India is ranked low in the ‘ease of doing business’ list of countries and one of the areas where there have been historical hurdles has been providing building plan approvals.
Delays are common for setting up any business, be it through locally funded investment or via the foreign direct investment (FDI) route. On top of it, there are issues related to lack of clarity on policy and guidelines. Even individuals constructing their houses face delays and have to run from pillar to post to get approvals. If India has to attract global investments, if ‘Make in India’ has to happen and if we have to reform, perform and transform, then we need to overhaul our municipal architecture and systems in order to make life easy for stakeholders.
The Model Building Byelaws, recently released by the Ministry of Urban Development for adoption in the entire country is a small step towards achieving this larger overarching goal. It provides a fundamental framework to help create objective, rational and updated provisions for building construction as also an online single-window building plan approval process.
The objective would help reduce, if not completely eliminate, people-to-people interaction between the applicant and the urban local bodies through online approvals of various kinds of no-objection certificates. In addition to achieving speed, the other aim is the updation of building byelaws in terms of contemporary urban trends and make them more inclusive and user friendly.
The time limit for approvals proposed in the model regulations is a maximum of 30 days, failing which the plan would be deemed to be approved. Builders would not require any separate environmental clearance or permission as urban local bodies (ULBs) have been given power to monitor the environmental concerns in their regions. Further, the byelaws provide for three categories of buildings — 5,000 to 20,000 sq m; 20,000 to 50,000 sq m; 50,000 to 1,50,000 sq m. Based on their built up area, different set of environmental conditions are provided for each category. In addition, they also provide for mandatory rain water harvesting, apart from provisions for solar roof-top power generation.
In order to reduce urban risks and have graded provisions, a risk-based matrix for different types of buildings has been introduced so that small buildings with low- risk criteria get faster approvals whereas the high-risk buildings such as malls, multi-storied and big complexes are examined in detail.
Further, provisions for fire safety, structural safety, earthquake and natural disaster safety have also been incorporated. Provisions for the elderly, physically challenged and children have also found place in the Model Building Byelaws.
While the provisions are indeed updated and developed through a methodology of consultations with professionals across the country, the crux of the issue is that these in themselves are not binding on the state governments. Building regulation in India is a state subject and therefore, states have to adopt these in their respective statutes. They are also free to make some changes to suit local situations and this may even be a desirable thing to do. Therefore, the key to implementation of these Model Building Bye laws lies with the state governments. Further, the actual ground implementation has to be done by the urban local bodies which enjoy substantial autonomy as per the 74th Constitution Amendment Act of 1992. Therefore, there is an urgent need to create awareness across the country about the need for states and local bodies to update their building byelaws.
In their own interest of development of their respective states, the state governments need to see the embedded benefits of improving the building permit systems in the towns and cities in their respective states as that would only help in attracting more investments, more employment opportunities and prosperity.
Further, the advantage of having a similar, if not same, system of building byelaws in all the states also helps in improving the ‘ease of doing business’. Therefore, an awareness campaign is necessary to educate the states and municipalities on the benefits of adopting the Model Building Byelaws.
In this regard, the urban development ministry has decided to hold workshops to discuss these model byelaws with various states for adoption and implementation.
Regulation by law is necessary. However, in order to ensure that people abide by the laws, penal provisions alone are not sufficient. One of the ways to ensure compliance is incentivisation. Urban local bodies in various states have the freedom to provide incentives to individuals for rain water harvesting and roof top solar power generation by various mechanisms, including discounts and rebate in property tax. These measures will go a long way in ensuring that greater compliance is achieved.
While provisions in the Model Building Byelaws may be laudable, the ground implementation has to be radically improved. Strict enforcement and the fear of the law is absent in most urban areas. As a result, while the plan approvals cleared by way of complying with the building byelaws, during actual construction, people tend to invariably deviate and even violate. Many go further to construct buildings without permissions and in complete violation.
Most Indian cities have around 20 to 30 per cent of unauthorised colonisation in which all the buildings are constructed in complete violation of the laws. Further, in urban villages, engulfed within the urban milieu, building byelaws are seldom enforced. So is the case in the inner/old city area. Therefore, the key to success is to frame byelaws specific to areas. This is one weak area in the Model Building Byelaws.
However, there local bodies can suitably develop and include clauses to suit such special needs for specific parts of the city.
Even so, the key still remains at the level of enforcement. Local bodies need to evolve systems and mechanisms to ensure byelaws are enforced and there is total compliance and violators need to be punished. Unfortunately, municipal politics and local power play often comes in the way of taking harsh measures and that is one of the key reasons for Indian cities and towns to have a haphazard urban landscape. The way forward now is local capacity building and local awareness creation among the citizens who can demand a better city for themselves and exert pressure on the local authorities that be.
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