Madness over method

Last Updated 28 September 2013, 19:10 IST

Spreading its growth tentacles with unregulated rush, Bangalore continues its explosive expansion. But even in this brazenly unplanned push, the city precariously holds on to the fig leaf of a Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), a so-called guidebook to the future.

As the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) gets busy with its Revised Master Plan - 2035, voices across the City seek a far more integrated approach to urban planning, a process that goes beyond a mere land-use document to a vision that is sustainable, workable and flexible.

That cannot happen in a jiffy. The existing CDP-2015 could neither foresee nor prevent the traffic-triggered madness on the streets, the chaos on poorly planned layouts, or the blatant commercialisation of purely residential areas. As Bangalore’s population galloped, growing by over 45 per cent during 2001-11, the BDA-prepared plan clearly lost touch with reality. Clueless about the city’s unceasing urban sprawl, the Authority now finds it tough even to form new layouts.

Urban architects and policy experts are convinced that the city leaders have failed to articulate a structured, long-term planning vision for Bangalore. “There is a total lack of planning process. The last reasonably successful layouts formed by BDA were OMBR and HSR. The Arkavathy Layout is completely lost. The politicians have their own vested interest to keep BDA/ BBMP emasculated,” observes one of them.

For the record, BDA has shortlisted the agency that will be tasked with the preparation of the Revised Master Plan in two years. But implementation of the Revised Master Plan-2035, when ready, would be an entirely different ball game. Urban policy thinktanks emphasise that unless a strong political head exclusively for the city, such as a directly-elected Mayor, takes control, the new plan too will meet the same fate as its predecessors.

No powerful city-head

Today, in the absence of a powerful head for the City, Bangaloreans rely on the Chief Minister who already has his hands full. “It is unfair to burden him with the problems of the City. There has to be some other arrangement. But there is no willingness among the political class to let go of their powerful grip of the City. They want to milk the maximum out of the State’s richest region,” observes V. Ravichandar, an urban policy strategist.

So, is there no immediate escape from this vicious cycle? Ravichandar points to the Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA) constituted by the Government in 1985 to tide over the city’s burgeoning problems. BMRDA, he says, should become more powerful, and be the lone planning agency. Echoing a widely held view, he also suggests that the BDA should morph into a Bangalore Infrastructure Development Agency (BIDA).

The BMRDA boundary could be a start, to create a State Capital Region (SCR), which looks at the economic development of the entire region and not the core city alone, suggests urban architect, Naresh Narasimhan. He is for articulating a vision for Bangalore which is inclusive, one that takes into account even the poor and the oppressed. An inclusive plan of action had also to talk about affordable housing, pedestrianisation, dedicated power units for the city, mobility, waste management, water and acknowledge mixed use patterns.

But for this to happen, the current planning scenario has to change. Naresh is brutally frank when he says, “The City is not planned by town planners or urban designers. It is planned by a cabal of contractors working in league with bureaucrats and politicians, transport planners, road and infrastructure contractors, to foist unnecessary projects as a way to make money. It is time the citizens take control of their city and demand a more transparent process.” Planning, he says, should start from the neighbourhood upwards and not the ring road.

An outdated idea

There are many who believe the idea of a Master Plan itself is outdated. Instead, a three-step process for a better Bangalore is being talked about. This includes a 25-year vision, a strategic plan for five years, and a tactical plan every year. The strategic and tactical plans are reviewed every years to see if they are consistent with the longer vision. Flexibility is thus, built-in.

Urban planning, says Dr. A Ravindra from the Centre for Sustainable Development, should be integrated with the independent agendas of all agencies within the City. So, if the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has a plan, it has to find its place in the CDP. If the traffic deparment envisions a network of roads to refashion its management, that has to reflect in the BDA’s scheme of things. Sadly, this integration is still an unheard of concept.

Bangalore has had its heydays of good planning. The original layouts of Chamarajpet, Basavanagudi and Malleswaram, worked out by the Dewans of the Mysore Maharajahs, have remarkably stood the test of time. There is still a semblance of order, clear demarcation of residential and commerical zones, wide roads, open spaces and provisions for civic amenities. But after Jayanagar and Shantinagar -- the earliest layouts formed after Independence -- , this balance slowly started falling apart.

Planning history

The first real comprehensive approach to guide Bangalore’s growth in an integrated manner was the City Improvement Trust Board (CITB) constituted in 1945. CITB was instrumental in creating the Indiranagar, RMV Extension and Palace Orchards. Then came the city’s big industrialisation, an unprecedented growth in population. To cope with this, the State Government set up a committee in 1952 to draft a Devel­opment Plan that would come up with broad land use proposals. But since there was no legal backing, the proposals fell ap­art.

Eventually, the Bangalore Metropolitan Planning Board emerged to prepare a Master Plan for the metropolitan region called the Development Plan (ODP). This plan, adopted under the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act and approved in 1972, was the first step towards a CDP for Bangalore. The ODP was for a period of 15 years (1961-76). Under this plan which covered 500 sq. kms of Bangalore, 220 sq.kms were identified for compact development and designated the Conurbation Area. The remaining 280 sq.kms was called the Green Belt.

But by 1984, ODP was out-dated. The city had gone beyond the Conurbation Area, encroaching into the Green Belt. Since a new CDP was not formulated in time to replace the ODP, large scale unauthorised development became the norm, according to an analysis by the Centre for Policy Research.

In 1976, the Government set up BDA to integrate the functions of the CITB and the Bangalore City Planning Authority. Thus, BDA became an agency to prepare plans, enforce and implement them. In effect, it was tasked with the critical roles of both development and planning.

It took eight years for BDA to prepare the first CDP and get it approved by the State. Under this CDP (1986-2001), the planning area of Bangalore expanded from 500 sq.kms to 1,279 sq.kms. In 2007, after the formation of the BBMP, the State notified the BDA– Revised Master Plan (RMP) 2015 for a Local Planning Area that consists of 387 villages, seven City Municipal Councils (CMC) and one Town Municipal Council (TMC).

(Published 28 September 2013, 19:10 IST)

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