An informal citizen meeting explored the possibilities of a proactive engagement with planning/governance of Bengaluru, in view of preparation of revised master plan for the city.
With the kick off of the year 2017, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) put up a 35-page brochure  highlighting its plans for preparation for Revised Master Plan 2031 of Bengaluru city. The brochure is divided into 10 parts, including legal provisions, population projections, rationalization of jurisdictions of planning district and transport sectors, water and waste water, solid waste management, and power supply projections. As per the revision process of the Master Plan, the Revised Master Plan 2031 is the fourth revision following those made in 1984, 1995, and 2007.
Citizens of Bangalore are confronted with plans on the future of their city that has been prepared by a handful of people; by consultants guided almost entirely by the visions of senior bureaucrats. On its website, the BDA does not explain how it came up with these plans, save to mention that they were prepared by a Dutch Consultant. Perhaps as an afterthought, it has hurriedly called for some zonal level public consultations, with a day or two prior notice, and not surprisingly has invited the wrath of public.
The public not being given adequate time to think about the Master Plan and formulate their responses, is how BDA has worked in the past too: it has foisted on the public what they have formulated. The result of such opaque and undemocratic planning is there for all to see, and all over Bengaluru, and the ill-effects are spilling all over the hinterland. Now owing to widespread public pressure to ensure plans are prepared in a participatory manner, BDA officials have deferred to hold some consultations, but experiences in these “hearings” suggest that it has largely been a ritual exercise.
Participants in the meeting discussed how the visions for the city put out by BDA, and also certain specific projects that are promoted, towards preparing the Master Plan 2031, are all based on inadequate data. They also portray an utter lack of understanding of the demands of the city. From some of the presentations made by the consultants to a small and informal gathering, it has become evident that several project ideas are formulated as an outcome of conjecture, and opinions expressed by consulting Government representatives, typically senior bureaucrats. Given the massive scales of contending with the demands of this ever-expanding metropolis, it seems critical that the present process of planning must be affected with a deliberate and direct citizen engagement initiative. For this is in every practical way the last chance to fix a city that is already teetering on the edge of collapse.
Some concerns highlighted about the master planning process in the meeting included, weak or no appreciation of the importance of protecting farming and horticultural practices around the city and of protecting ecologically sensitive and wildlife corridor zones; of ensuring the city accommodates the needs of the poor and working classes first and foremost; of revisiting old and new neighbourhoods to ensure their basic quality of life is improved – water, air, noise, and open space demands accessible to all; of ensuring that the right to walk and cycle is universally applicable city wide, rather than the prevailing fetish of building infrastructure for private cars; of considering the importance of protecting the entrepreneurial zeal of the city, but without attacking the fundamental rights of traditional livelihoods – street vendors, for instance; of integrating transport networks to accommodate work, living, education, recreation and health needs; of visiting a city from the point of environmental limits, such as water; of imagining the city as an inclusive space, not one where class divides are encouraged. Such values need to be articulated in formulating the city visioning process, it was argued.
The discussion also focused on questioning the legality of the current Master Plan visioning process. With previous master plans of Bengaluru, there has been little appreciation and conformance with statutory and constitutional mandates. When challenged, courts have demonstrated weak interest in directing planning bodies to evolve Master Plans with a nuanced appreciation of people's choices as is required by the Karnataka Town and Country Planning Act, 1961. It is a rare exception that the 2010 ruling of then Karnataka Chief Justice Khehar and Justice Bopanna held that in the case of Bangalore Metro (WP 13241/2009) violation of KTCP Act provisions, particularly those relating to conceptual and scheme development and budget and plan making of cities, must be in accordance with Sec 26~31 of the Act; else officers would be held accountable under Contempt of Court.
Disregarding this direction, the RMP 2031 is now being prepared in unseemly haste. The fact that Karnataka High Court recently approved the controversial Akrama Sakrama scheme needs to be taken into account. But this was stayed by the Supreme Court. In an overall sense, the trend is of judges not to take a careful view of the nuanced approaches needed in developing plans for urban areas, particularly Metros. This implies that rushing to Court for relief is not an option, and much ground work and public opinion building would need to be done to build a groundswell of support for people centred and participatory planning exercise in Bengaluru.
The 74th Constitutional Amendment - Nagarpalika Act, aims at enabling urban local bodies to perform as vibrant democratic units of self-government and also endows on them plan making responsibilities. Cognisant of the fact that urban centres do not grow keeping in mind their municipal or development authority jurisdictions, the Nagarpalika Act envisaged the importance of regional planning exercises, and through a democratic process, and thus set up the District/Metropolitan Planning Committees, which were to work representatively in formulating city plans.
The BDA's very existence does not conform to the aim and vision of 74thConstitutional Amendment. The BDA is being employed by the State to subvert the constitutional mechanisms and promote urbanisation that merely incentivises reckless urban growth, without in any manner evaluating past failures and successes, and really without any vision; this is evident in the RMP 2031 'vision' as well. The question remains if BDA can at all remain a planning body when the role is cast upon the Metropolitan Planning Committee. To focus all attention on getting the MPC to take over the planning functions would also run the risk of promoting an un-democratic and centralised process, as the Nagarpalika Act envisages a role for Ward Committees to be involved and be integral to such evolution of plans, not only its implementation.
If the BDA Act, 1976 is challenged on grounds of legality, it may be possible to secure appropriate relief, only if the Courts are sensitive to the criticality of Nagarpalika provisions in shaping urban futures. Would judges be ready to scrap the BDA Act, 1976 as un-constitutional, or would they issue a writ to the Karnataka State government to bring appropriate changes into he BDA Act and bring it in conformity with a the 74th Constitution Amendment Act and visions?
Overall it was agreed that the ongoing exercise by BDA and its consultants in evolving the Bangalore Master Plan 2031 is based on a very opaque process, and is unconstitutional.
Formulating people's vision for the city
The following actions were found to be necessary going forward
- Collect information on how the current vision documents have been prepared
- Collect information on how the allocation of responsibilities of the consultants was determined, the cost invested, efforts undertaken in developing plans, and if this is in conformance with applicable laws and judgments.
- Work in neighbourhoods and in ward levels to build discussions towards demanding a constitutionally appropriate and people centred vision for Bangalore and also land use plan. It was clearly articulated that no further should there be any encouragement or engagement with elite bodies who thrust their views on the wide public.
- Based on such activities that would be engaged with by a coalition of groups, networks and individuals, it was decided to hold a two-day seminar to evolve a Peoples Vision of Bangalore. It was suggested to hold this in the end of February, or early March, and in a way that would be extremely inclusive, celebratory of creative discussions (film, exhibitions, theatre, etc.), and also towards formulation of an overarching framework for planning the futures of Bengaluru. This process would welcome active participation of all sectors, all movements, all associations, and most particularly all elected representatives and agencies of the State and civic administration involved in shaping the futures of Bangalore and also in managing the metropolis.
The meeting concluded with palpable enthusiasm decided to take forward the initiative by meeting again soon in working out the details for the actions proposed.
Minutes prepared by:
Harsh Vardhan Bhati, Legal Research Associate, ESG, and Ishaan Kamal, Intern, ESG.