Sunday, February 24, 2013

Urban nonsense in the Swaraj context

While we read many real stories about rural India's centralized decision making in Swaraj, I thought of sharing my observations about the functioning of the Urban Development. One can extrapolate this (with minor modification) in any of the other government departments. This is symptomatic of the government's functioning everywhere.

 As poverty takes a stranglehold in the rural areas due to various factors like reducing landholdings, lack of infrastructure, reducing of water levels etc, there is an urban emigration. The urban landscape is planned in an incremental and haphazard manner with little thought given to infrastructure, mass transportation or housing stock. For a few years, I have been participating as well as watching this circus of urban planning in Mumbai and have been periodically amused, angered and staggered by the brainlessness of the process and the people.

 Some observations (broad strokes)

The entire governance is totally centralized. The Britishers had a master-slave relationship and obviously, they kept all decision making in the hands of a few. Today, in an independent India not only have we maintained the centralization, but with our innate suspicion, added labyrinths and labyrinths of layers of permissions and rules and sub-rules.
So, who are the players in this chaotic Urban Planning process and what role do they play?

The Urban Planning process is initiated and arbitrated by Civil Servants.

The UD Secretary : An IAS officer whose main subject in the exam may have been Mathematics or Sociology or similar will pass one UPSC exam and become an expert in all topics of nation running and building. He would one day be the chief of Railways or of Human Resource or Mining and be expected to run the future of millions of people depending on the same. And he would be transferred to various departments and without any pre training expected to become nation's greatest expert in that subject. So, the Urban Planning of Mumbai will be decided by this EXPERT.

Urban Planners : There are very few trained urban planners in the non-private sector, maybe less than the number of municipal corporations, so urban planning is done by under-trained and under-educated architects or engineers. The urban planner of Pune whom I spoke to told me that he had never seen a major city except Mumbai, not even Delhi. He was coming from a village and did his civil engineering from a small town. In his world view, a paved road network was a great stride of urban development. As you know, Pune dreams of being a World Class city attracting people from all over the globe. Studying and learning from global case studies of cities is unimaginable. Remember, the IAS officer who decides which urban plan to go for, gets their inputs from these.

Politicians : The master plan decision finally goes to the political bosses. The Urban development Ministry in Maharashtra is always with the Chief Minister, for obvious reasons. No CM in recent memory has ever allowed UD to be wrenched away from his grasp. The Minister of state is a complete non-entity, with no knowledge of city (the last two incumbents were from village constituencies). Decisions are taken by politicians of all levels to change the no-development zone or to alter the roads -based on note and vote bank pressures, holistic planning be damned. So, any final plan made is subject to these pressures. DP plans are periodically amended and messed with - the difference between the original plan and the final product is absolutely shocking!

International Experts : Lost for ideas and travelling across the globe, the IAS officer feels envy and takes the shortest route. Catch the international experts. There are lots of these experts peddling their wares across the globe, selling some small success stories somewhere and trying to fit it wherever there is an opportunity. Masters at packaging, but no understanding of the context of the urban areas.

I wonder what would have happened if Gandhiji had come home to India from South Africa and hired international consultants for the civil war against the Britishers? There would have been hundreds of experts suggesting various methods of killing, death and bloodshed. Instead Gandhiji, travelled for 3 years within the length and breadth of the nation and created weapons based on the ethos and soul of the nation like non-violence, truth, renunciation, spirituality and such and therefore found resonance from all sections of indians. His entire strategy was going deep into the ethos of Indians and using best global communication practices of rail, newspaper etc, converted this longing for freedom into the World's greatest and unique movement.

Post independence, India adopted the political system running well in a small European country (Britain, but adjusted in India as a tool to extract maximum out of Indian slaves. Post independence, it then proceeded to load it with more slave-master relationship activities. Indian policy makers, not having created the system did not understand the same, did not know where the nuts and bolts of the system - hence could not amend or improve it (assuming that there is a will to alter it). We are paying a huge price for it as our governance is in a complete mess with Englishmen replaced by these Brown coconuts - brown outside and white inside :-).

Blindly following international experts without understanding the country, its people, its culture, its ethos, its soul and without any mechanism to understand and engage with the people is one of the biggest mistake we shall make. In Vedic times we had a special Veda on Urban Planning called the "Sthapatya Veda" which had some great knowledge about urban grids, drainage, usage of the five elements, the sun, the wind and such beautiful concepts. Mohenjodaro and Harappa were some of the cities which were far ahead in these concepts. What we need is to extract that knowledge and using best global practices create an Indian, unique urban plan. A plan that is people centric, not built structure centric, not aesthetic centric. A master plan that takes the minds and hearts of the people, not an imported, non-contextual plan.

For example, this latest nonsensical approach of not planning parking areas in new plans to discourage cars. It is like telling a newlywed couple to desist from having children as there is a population explosion or creating a nation where children are so badly treated that people would stop having children.

Aspiration levels of Indians cannot be compared with those in Japan or USA. My son's first salary will be used by him to buy a car. Now, if i tell him to desist because there is no parking, my decision will lead to a kick on my backside. His greatest desire is to buy a car and if he has to double park on the street, he will do so. Planners will have to consider these aspirations. Without a proper non-auto mass transit system, if we start punishing people for owning cars, we are being stupid. Democracies cannot be run by sticks, we need to incentivise people by offering better solutions so that lesser private vehicles are used.

