Where are the ‘smart city’ planners?

Smart cities need a vision. But perhaps more importantly, they need people who are able to draft that and take it to fruition.

Smart cities need a vision. But perhaps more importantly, they need people who are able to draft that and take it to fruition.

On February 28 2017, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) of the Government of India asked states to create a professional municipal workforce and carry out merit-based recruitment of suitably qualified people. It also urged lateral entry of experts and professionals for specific posts and for a specified contract period in their bid to ensure “professionalization of municipal cadre” in the states.

A similar thrust was evident even in the formulation of the implementation policy of the government’s flagship policy initiative – Smart City Mission – A bundle of urban development & renewal projects that also converges with IT & Clean Energy Missions.

On July 4 2016, the MoUD issued an advisory for the engagement of human resources for the Special Purpose Vehicles constituted to execute the mandate of the Smart Cities Mission and on qualifications for hiring key managerial personnel.

A long-standing need

Deliberations on the need to create a dedicated national municipal cadre go back a long way. A 2014 report from the MoUD project on “Developing an Approach and Options for establishment of Municipal Cadre in India” details the continuous evolution of this dialogue.

Other policy initiatives, review committee recommendations & reports that precede the SMART CITY Initiative of the MoUD and elaborates on the need for devolution of power, the rationale for establishing such cadre and their functionality are:

  • The Constitution (74th Amendment) Act, 1992
  • JnNURM –administrative and structural reforms [optional primers – O8 & O9]
  • 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission Report, 2007
  • HPEC Recommendations, 2011
  • Working Group on Capacity Building, 2011
  • 12th Plan Steering Committee on Urbanization, 2012
  • Working Group Report on Urbanization, 2012
  • Draft Advisory Note on Municipal Cadre, 2012

It has been observed during credit ratings of 65 cities under the JnNURM that the top 20 cities happen to be in states with dedicated municipal cadres. The JnNURM Reform Score Card of 2013 also indicates that states with municipal cadre appear in the top 5 among 31 states & UTs, while the others are lagging behind.

Based on the different functions allocated to ULBs under the 12th schedule in the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, the “Draft Advisory Note on Municipal Cadre, 2012” suggests grouping of the human resource requirements such that they may satisfy all the functional requirements.

This calls for creation of state-wide municipal cadres in every state, consisting broadly of three Functional Groups, each of which would consist of more than one service as mentioned below:

  1. Municipal Administrative Service
  • Municipal Executive Service
  • Municipal Social development Service
  • Municipal Staff Service
  1. Municipal Technical Service
  • Municipal Engineering Service
  • Municipal Sanitation Service
  • Urban Planning & Transportation service
  • Municipal Fire Service
  • Municipal E Governance Service
  1. Municipal Finance Service
  • Municipal Accounts Service
  • Municipal Revenue & Financial Service

Managers for the Indian Smart City

In the context of establishment and operation of the upcoming Smart City Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) — to be created for implementation of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) in urban infrastructure development — the Municipal Technical Services (MTS) group would play a major role in conceptualization of the vision and mission, as well as the operational objectives of all projects – Greenfield, Brownfield & retrofit.

Municipal Technical Services (MTS) would constitute the city’s in-house design development team. The future operations, maintenance and asset renewal activities would also be the responsibility of this group.

In its 2005 circular, “Adherence to National Building Code (NBC) specifications necessary for lending Institutions,” the Reserve Bank of India mandates the existence of an in-house team within organizations (ULBs & Smart City SPVs) executing infrastructure and housing projects with debt/ funds from commercial banks and financial institutions.

The composition of infrastructure design development management team and their statutory qualification is also detailed in the National Building Code 2005 (2016 is under publication).

The existence of an experience and qualified MTS team is going to give assurance to the private partner as well as the future infrastructure/real estate investment trusts about compliance of the project with statutory requirements and the potential of returns.

The need of the hour

While the rationale for a professional municipal cadre has been thus established, the realities in India reveal glaring gaps.

Planners in India become a member of the Institution of Town Planners India (ITPI) after passing out of different planning institutes in India. The profession of urban planning has not evolved as a guild in India, unlike the Council of Architecture, a guild that got concurrence of the Indian parliament.

Planners in private sector jobs and practices play a negligible role in urban infrastructure project development and management. Most states, with the exception of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, do not even have an active cadre of planning professionals with fixed tenure in their urban local bodies.

Even the five exceptional states have cadres in urban development (including planners), but inadequate professionals. Coincidentally these states have forged ahead because of modern and progressive initiatives like BRTS, e-governance, IT applications for service delivery, public disclosure, grievance-handling mechanism, citizen-centric inclusive planning and PPP projects.

The National Building Code (NBC) 2005 states that any project developed on more than five acres of land needs to be designed and developed by a multi-disciplinary team including a Town/Urban planner. NBC 2005 also defined the desired qualification of such planner and their roles and responsibility in the urban/rural real estate projects.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines of 2005 require all projects with domestic debt funding to comply with the requirements of NBC 2005. Therefore, compliance with RBI guidelines itself will improve the involvement of planners in real-estate projects.

But if we look at the composition of current project development teams in the public as well as private sector, there is a negligible presence of planners. Today planners and planning bodies need to assert themselves.

Thereafter, there must be a guild of planners in each city, certified to interpret the rules and regulations controlling the city’s development. These planners, with a different level of competency or experience, will be the most suited to check the compliance of the project in a responsible manner.

But can we expect a policy framework or a likely shift in the prevailing educational paradigm that will help to create a league of such professionals? In the concluding part of this article, we will look at some recently reported government initiatives and their implications for human resources for our cities in general.


  1. anirban choudhury says:

    Sidelining planners makes for poorer urban policy, and future generations will pay the price


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