RMP 2031: masterly inability to think beyond land-use

RMP 2031: masterly inability to think beyond land-use

Recent events in two of India's premier cities, Mumbai and Bengaluru, raise some disturbing questions about the way our cities are planned and managed. On December 28, a major fire at a rooftop bar in Mumbai's Kamala Mills killed 14 people. A few days later, another fire at Maimoon Manzil left four dead and nine injured. This was soon followed by another fire at Cinevista studio, which caused severe damage to property.

In Bengaluru, on January 6, three people choked to death when they were engaged in cleaning a sewage treatment plant; a day later, five people were killed in a fire at Kailash bar in the Kalasipalya area. These are only a few examples of tragedies occurring in cities across the country. Why do such things happen repeatedly? Whenever an incident takes place, people are assured by the authorities that necessary action would be taken to punish the guilty and to prevent its recurrence. And there ends the matter, till the next tragedy. The problem lies much deeper.

We don't seem to learn lessons from the past. Let us look at the way we prepare our city plans. The draft Revised Master Plan (RMP)-2031 for Bengaluru was published in the last week of November, inviting comments from the public. The first master plan or Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), as it was called then, came into force 32 years ago in 1985; the second one (Revised CDP) in 1995; and the third in 2007.

The world has undergone tremendous changes in the last three decades and our own country is being transformed economically, socially, technologically and demographically. Over 400 million people now live in India's towns and cities, and every minute 30 people move from rural to urban areas. Yet, we continue to plan in the same way we did decades ago - the same land use plan, called the Master Plan, with marginal changes.

Speaking at a seminar on urban planning in Bengaluru recently, Union Minister of State for Urban Planning Hardeep Singh Puri said that the master plan approach of Indian cities had been a failure and that there was need for a rethink on the town planning methods we have been following. There was hardly any effort to bring in fresh ideas to the table before preparing the draft RMP. Three scenarios have been presented for a projected population of 15 million, 20 m and 25 m by 2031, but there is lack of in-depth analysis of each of the scenarios.

Matters such as urban sprawl, densities, floor area ratio (FAR), transportation corridors and water supply needed a new approach to meet the future demands of the projected population. Instead, what we find is a conventional approach. On the question of FAR, for instance, the draft RMP has proposed lower FAR in central areas and a higher ratio in the periphery. This is contrary to the practice followed in many well-planned cities across the world and will only result in higher land prices in the city core and densification of the peripheral areas, creating greater pressure on transportation infrastructure.

The fundamental question is, whether we must go on investing on the infrastructure requirements of large cities like Bengaluru at high cost, incentivising further growth of such cities, or find alternative ways of managing urbanisation? A better approach would be to incentivise the shift of population to smaller cities and semi-urban areas.

We must also build new cities, away from the mega cities, instead of investing on new layouts such as Kempe Gowda or Arkavathy layouts and expanding the urban sprawl. The Smart Cities Mission should aim at smart new townships which can spur economic growth and employment, thus helping to decongest the infrastructure networks already stretched to their limits in large metros.

What about water?

The other important issue is how sustainable is the current model of urban growth based on unbridled consumption of resources such as water, energy and land? In the case of water, the RMP has proposed meeting the projected demand of 5,340 million litres per day mostly by diversion of water from reservoirs located at long distances such as Yettinahole, Linganamakki and Hemavathi. Should we allow reckless exploitation of surface and ground water? Shoud we go on using more and more steel and cement to build physical infrastructure, be it roads or buildings?

In Bengaluru, we seem to be in a hurry to lay concrete roads on the ground that they are long lasting, without considering their impact on the environment. Urban buildings account for 40% of energy consumption in cities. Should we continue to encourage more energy-intensive private transportation? How do we address the issues of urban poverty, provision of basic services and safety and security of people? How are we going to respond to the problems of migration, particularly the poor migrant workers?

These are some of the key issues that should have engaged those crafting a new plan for a city bursting at the seams. Instead, what we find is little attention to the essential aspects that define growth of the city as a whole and more to the conventional land-use patterns. There is hardly any sign of innovative thinking in the draft RMP. In these days of disruptive technology, what is perhaps required is some kind of disruptive planning to fix our cities. We are also slow in adopting modern technology, an important lever of change. Being a world technology hub, Bengaluru must take the lead in fashioning a strategy that can integrate forward-looking technologies into the city plan of tomorrow.

The government and BDA will do well to revisit the draft plan and think through some innovative ideas to give shape to a more livable Bengaluru.

(The writer is a former chief secretary, Karnataka)

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