Urbanisation: On the border between chaos and order

Urbanisation: On the border between chaos and order

There are too many cooks spoiling the urban planning broth! Yet, the chaos is only becoming worse. The reasons for proliferation of planning agencies are not difficult to see. Everyone wants a finger in the pie. The ‘pie’, after all, is worth several thousands of crores of rupees. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) came up with a requirement of Rs 22,000 crore, for JN-NURM projects in Namma Bengaluru, to fix the chaos in traffic, slums, water supply, sanitation, etc. BMLTA staked a claim for Rs 49,000 crore, to fix the City’s traffic problems.

Governments strive to tag high-profile personality names to their programmes to gain publicity mileage and mute possible opposition. These personalities are ostensibly enlisted for their ‘expertise’. It is difficult to comprehend, how even successful technocrat-business persons in IT/BT/Medicine could be endowed with expertise in city planning. Such inconsistencies do not deter the politicos from roping them in. These personalities too, do not mind lending their names or dabbling in city planning. It keeps them in the limelight. These arrangements do not last. As the Bard has said, “The old order changeth, giving place to new”. A previous government had BATF. The present dispensation has a newer ‘avatar’, in ABIDe. These fanciful bodies are in addition to regular government planning organisations, like BDA, BMRDA, KUIDFC, KIADB, etc.

BDA was established in 1976, since the then government found that organisations, responsible for planning city infrastructure needs, had “overlapping functions, creating avoidable confusion”. A single authority was necessary to eliminate the confusion. The objective of setting up this single authority was to check “haphazard and irregular growth”. Since BDA was set up during the Emergency, the need for “speedy implementation of Indira Gandhi’s 20-point programme” was thoughtfully added to its objectives! BDA had other uses. It could acquire land, a power it repeatedly used, ostensibly for setting up residential layouts. BDA did not prevent commercialisation of these residential areas and thus aided speculation and profiteering. The bonus to politicians and bureaucrats from BDA was the facility of ‘gifting’, sites in layouts, to themselves and their cronies. While the ‘aam aadmi’ had to wait for his turn at the site allotment lottery, these worthies could pick and choose BDA sites from the chief minister’s quota.

As the City continued its chaotic growth, BMRDA was established in 1985, since there was “no proper coordination among local bodies like BDA, BWSSB, KSRTC, KEB, KSCB, BCC, etc”. Thus, when BDA failed to coordinate, another super coordinator was set up to coordinate between the coordinator and the coordinated! BMRDA was to fulfil the “urgent need to set up the ‘authority’ in view of the growing problems of unplanned development, housing, water supply, transport, etc”. No one questioned why BDA failed.  BMRDA also failed. No one questioned this either.

The IT business trickle into the City became a flood. Politicians, bureaucrats and building mafia connived to hype the haphazard growth, as the making of the IT capital of India! Instead of preventing unplanned growth, BDA and BMRDA produced Master Plans. The ‘plans’ were zoning regulations. A French company was paid Rs 28 crore for this! The ‘plans’ merely fed the speculative frenzy caused by the demand for office and residential space. Governments continued to encourage the flow of IT business investments. When this uncontrolled flood of businesses into the confined space of this City resulted in chaos, the response was to build flyovers and magic boxes. It is astonishing how governments and ‘IT visionaries’ failed to foresee the problems that would result from the influx of these businesses into the City. Rather than invest for growth of the state, the City’s urban sprawl was encouraged. BMP became BBMP.

ABIDe’s creation is another attempt at use of public figures for political ends. ABIDe too is trying to fix symptoms with gimmicks, not addressing root causes. An example is ABIDe’s suggestion for a directly elected mayor. What would such a mayor do where BDA and BMRDA — with the chief minister, as its chairperson, failed? Instead of reducing private transport, the attempt is to invest in technology and cut trees to move traffic faster!

A solution

The root cause for urban chaos is congestion. Congestion results from many establishments vying for limited City space. The solution lies in decongesting the City and ‘re-greening’ the damaged parts. The solution is to:
1) Move businesses out of the City, especially those in residential areas. Provide incentives for them.
2) Develop towns by providing infrastructure, power, water, sanitation, roads, communications, etc.
3) Avoid developing satellite townships. These would continue to congest the City and draw on its civic resources.
4) Generate employment in other towns and villages.
5) Use local town planners and engineers instead of high-profile personalities, foreign consultants and the like.
6) Wind up BDA and BMRDA. Set up the MPC, mandated by the Constitution.
7) Bring back Urban Land Ceiling to prevent profiteering in land.
More planners would get us nowhere. What is required is identification of root causes, tackling these and fixing responsibility and penalties for failure to deliver.

(The writer is secretary, Citizens’ Action Forum)