Bengaluru, sans a city plan

IN PERSPECTIVE

As of 2019, the city of Bengaluru is supporting an estimated population of 1.3 crore. The city’s provisional (Draft) Revised Master Plan (RMP), 2031 projects a population of 20 million for 2031. So how does the city, its administration and its citizens prepare for these numbers?

The draft RMP sought to lay out a blueprint with this precise objective. Amid severe criticism from the public, the plan has been in abeyance.

Media reports on the cancellation of the first phase tender for the controversial elevated corridor and the introduction of dedicated bus lanes in 12 high-density corridors by November 1 signal the government’s intention to lend an ear to citizens’ demand and resolve pressing challenges in the city.

If seen through, both these are merit-worthy although their reactionary nature cannot be ruled out. Steering Bengaluru’s growth and development proactively continues to be the need of the hour. An appropriate and effective planning exercise, and by extension, the plan itself — RMP 2031 — can address this need.

The draft RMP 2031 is not devoid of civil society and judicial activism. The draft was opened for public comments and suggestions in November, 2017 for three months. The government received 13,000-odd comments, a dismal number for a city of 13 million that prides itself of heightened awareness.

In addition, there is a case in the Karnataka High Court questioning the legalities of drafting the RMP 2031 on the premise that as per the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992, the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC), and not the BDA, should prepare the plan. The suggestions were scrutinised through a government-appointed six-member committee and were shared to assist plan finalisation.

The RMP 2031 (to replace the RMP 2015) is delayed by four years. In its absence, the RMP 2015 continues to act as the blueprint for the city. The choice between a weak and faulty RMP 2031 and an outdated RMP 2015 is akin to a choice between the frying pan and the fire.

The need for a revised updated planning tool cannot be overstated. Suffice to say that the RMP 2031 in its current avatar does not serve the purpose. Yet, the work so far has led to, at the minimum, an updated i) collation and analysis of data sets that were otherwise siloed within state departments; ii) mapping of the city; iii) demographic analysis; iv) an integrated analysis of traffic and transport and land-use planning seeking to prioritise mobility; v) a first time heritage listing in the city, to mention a few. In sum, the base data and some fundamental analyses exist, although, very soon, it will be outdated.

Reportedly, public money to the tune of Rs 10 crore has been spent on the work done so far. The new government must ensure that the city has a viable plan, one that finds agreement with the numerous stakeholders in the city.

Given the baseline data and the need to end the impasse, the government should commit itself to short and longterm action. Suggestions for the short-term action include:

1)Formulating a relevant and appropriate vision for the city supported by a development strategy;

2) A proposed land-use map that flows from the vision and the supporting strategy;

3) Zonal regulations that support the vision and the proposed land use normatively, are practical and easy to implement; and,

4)Most critically, laying down plan implementation and monitoring frameworks as most plans fail on this dimension. 

Initiate a notification

In parallel, as long-term action, the government must initiate a notification of the MPC at the metropolitan region level (8,000 odd sq km comprising of several municipalities and panchayats) as against the current notification at the metropolitan area level (1,200 odd sq km comprising of Bengaluru and several panchayats), integrate the Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority (UMTA, discussed in the Draft Bengaluru Transit Oriented Development policy) and equip the BBMP to take on the planning functions for the city.

In doing so, it will respect the spirit of the 74th CAA, 1992 which mandates that the MPC provide a framework for the RMP 2031 (and not prepare the RMP 2031 as argued in the writ petition) and the BBMP prepare the RMP 2031 through its ward committees as a bottom-up process.

The preparation of the RMP 2031 was outsourced to a consortium of consultants. Clearly, the delivery has failed for various reasons. A possible corrective measure would require the government to set up a steering committee (comprising of trained planners /urbanists) and a team of consultants to draft a forward-looking plan.

Together, the committee and the consultant should institute a process involving dialogue and negotiations among stakeholders seeking an actionable consensus.

The time is ripe with the new government showing a keen interest, the transit-oriented development (TOD) policy awaiting finalisation and the ward committees getting into action. The Bangalore Metropolitan Region Structure Plan, 2031 provides the statutory guidance framework.

(The writer is a practicing urban and regional planner and a visiting faculty at the NLSIU, Bengaluru)

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