Event ReportsPublished on Dec 12, 2018
Nation building through regional planning

Governments of many countries are making efforts to overcome growing spatial imbalances in social, economic and physical development. The imbalances have occurred due to inadequate and late attention given by the government, as well as numerous institutional deficiencies. The result of such irregularity is that some places have experienced progressive growth, while others portray a dismal picture, characterised by poor living conditions, acute poverty, infrastructure and service deficiencies, and outmigration.

In some countries, spatial imbalances have been overcome by adopting a regional planning approach. This is basically a form of planning oriented to the future for a large geographical area (i.e., a region, comprising rural and/or urban settlements) that ensures optimal utilisation of space and distribution pattern of human activities. Examples of implementation of this approach are seen in Australia, China, Germany, India, Japan, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

India is one country where spatial imbalances and socio-economic inequalities were prominent at the time of independence. To address the adversity, the elected leadership applied a regional planning and development approach. Numerous regions were identified for development and regional plans were prepared. The western ghats regional development programme was seen as a pioneering effort that led to positive outcomes, such as increase in yield of crops due to creation of better irrigation facilities, increase in annual average household incomes, employment generation, etc.

Despite the significance, the practice of regional planning became unpopular with time, and the little progress achieved in reducing regional imbalances was adversely affected. Today, in some Indian states, regional (or district) development plans are prepared, however, the implementation and impact of these plans is inadequate. It is important that the prevailing deficiencies in regional development planning are addressed.

ORF-GIZ conference

In this context, a conference on “Regional Planning in India: Policy, Planning and Implementation” was jointly organised by ORF and GIZ on 15 November 2018 in New Delhi. During the conference, numerous issues and the experiences of recent regional planning initiatives were discussed by subject experts. The event was supported by the ‘Land Use Planning and Management (LUPM) project’ of GIZ. The papers presented by specialists will form part of an upcoming edited volume.

In his keynote address, Dr. M. Ramachandran (former Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development) acknowledged various regional planning efforts in India. It was submitted that this approach to address disparities in development is important, but it is adversely affected by lack of interest among state functionaries, and difficulties faced in local resource generation. Concern was expressed over declining cultivated land size, which would have a huge impact on food grains production, food security and the environment.

Dr. Ramachandran drew attention of the audience to the findings of the manual for integrated district planning, which admitted that decentralised planning initiative did not incorporate urban planning process as part of district planning. In his view, there is a need to focus on a regional approach where cities join and go beyond the geographic limits. Waste disposal, transport and housing can work better with a statutory facilitated arrangement. This could be a new form of regional planning or regional development.

It was suggested that there exists the need to identify criteria within the guidelines of each of the central government schemes, which will ensure special attention to deprived areas. Further, he said that regional entities can be encouraged and facilitated to generate resources beyond budgets for undertaking intensive work in areas urgently in need of development.

Prof. N. Sridharan (Director, SPA Bhopal) delivered the inaugural address. He described changes in concept of regions in pre and post-independent India. It was mentioned that previously, regions were decided on the basis of administration, language, industrial location and, resources. However, mid-seventies onwards, an urban bias was seen in regional planning. In his view, defining future regions would be a challenge since numerous factors are at play, such as urbanisation, establishment of national and international economic corridors; growth of census towns, investment regions, and technology regions. He also stated that there is a need to think about the Acts and institutions that will govern such future regions.

Dr. S.K. Kulshrestha (Urban & Regional Planner) expressed concern over the current planning process. In his opinion, policies can make plans, promote planned development, but can also disturb the plan. In this respect, he stated that policy-making has to be done carefully so that people, politicians, and administration accept it.

Sharing his experiences, P.S. Uttarwar (former Adviser (Planning) & Additional Commissioner (Planning), DDA) mentioned that plans should make provisions for land allotment, and budgetary provisions must be made through the plan. In his opinion, readymade toolkits for pre and post disaster situations and development of skills are important requirements.

Dr. Vinod K. Tewari (former Director, National Institute of Urban Affairs) emphasised the need to strengthen manpower (more planners needed), institutional infrastructure, as well as database for preparing a good plan, and mentioned that plans should have statutory backing.

The contributing authors described various aspects of regional planning, and offered fresh ideas to overcome contemporary challenges in regional planning, as shown below.

Indigenous development paradigm

The current regional planning approach has not been successful in institutionalising the mechanisms of equitable redistribution of resources, wealth and facilities. An important reason for the emergence of an unfavourable situation is the increased focus on urban development. Such an approach causes huge displacements due to new development, and neglect of peri-urban spaces. The definition of urban needs to be understood properly. Dharavi in Mumbai displays a region, which is a microcosm of multicultural India. Instead of city-centric regional planning, tehsil can be the unit of planning. Further, planning should be sensitive enough to understand people’s sentiments and the natural environment (Aparna Phadke, Mumbai University).

Nature-based solutions

Physical and cultural drivers are causing regional disparities. For example, climate change can result in less rainfall, drying up of rivers, decreasing vegetation, and loss of farmland due to soil erosion. Similarly, high population growth increases consumer demand and creates pressure on scarce resources. Such adversities lead to aridity and backwardness. For example, except for a few cities, many districts in the southern state of Karnataka display low levels of human development – health, education, income. State government efforts have been largely unsuccessful. Smart interventions are need for the development of agriculture, protection of forests. Geospatial technologies can help in sustainable watershed development. There is also a need to switch over to energy resources available in nature. Nature-based solutions can help in addressing regional disparities. (Ashok D. Hanjagi, Bangalore University).

