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 •  Vol #3, Issue #3, Combat Law
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There are several questions about the nature of "planning" itself. Who makes these plans? Who are they made for? Do the planners take into account actual data from the study of how cities grow? Or do they plan from what they think cities should be like, asks Dunu Roy.

Combat Law, Vol. 3, Issue 3 - When Mumbai Municipal Corporation evicted pavement dwellers in 1981, a journalist came forward to file a public interest petition to protect the rights of the pavement dwellers. After five years in 1986, Olga Tellis case became a landmark judgment that held that the Right to Life included the Right to Livelihood. As livelihood of the poor depends directly on where they live, this was a verdict in favour of pavement dwellers.

In the early 70s the city passed Slum Clearance Act, while the Slum Upgradation Scheme was conceptualised in the 80s, which later became the Slum Redevelopment Scheme of the 90s. But at the turn of the century the very same metropolis used massive force with helicopters and armed police, to evict 73,000 families from the periphery of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. This action was in response to Court orders in another "public interest" petition, but filed this time by the Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG). What the BEAG appeared to be concerned about was the protection of a 28 square kilometer "National" Park, particularly the one-third reserved for "tourism". But no one seemed to be bothered by either the sundry religious Ashrams inside the Park or the proliferating blocks of private apartment houses on its boundary. What, then, was common to the nature of "public interest" espoused by Tellis and the BEAG, and how did the Court view either or both? And were there any radical social changes in the twenty years that intervened between the two?

Urban appraisal

In Chennai city 40% of the population lives in slums - there are 69,000 families who have been identified to be living on government land and they are to be relocated to areas far removed from the city. The areas vacated will be taken over by railway tracks, hotel resorts, commercial and residential complexes, and modern businesses. Much of the "clearance" is being undertaken in the name of "beautification" and tourism.

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 •  Urban services: Too many cooks In Kolkata the Left Front government though claims to be pro-poor also is working on "environmental improvement" projects. Operation Sunshine was launched in 1996 to evict over 50,000 hawkers from the city's main streets. Currently over 7,000 hutments are being forcibly demolished along the sides of stormwater drains and the Metro and Circular rail tracks. Rumors are rife that boats full of tourists will ply on the restored Tolly's Nala. At the same time, lavish commercial and residential complexes are coming up unhindered along the Metropolitan Bye Pass, where the real estate prices rival those in the elite areas of South Calcutta.

Delhi, where sub-standard settlements house as much as 70% of the city's population, leads the way in environmental activism. Not only have vendors, cycle-rickshaws, beggars, shanties, polluting and non-conforming industries, and diesel buses already been "evicted", and recently on the hit-list it is the Yamuna banks inhabitants of 75,000 families who live are being held responsible for the river's pollution.

In 1997 Hyderabad was distributing land titles and housing loans to the urban poor, but during the TDP tenure the state had leased large lands at heavily subsidized rate to business groups, international airports, cinema halls, shopping complexes, hotels, corporate hospitals, and railway tracks. Over 10,000 houses of the "weaker sections" had been demolished to make way for the new face of "Cyber bad".

The city of Bangalore is in keen competition as it upscales to accommodate lounges and pubs, parks and apartment complexes, malls and layouts, "clean" industry and "green" business. Even the Court has begun to intervene in the debate on whether flyovers are superior to underpasses.

In Indore there has been negligible impact of slum upgradation under an award-winning Rs 65 crore Habitat Improvement Project and now the same upgradation was attempted to be scrapped in the name of riverfront development, but this has been averted by civil right groups interventions. And Ahmedabad is not far behind with its "slum upgradation" scheme complementing architecturally bizarre housing blocks.

City planning trends

a) Large sections of the urban poor habitation have been forcefully taken over by every government - regardless of political affiliations. These sections are often the ones who have been employed in informal sector or are self-employed in the tertiary services sector. Their displacement is much to do with the space they live in as with the work that they perform and has been promoted by the bilateral and multilateral funding agencies.

b) The occupational space that they occupied is being transferred into larger private corporate entities such as commercial complexes and residential layouts. These units are also often coupled with labor-replacing devices ranging from automatic tellers and computer-aided machines to vacuum cleaners and home delivery services, thus taking over the work earlier done by the lower rungs of the urban population.

c) While the driving force behind these changes is manifestly the new globalised economy, it is offered on an environmental platter of "cleanliness" and "beautification". This environmental activism, in turn is the bread and butter of those professional "non-government organizations" (NGO) that are taking up the "public cause", as well as the judicial, legislative, administrative, and commercial apparatuses - including a very amenable media - that provide them with legitimacy and political support.

