Complications are arising over the need to establish special planning authorities (SPAs) within the physical boundaries of urban local bodies (ULBs).
Under the urban planning statutes of states, state governments have powers to grant SPA status to entities for a notified area, either outside the jurisdiction of a ULB or within its physical boundaries.Whilst creating SPAs for greenfield areas that are being developed as urban settlements and do not fall within the physical jurisdiction of urban local bodies becomes a planning necessity, opinion has been divided over the desirability of creating SPAs within the physical boundaries of an urban local body. Any discussion on the matter should rightly begin with the constitutional provisions. The Constitution 74th Amendment Act sought to define the functional domain of ULBs through the insertion of Schedule 12 in the Indian Constitution, which listed 18functions.These include:
A further problem that may crop up is that the SPA may use a different set of standards or tweak them according to its own requirements in the provision of amenities.Creating a SPA within the boundaries of a ULB is fraught with inevitable disagreeable consequences. The first problem that is likely to arise is that the plan prepared by the SPA may not be in sync with the plan for the rest of the area prepared by the ULB. It is likely that the SPA’s plan will be driven by the perceived needs of that entity—a different organisation with a different set of priorities. A further problem that may crop up is that the SPA may use a different set of standards or tweak them according to its own requirements in the provision of amenities. This has, for instance, happened in the case of Mumbai, where the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) has prepared its own draft DP where standards have been borrowed from different sources that comprise the National Building Code, Mumbai DP 2034, CIDCO, and others. Such a selection process smacks of a desire to cherry-pick standards that fit its own objectives. Further, the SPA may formulate a set of development control and promotion regulations (DCPR) that may impose a set of DCPRs in the area of SPA that may be unique to that area and may not follow the DCPRs of the ULB. The MCGM DP discarded Transit-oriented Development (TOD) zones for reasons enunciated in the DP and had not introduced form-based codes. However, regarding DCPRs, whilst the MCGM DCPR 2034 has been considered the base document by MbPT draft DP, it has introduced TOD zones. Further, form-based codes have been introduced that will have separate urban design guidelines. The impact of such a multiplicity of planning concepts within the same city would need to be assessed. Furthermore, SPAs within the area of ULBs always produce governance complications by creating cross-cutting responsibilities. If it is a SPA for a small area, it is most likely that it would not be in a position to take over all municipal functions within its area. It would, for instance, not be in a position to fashion and operate an independent water supply and sewerage system; it may have to rely on the ULB’s supply and only manage internal distribution. It may not be able to locate an independent solid waste collection centre and may have to ferry its garbage to the municipal sites. In many cases, economies of scale do not advise the creation of administrative machinery to exclusively look after a municipal function within a small SPA area. These matters are likely to engender differences between the ULB and SPA, leading to a hardening of stand by different sides, and their resolution is likely to require governmental intervention.
The first problem that is likely to arise is that the plan prepared by the SPA may not be in sync with the plan for the rest of the area prepared by the ULB.A further point to note is that it is somewhat simpler to handle a SPA created within the ULB boundaries in the case of state parastatals. In case of differences surfacing between the ULB and SPA, the state can step in and sort out such vexatious matters. In extreme cases of dissension, it can issue orders after hearing both parties. Both parties would then be obliged to follow the directives. However, when the entities on either side are central and state organisations, the situation will likely become more complicated. It, therefore, appears best that SPAs may be restricted to developments that happen in areas where no Planning Authority exists. A similar recommendation was made by the ‘Committee on Transparency, Efficiency and Accountability in Urban Local Bodies’ set up by the Government of Maharashtra in 2017. In paragraph 6.8.15, titled ‘The non-desirability of SPAs’, it stated, “The Committee would specifically like to mention the provision in the MRTP Act that allows the formation of Special Planning Authorities. This includes the formation of SPAs within the jurisdiction of a municipal entity. The creation of such SPAs within the area of ULB produces complications of governance through the creation of cross-cutting responsibilities. The Committee recommends that SPAs may be restricted to developments that happen in areas where no Planning Authority exists. SPAs within ULB boundaries should be a rarest of a rare exception, an option to be exercised only when there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason to do so. Once the purpose for which the SPA was created has been achieved, the SPA should be withdrawn/abolished, and the area and function of planning should be handed back to the ULB concerned.”
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Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...Read More +