Updated: July 23, 2021 8:28:03 am
Do shades of colour on a piece of paper really matter? For those who ask, Khori, a settlement on the border of Delhi and Haryana, is a stark reminder of the power of colour. Estimated by some to be as large as Darjeeling, it is now being progressively demolished under the directions of the Supreme Court, because it lies on a tract of land that is not coloured yellow on paper. For those who believe that the master plan can be ignored, because life is “negotiated”, the erstwhile residents of Khori provide a sobering reality check. In this master plan, an explosion of pink — an acknowledgement of Delhi’s “unauthorised colonies” — differentiates it from its predecessor. It’s a relic of incomplete conversations between previous plans and people. But the pink layer sits uneasily on many colours other than yellow, including some on the dreaded green. Citizens in Delhi ignore this reality at their peril. This is just one reason for them to engage with this master plan substantively.
Though conversations between planners and those affected by planning have not been a strong point of master planning, the Master Plan for 2041 made a determined break from this past and adopted a wider consultative approach. As it states, “opinions, views and aspirations of the people of Delhi were garnered through continuous engagement …by partnering with CSOs, RWA federations, market associations, professional bodies, public campaigns etc., as well as through direct interaction with people. Dedicated online public consultations were held from September-November 2020, including sessions with youth, persons with disabilities, professionals, NGOs working on gender issues, people living in unauthorised colonies and slums, traders, industry representatives, etc.” It would be a pity if this encouraging beginning was not fully leveraged to inform the planning process. This is especially so because the response from civil society has not just been vigorous, but also informed and constructive — across a diverse range of classes and interests.
This engagement presumably generated a variety of inputs for the DDA, as well as the National Institute of Urban Affairs, who were involved in producing the document. Indeed, some of this is reflected in Volume I, which attempts to set out a “vision” for Delhi. The old planning process expected individual objections such as a particular road alignment causing problems for specific properties. But in this new process of, hopefully, co-producing a vision, it is only fair and democratic that the draft plan be discussed thoroughly among those who had provided the initial suggestions and then objections, if any, be registered as per the given process. It would behove the DDA to return to at least some of the more disadvantaged communities with whom they had held initial consultations, and discuss how the plan seeks to address their concerns. It would herald the beginning of productive conversations that have yet to substantially imbue the planning of Delhi.
To “foster a sustainable, liveable and vibrant Delhi”, inclusion and equity are key ingredients. The poor visibility of gender issues in planning for a city that, fairly or unfairly, is excoriated for its treatment of women is concerning. The state also needs to be mindful that many of its actions exacerbate inequality, rather than mitigate it. For example, the way resettlement colonies, which are fully planned formal spaces, are located and serviced. While volume I does appear to strike a different path, it is not entirely clear that Volume II, especially Section 9, is fully aligned with this direction. The intent here is not to discuss substantive issues, but to insist that a diverse set of perspectives be as fully aired as possible, in a constructive and mutually respectful manner.
Delhi’s governance structure makes such conversations especially important. It functions, as the plan notes, “as a Union territory with a special status designated as the National Capital Territory of Delhi… [which] comprises of multiple local bodies that operate in separate jurisdictions. While, this … leads to institutional complexity and challenges of multi-agency coordination”, it also limits the scope of representative participation since the subject of land is in the domain of the Union government, and not with either the Government of the NCT of Delhi or the local bodies. The current plan provided a consultation period of 45 days. Not only is this limiting during a pandemic, it is also worth noting that Chapter 3 of the 1959 rules for master plans did provide for “suggestions and objections in writing, if any, in respect of the draft master plan [to] be filed …within 90 days from the date of first publication of the notice.” Given the new improved approach to planning, which DDA has initiated with this plan and the limitations on consultations during the pandemic, it would be better if at least the original 90 days or an even longer time frame of (say) 120 days is provided for discussion. This would also provide citizen groups time to review the extensive baseline studies that underlie this plan, which the DDA made public just a week ago.
The fact that people want more time to engage with the plan indicates that they take the colours seriously. It is a sign of strength that the DDA should take heart from, rather than resist. Technocratic exercises do best when based on a rich body of knowledge that brings together the wisdom of the community. Accepting the request for more time would send a strong signal that the plan’s commitment to “creating an inclusive city that facilitates accessibility and opportunity for all” is genuine and not mere words on paper. One hopes that signal will come soon.
This column first appeared in the print edition on July 23, 2021 under the title ‘Listen a little longer’. The writer is senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research.
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