In vicious combination these three trends are changing the urban landscape as "homes" to "estate ownerships" in the name of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation. Concepts of urban planning too are changing in harmony with these trends although, as we shall see later, the seeds were sown long ago as capitalist empire spread its hegemony over the world.

There are at least a dozen judicial orders that have now ordained that slum dwellers have limited rights to what is being euphemistically called "free" shelter. Administrative concern can be assessed by the fact that, on Independence Day in 2001, the former Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee had announced that by 2010 every urban poor family would have houses. Six weeks later, on World Habitat Day, the Union Cabinet cleared the Valmiki Ambedkar Awas Yojana with a munificent grant of Rs 2000 crores for the period of the next Five-Year Plan.

The Union Minister for Urban Development of the NDA government had declared that four lakh houses would be built every year by public sector institutions for the urban poor. However, spread over 5161 towns and cities, and at the rate of Rs 50,000 per house, the number of houses built would average out to 15.5 per urban centre! So the ministry revised the target to 20 lakh houses per year. Real estate developers, on the other hand, estimate that for a family to acquire a one-room kitchen tenament, situated in the distant suburbs of metro cities, would cost a minimum of Rs 2 lakhs. The monthly instalment for a 15-year loan would be Rs. 1860, or roughly 75% of the average monthly income of a slum dweller!

Crucial questions

This raises several questions about the nature of "planning" itself. Who makes these plans? Who are they made for? Do the planners take into account actual data from the study of how cities grow? Or do they plan from what they think cities should be like? Where does reality end, and where does imagination begin? What are the basic theories of urban planning? Do they differ from each other, and how have they changed over time? Is it true that city planners only "plan" cities they do not "make" them? Do cities have their own organic logic of growth, with different interests competing with each other to make the city the way they want it to be for their own survival? Should more planners begin to understand this, so that they will be able to plan for the city as it is actually growing, rather than for an idealised notion of what the city should be? And if planners fail to see this central truth will they eventually end up catering only to the needs of those whose interests are most powerful?

Polemics of urban planning

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) was constituted in 1957 to check the haphazard and unplanned growth of Delhi... "with its sprawling residential colonies, without proper layouts and without the conveniences of life, and to promote and secure the development of Delhi according to plan". For the three years the DDA guided by experts from the Ford Foundation had developed a Master Plan for Delhi for 20 years and this was presented along with maps and charts for unprecedented "public" discussion in 1960. The public debate on this initial document elicited over 600 objections and suggestions from "the public, cooperative house-building societies, associations of industrialists, local bodies, and various Ministries and Departments of the Government of India". An ad-hoc Board was appointed to go into all these objections and it gave its recommendations to the DDA in 1961.

Eventually the Master Plan of Delhi was formally sanctioned in 1962. Predictably, the first concern of this Plan was the growth in the urban population and the planners proposed to restrict it by building a 1.6 km wide green belt around the city and diverting the surplus population to the adjacent "ring towns". It was also decided that the "congested" population of the walled city would be relocated in New Delhi and Civil Lines. At the same time several new industrial and commercial areas were declared for promoting growth. Thus, the DDA saw merit in both earning more revenue through industrial expansion as well as reducing expenses by curbing population increase, without examining the necessary linkage between the two.

City's expansion

But it was in 1971 that it became clear that the city's growth is far beyond the conception of planners. The total number of industries had increased to 26,000 and there was a huge spurt in the squatter and "unauthorized" settlements. So, in a frantic burst of activity to "restore order", the administrative machinery swung into action and from 1975 to 1977 1.5 lakh squatter families were forcibly moved out of the city into resettlement colonies on the periphery. Each family was entitled to a plot of only 25 square yards with common services and 60,000 such plots were demarcated on the low-lying Yamuna flood plain alone. Interestingly enough, all the resettlements were located very near the new industrial and residential areas, presumably designed to provide cheap and docile labour. This labour force was further enlarged by another 10 lakhs in 1982 when the Asian Games overtook the city. Numerous stadiums, shops, roads, hotels, flyovers, offices, apartments, and colonies were constructed to cater to the needs of the Games and the anticipated commercial spillover. The second Ring Road became a magnet for further commercial and residential development. But the city could not cope with this additional burden.

