Planning power to other civic bodies will be an obstacle to MPC

The long-awaited Metropolitan Planning Committee draft notification is out. What does this lack? Here's an opinion.

For many years now, civil society has waged a long fight to get a proper Planning body instituted for Bangalore and other large cities. This is not only essential in order to coordinate different development activities in all sectors, but also required by the Constitution. Now, in responding to a PIL by C N Kumar, the government has put out the draft notification to create this body.

Purely institutionally, it is a victory for all of us. JNNURM was supposed to get this done, but that was dodged by packing the Mission with pliable appointments and state governments that cooperated in the dodge. Now, the correct legal step seems imminent.

Nonetheless, there are several things wrong with this notification, not only from the point of view of citizens but also elected representatives in local bodies. BBMP and the other municipal bodies must take an interest and make sure this notification is done properly, in a way that empowers local bodies and citizens, rather than merely imposing the will of the State government on the planning body for the metropolitan region.

What needs to be added?

I have put together a few points briefly here, and will write a fuller version of this to the government expressing my displeasure with this notification. I encourage many others also to take up the matter, and send their own inputs before the 22 November. (If you like, you can copy and use my text).

(a) The MPC is meant to be a ‘regional’ planning body for the ‘metropolitan’ region. Therefore the correct Secretariat for this region should be the BMRDA, whose jurisdiction spans the entire region, rather than the BDA, whose jurisdiction is only slightly larger than the BBMP itself.

(b) The idea of the MPC is that it is a statutory planning body independent of the state government, but as per this notification the CM would make himself the Chairman. That is undesirable. Will he also be the Chairman for the Mysore MPC, the Hubli-Dharwad one, and the Mangalore one? Chief Ministers tend to be wary of new power centres emerging, and planning – especially ‘land use’ planning – is something they like to control. The CM needs to overcome this, and create an MPC that is free to operate with its mandate.

(c) The MPC could have more expert members, and fewer officials. This is especially needed because the officials tend to get transferred around, and never able to build up the necessary expertise to be of value to a permanent MPC.

(d) The State government has effectively given itself veto powers by saying it can direct this body in any manner it sees fit from time to time. That is simply dubious.

(e) The final notification, when it is published, must be effective immediately, not at some unspecified later date.

(f) There is no provision for proper inclusion of citizens in the planning process. ‘Planning’ is not a sarkari process. Indeed, all the evidence so far points to the opposite – that a purely sarkari process has been responsible for very poor outcomes, since it is not subject to either peer review or accountability to citizens. The plan must be imagined as something that is partly constructed bottom-up too, not just top-down.

(g) It is not clear whether the planning powers of BWSSB, BMTC, BMRCL and others has been abolished. That needs to happen, to make the MPC the ‘home’ of planning in the region. If those para-statals are allowed to continue with their independent plans of action, the MPC will be stillborn.

If this much is done, the MPC has a chance to genuinely alter the direction of urban development in the state, and set a national trend. Without that, a watered-down MPC that exists in name only will surely have to be revisited one day in the future, by a more public-spirited government.

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