The question is : whose Mumbai is it? The people of the city or its "Angrez" decision makers? Is it a surprise that it is in complete mess?


Akshay Marathe said...

Very well written. Good observations and even better analyses. Also, its very informative!

Akshay Marathe said...

Very well written. Good observations and even better analyses. Also, its very informative!

Chittranjan Dubey said...

Very well thoughtful written article..the questions at the end are the most important...and every Indian need to question..

Chittranjan Dubey said...

Very well thoughtful written article..the questions at the end are the most important...and every Indian need to question..

pankaj said...

Holistic, non-corrupt and expert planning in indian context is definitely required.

Hiten said...

Mayank, I like that word..incentivise. That's what is really needed. People need an incentive to participate constructively.

Anonymous said...

I dont agree with this post at all.It got it wrong totally.When the politician is in a position where he has to recoup atleast twice of the 5 to 7 crores that he spent on his election and the parties compete for Populist policies to maintain vote banks Urban planning is the last thing in his mind.Unless the business of Political corruption i.e spend between 3 to 7 crores to get into power and then successfully recoup atleast twice; if this business becomes unviable by people participating in anti-corruption movements only then Good leaders will come into power.

The problem is not even one in every 2000 of Mumbai population i.e not even 15000 came to participate in the Anna Hazare protest in Mumbai.
If people cant care to spare a couple of hours to come and sit in a protest then we deserve this corruption.

Even the JP movement of 1975 with no T.V and media and transport one hundred thousand people turned up at Delhi.

We want others to fight for our Rights.India is a corrupt and selfish Race.Unless this changes nothing else will change in India.That is why Vivekananda suggested we eat Meat and play Football meaning we are a Tamasic country and not a Sattvic country like we are taught.We are good for neither God nor this Material world.He meant let's first become Rajasic before aiming to be Sattvic(moksha).We misunderstand our Cowardice and Fear and Laziness and Fatalism as Devotion and Peaceful.

Unknown said...

very well said, Mayank...time we acted upon it

Viduur said...

Swaraj is a just one more good slogan, but it will have to negotiate the Ground Realities to become an alternative. In the name of Swaraj, Chaos must not be created.

Anonymous said...

According to me though it is well written it is telling us the fault of the worng people and their wrong doing I t is better to attack people themselves who either not voting and those who vote wrongly.Swami vivevakananda has said that Let us play football and realise God.

Azad Singh said...

Excellent article, greatly analyzed & beautifully articulated.

Anonymous said...

Your observations are very interesting.
1. The quality of education of our engineers is suspect..
2. They are not updated.
3. They lack exposure.. Domestic as well as international..

Bihar's condition was worse, you can well agree. Nitish hit at these very aspects and has delivered great results by...
1. High motivation through examples.
2. Retraining
3. International exposure through foreign travel.
In fact, in Bihar, even an assistant engineer is sent abroad. See the results. Why can't Mumbai learn from Bihar? High time they did like the good old days of NALANDA .
Everybody with basic specific domain knowledge can perform well if reoriented, trained and Exposed properly.
Let me ask a question? Do we need a Politician to tell us what to do? Why could we... The people in Govt service take the initiative ourselves?

girdhar said...

The entire UD is linked up corruption & the loopholes you have mentioned are perfected to chanalize the massive corruption collection. The bidding for CM ship is so high that it compels these portfolios to make it possible. We had suggested a simple reform to abandon NA condition for all the lands within declared municipal limits as they are already meant for residential purpose. This will save common man from unnecessary harassment of NA sanction which has otherwise become a massive tool for corruption. But govt did not agree. The UD is really CD. (Corruption Development)

chetan shah said...

I strongly urge you to file a PIL to correct this incredibly nonsensical happenings in our country.

Else this will continue for long time to come.

Bharat said...

Very lucidly written article. The basic fabric is that the skeleton,(IAS and bureaucratic structure)is basically British and has not changed except to become "Administrative" from "Civil." And to change skeleton is difficult. Only by making the bureaucrats more responsible & responsive to needs of people, this can be changed.

Anonymous said...

Most Springs inlcuding Arab Springs and Pakistani Spring has enormous support from the public but lack Leadership and Alternative when the ruling is brought down.Contrary to this India has strong Leadership and Alternative(Aam Aadmi Party etc) but no public participation.

More Awareness is required especially in non-Delhi areas to encourage the Selfish and Callous urban middleclass to come out and participate.For this:

1)Setup own Print and Electronic Media to raise Awareness.Set up a non-profit Foundation that is managed by a Janlokpal style board to run this Media.First we can start with a Weekly magazine or a Hindi daily.Create a lot of volunteer opportunities where people can participate and develope a sense of participation.I think this will be big hit and within few months the subcription rate will zoom and thus given an opportunity to raise Awareness.

Unless you have your own voice you will only end up being used by Commercial Media which is part of the same Corrupt system and so no Awareness which means people will not be bothered to come out to participate in Anushans.

No amount laws will really change the situation.Only paticipation in Democracy/Anushan will change India.For that people need to be Aware.Media is key to Awareness or else Anna Hazare will have repeat of low turnout Anushans.Start with a weekly magazine in both Hindi and English.

Unknown said...

Well said Mayank.....

A campaign for reforming the administration is as important as or perhaps more important than against corruption. This admin system is also responsible for corruption....

MUSTAN said...

well I thought my name will appear....I do not wish to be anonymous in my comment just sent......

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