement in the media and among the citizens due to two reasons. First, MPD is the Capital’s master plan, and it can work as a template for other cities; and second, it highlights the importance and significance of urban planning in shaping the development trajectory of cities.

A master plan sets out the long-term vision for a city, along with objectives and strategies required to achieve it. Due to the ever-increasing threat of the climate crisis and sustainability concerns, modern master plans have started making the environment an integral part of the planning process. The draft MPD is also an example of this positive trend.

Rivers are one of the critical natural assets of cities. It is essential to understand this and integrate rivers in long-term development plans to ensure the harmonious co-existence of the two.

A few years ago, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) realised that river-sensitive urban planning is important for revitalising and restoring rivers, and also as a means to complement its ongoing infrastructure-oriented activities. It embarked on a joint project with the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) to create an enabling environment for enhancing the river-city interaction more sustainably.

Early into the project, a couple of interesting facets became evident.

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First, managing an “urban stretch” of a river has its unique challenges. This is because while a river needs to be managed as an entire system, a city can only manage what falls within its administrative boundaries. What does it do when the water entering the city is polluted? Or what does it do when there is inadequate flow in the river because of allocation decisions taken by an upstream authority?

To address such challenges, NMCG-NIUA developed a strategic framework (Urban River Management Plan) that requires cities to take actions on a common 10-point agenda. Since all cities are required to follow the same agenda, beneficial actions taken by upstream cities will have a cascading effect on the downstream cities. This way, cities act as interconnected units to achieve a shared vision for the river.

The URMP framework was launched last year, and Kanpur will be the first city to adopt this framework for making a city-specific URMP.

Second, while a master plan is an ideal platform for integrating the river with the city’s development landscape, there are hardly any available master plans that have taken a sustainable approach. To address this, NMCG-NIUA developed a document (Making River-Sensitive Master Plans).

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The document, which aims to help city planners integrate river thinking into master plans, provides seven avenues for planners to tackle different river-related issues in a city. Some of these are conventional challenges related to land use assignment, development control regulations, and norms and standards for activities allowed in flood-plains.

Others have a strategic focus such as localising river-related directions stipulated in national/state policies; and developing sector-specific strategies for specific aspects of river management, such as enhancing the river’s economic potential.

In the last few years, there has been a marked increase in environmental awareness, with more and more citizens adopting environmentally friendly practices. Given that a master plan is a people’s document, the stage is now set for cities to prepare their river-sensitive master plans.

Rajiv Ranjan Mishra is director-general, National Mission for Clean Ganga. Victor R Shinde is senior water management specialist, National Institute of Urban Affairs

The views expressed are personal

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