Second Master Plan draft

In 1985, the National Capital Region Board was set up to plan for a balanced growth of extended region around the capital. Also in 1985, the second Master Plan draft was published for comments. However, unlike the first Plan, this one was not summarized or translated into Hindi and Urdu, nor it was distributed publicly. Nevertheless, the draft came in for severe criticism from the government itself as being "conceptually defective" and the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC) was asked to prepare another plan. The DUAC took a close look at the failures of the first Master Plan to detail its own Conceptual Plan. But their plan was also rejected by DDA and there was no public hearing, but the draft was discussed in the select committee. In order to avoid public consultation and parliamentary debate, it was decided that the second plan would only be "precisely a comprehensive revision of the first one".

This revised version identified that major part of the city's problems originated outside and their solutions lay beyond its territory. It too recommended for de-industrialization, maintenance of ecological balance in the Ridge and the Yamuna, decentralisation into districts, and provision of multi-nodal mass transport, with low-rise high-density urbanization. Interestingly enough, it called for a special area status for the walled city as "it cannot be developed on the basis of normal planning policies and controls". In fact the planners did not even understand the implications of what they themselves had done. For example in 1988 during the cholera outbreak 1500 people died in the 44 resettlement colonies they had planned in 1975. It was recognized that the disease had spread through ground water contamination by inadequate sanitation measures in the low-lying areas but an embarrassed administration shied away from being held responsible. Thus, the new plan not only failed in tackling the problems, but also they did not even incorporate their own analysis of failures and weaknesses of past planning into its recommendations.

As the date for yet another Master Plan approaches, this systemic failure of modern planning is evident in the situation as it obtains today. Delhi has spread far beyond the confines of the Outer Ring Road. The original green belt has largely fallen victim to land developers, including the DDA itself. The resettlement colonies and industrial areas, that were once supposed to be at the fringe of the city, have been drawn into its ambit. The ring towns are now contiguous urban sprawls and the arterial roads and national highways are the most congested in the region. Increasing numbers of poor inhabitants continue to live in shantytowns without services. It is presently estimated that around 60% of the population live in sub-standard housing. Rapidly shrinking employment opportunities and crusading environmental activism have made the situation significantly worse for them. While the city gets the Clean City Award from far-off California, it's own citizens grimly face critical inadequacies of work, shelter, civic amenities and governance.

The guidelines for the new plan issued by the Ministry of Urban Development refuse to address these issues. Instead they focus on how to promote private participation and market competition in land, housing, and services; how to protect heritage, encourage tourism, and increase revenues; and how to obey the twin dictates of military order and profitable commerce. The fact is that the planners have not learnt any lessons from past disasters, such as the jaundice and cholera epidemics and the Asian Games. The jubilant and manipulated voices that accompany the announcement of the Yamuna canalisation plans and the gigantic mall on the Ridge and the looming Commonwealth Games testifies to the total bankruptcy and arrogance of the overall city planning process.


The trends visible in almost all cities and towns are very much in accordance with this face of globalised, "free" market, and foreign investor-friendly urban planning. The chorus of "resurgence" may conceal this ugly face for a while or keep it away from the gaze of the byte-hungry media, but the truth speaks through many forms, many eyes, and many pains. As the huge mass of people get evicted and goes hungry, as their children gaze at the remorseless wasteland around them and social balance goes berserk, whose sweat will maintain the behemoth of 8% growth?

The politicians may swear by reforms, the administrators can rail against corruption, the judges be as activist as they come and the glossies swoon over the latest scandals from never-never-land; but somewhere there glows the ember of protest that will ignite to shake empire and all that stand for it. There is a nascent plan in the womb of those "who are living in poverty and destitution, who are barely eking out a miserable existence with their sweat and toil, who are helpless victims of an exploitative society and who do not have easy access to justice".

If today the presiding juridical deities are unwilling to play midwife, then there are other conceptions, other weanings - indeed, other worlds! Because city planners do not make cities, they only imagine them!

Dunu Roy
Combat Law, Volume 3, Issue 3
September-October 2004
(published January 2005 in India Together)

Dunu Roy heads Hazard Centre in New Delhi and has pioneered in forming Sajha Manch.

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