Micro-level participatory planning for tribal communities

Any exercise dealing with regional planning and development must address the aspect of social and economic inequalities. This characteristic is prominently visible among the tribes, which account for 8.6 percent (104 million) of India’s total population. There are over 500 tribal communities spread over nearly 15 states who are deprived of various needs. Many live in remote areas and have their own languages, scripts, cultural and social practices. Micro-level planning, use of participatory rural appraisal technique in tribal areas, and strengthening of community level organisations can help in minimising the inequalities (V. Srinivasa Rao, University of Hyderabad).

Decentralised planning

A greater focus on cities is leading to rural deprivation. The prevailing conditions call for creation of growth centres at various levels in the region, providing infrastructure and facilities, tapping funds (CSR, PPP) for plan implementation, and integration of sectoral and spatial planning  (Kanupriya Deol, Ansal University, Gurugram).

Settlement-level consultative planning

Goa displays a rich history of regional planning. From 2008 onwards, land use plans up to local body/settlement level were prepared with a scale of 1:5,000. Preparing plans at this scale was a challenge as the required information was not available in digitised format. Technology can help overcome this barrier. Some important features of the plan are environment protection, micro planning, people centric approach, multiple level consultation process. Besides relying on secondary data, an effort was made to involve various department heads and NGOs, who shared their ground-level experiences. This helped in getting closer to the people’s requirements. The plan is supported by a legislation (S.T. Puttaraju, TCP Dept., Govt. of Goa).

Multi-state planning

The NCR plan is prepared for promoting growth and balanced development of the region, which includes NCT of Delhi and some parts of adjoining states (Haryana, Rajasthan, UP). Funds were raised from market bonds. The participating states prepared master/development plans for 47 towns/cities. Few functional plans are also prepared. Improvement in regional transport infrastructure and connectivity (RRTS, upgradation of NHs, metro rail, orbital road corridor around Delhi) are major achievements. The proper implementation is affected by: less priority given to the regional plan by the participating states; sub-regional plans have not been integrated with district plans; rural development has been largely ignored (Rajeev Malhotra, Former Chief Regional Planner, NCRPB, Delhi).

Disaster preparedness

There is a need for a proper planning and legal framework to minimise the damage arising from natural and man-made disasters, such as flooding of a region due to unauthorised construction on river beds. Such framework should address all sectoral and spatial aspects (land, housing, basic facilities and services), as well as needs of vulnerable groups. In planning and preparing for such eventualities, the communities and other stakeholders must be consulted (Vinita Yadav, SPA Delhi).

Sustainable tourism

Growth of tourism in nature areas is beneficial for societies, but the associated activities are also posing numerous environmental and social threats. To ensure that nature areas, wildlife, and local life are not adversely impacted, and nature-based tourism is pursued in a sustainable manner, an integrated development plan for the tourism sector should be prepared, and the necessary infrastructure as well as a strong service delivery mechanism should be established. It is also to be ensured that the construction activities (resorts, travel corridors) do not cause displacement of local community (Sugato Dutt, State Planning Commission, Chennai).

Spatial planning framework

Normally, district planning in India is seen in the form of district officials coordinating with various departments for obtaining sectoral inputs, based on which planning decisions and budgetary allocations are made. This approach partly addresses the issues around land, public goods and service distribution. A dire need exists for preparing an overall spatial planning framework in India, and to make district spatial plans operational. Further, such plans should be prepared by holding consultations at different levels – communities, officials, etc. (Saswata Bandyopadhyay, CEPT, Ahmedabad).

Polycentric planning

Small and medium (S&M) towns in north east India are playing an important role but are not receiving the required support from national and state governments due to a strong metropolitan and ‘capital city bias’ in allocation of urban development funds. Many S&M towns are catering to the needs of hundreds of villages situated in the region. Many also have a thriving handloom industry, but the stiff competition from bigger entrepreneurs in cities such as Aizawl, poses a challenge. Despite the constitution of the North Eastern Council in 1972, not much regional planning has been witnessed. The weak linkages between cities, towns and their rural hinterlands have resulted in increasing peripheralisation of remote areas. The prevailing conditions call for application of a polycentricity approach to planning, which would help in development of secondary towns in each northeastern state (Benjamin L. Saitluanga, Mizoram University, Aizawl).

Enhancing mobility

It is important to map and analyse commuting/travel data and distances travelled using different modes of transportation at local and regional level as it helps in understanding commuting patterns. Such analysis is essential for preparing effective mobility plans and provision of transport infrastructure. The data have been published by India’s census office for the first time in 2011 (Sabiha Baig, Research Scholar, JNU, Delhi).

Rural-urban integration

India can learn useful lessons from South Africa where small towns are playing an important role in strengthening rural – urban relations, i.e., these serve as markets for agricultural produce, as centres for distribution of goods and services, and absorb migrants from surrounding rural areas. An important governance reform initiated in the post-apartheid era is the doing away with the rural-urban distinction for administration purposes, for which local municipalities are constituted. These entities are responsible for both urban and rural areas. Further, the National Development Plan for 2030 lays emphasis on spatial planning and land use management. The reforms are due to a high level of political commitment, creation of institutional arrangements for coordinated planning, and adoption of a cluster approach (Tathagata Chatterji, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar).

Previously in the inaugural session, Felix Knopf (Advisor, LUPM, GIZ Delhi) presented an overview of the land use planning and management (LUPM) project of GIZ. He stated that the project, now in its third year, is an exercise aimed at supporting the efforts of the Department of Land Resources (under the Ministry of Rural Development), which is engaged in drafting a national land use policy. It was mentioned that the work involves selection of States interested in taking up this policy approach, and GIZ is working together with States of Tamil Nadu and Odisha to prepare a land use policy at the regional and/or district level. Reference was made to two demonstration plans underway – Ganjam district of Odisha, and another at the regional level (cluster of four districts) in Tamil Nadu. He said that the idea of holding the conference was to gather perspectives from various regions of India.

This report is written by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

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