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Bengaluru must strengthen its core before expanding

The recent statement of Karnataka’s Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar that Kanakapura, now a part of Ramanagara district, would soon become part of Bengaluru Urban and the state government was planning to rename Ramanagara district as Bengaluru South has raised many eyebrows, stirring the pot as it were. Former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy, during whose tenure Ramanagara was carved out as a separate district, was quick to react by observing that nobody could alter Ramanagara district. The verbal duel between the two Vokkaliga leaders has only added fuel to the fire.

The unplanned and unrestricted growth of Karnataka’s capital city has impacted the city and its people in diverse ways. Problems like traffic congestion, pollution, waste disposal, and the state of infrastructure are too well known to bear repetition. What is not generally that well known is the planning framework and the planning process and their importance in the orderly growth of a city.

Every state is governed by a Town and Country Planning Act. The Karnataka Act came into force in 1961 and mandates the preparation of a master plan, which is expected to guide the spatial development of a city. It prescribes the land use pattern, which is classified into different uses such as residential, commercial, industrial, open spaces, and so on. It also contains the zoning regulations on the basis of which construction is regulated. The first master plan for Bengaluru was prepared in 1984, then known as the Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), which was revised in 1995. Subsequently, the Master Plan (2015) was prepared, which came into force in 2007 and continues to be in force. The Master Plan (2031) submitted to the government about four years ago has yet to get approval.

The Master Plan for Bengaluru is prepared by the BDA, which is also the statutory planning authority, and is applicable to what is called the metropolitan area of Bengaluru, extending over 1,200 sq km, coinciding with the jurisdiction of the BDA. It is important to take note of the fact that there is a separate planning body, the Bengaluru Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA), that covers Bengaluru Urban, Rural, and Ramanagara districts with an area of 8,500 sq km and includes Kanakapura, Ramanagara, Channapatna, Hoskote, and other towns in the region. A draft Structure Plan (2031) has been prepared for the metropolitan region, which is like a perspective plan that has earmarked areas for development, green zones, forest areas, and broad lines for growth and environmental protection. Unfortunately, it has not received the necessary attention of the authorities concerned and is lying with successive governments without approval.

Although BMRDA was set up in 1985 with the laudable intention “to plan, coordinate, and supervise the orderly development” of the areas within the BMR, it has never been able to perform its functions effectively, despite the fact that the chief minister is the chairman and the urban development minister is the vice chairman of its Board of Directors. This is because, in reality, BMRDA is overshadowed by BDA, which is not only the planning authority for the city but has been engaged in acquiring land and selling sites. Though meant for siteless people, it has kind of turned into a real estate activity, with considerable benefit to vested interests within and outside government. In my own experience, I have found that no CM takes an interest in BMRDA, and board meetings hardly take place. The fundamental problem lies in urban planning being ignored by political leaders who evince more interest in controlling urban land, with its high value, particularly in metropolitan areas.

The solution lies in urban governance reforms. The Kasturirangan Committees set up to examine the issues in the Bengaluru metropolitan region recommended divesting BDA of its planning function, vesting it in the Metropolitan Planning Committee (MPC), a constitutional body, and making BMRDA the technical planning wing to assist the MPC. As the MPC is headed by the CM with the UD Minister as vice chair, the right thing for Shivakumar, as Minister for Bengaluru Development, to do would be to take up the matter of reforms required in the metropolitan region and deliberate on issues relating to reorganisation, if any, in the MPC. Major decisions, such as making Kanakapura, 60 km away from Bengaluru, part of the city, cannot be taken at the whims and fancies of individuals, even if they happen to be ministers. Former CM Kumaraswamy and DyCM Shivakumar cannot treat Ramanagara or Kanakapura as their personal fiefdoms.

Let us look at the experience elsewhere. Across countries, regional planning is becoming important in governing megacities. Tokyo, which is the largest metropolitan region in the world with a population of over 37 million and spread over an area of 13,452 sq km, is governed by a metropolitan government at the apex level, prefectures at the regional level, and municipalities at the local level. The Greater London Authority, with the Mayor as its head, is in charge of the London Plan and Transport, while the municipal functions are performed by 32 boroughs. The New York Region includes three states with a population of 23 million, covers 13,999 square miles, and has 31 counties and 782 municipalities. The National Capital Region in India includes the Union Territory of Delhi and parts of the neighbouring states of Haryana, Rajasthan, and UP, with an area of 55,083 sq km and a population of over 70 million. What is common among all these huge metropolitan regions is that at the apex level, they are responsible only for planning and some macro-level functions like transport that extend across the region, while local functions are performed by the municipalities.

In India, the Constitution envisages that MPCs prepare a draft development plan for the metropolitan area while municipalities discharge all local functions. For Bengaluru, in the first place, the MPC must be activated and strengthened, and a well-thought-out development plan, including a spatial plan, must be put in place. All smaller cities or towns in the metropolitan region—Kanakapura, Ramanagara, or Hoskote—must continue to perform local municipal functions. Large infrastructure projects extending across the region, like arterial roads, water supply from a common source (not distribution), transport, metro rail, etc., can be planned and monitored by MPC.

Shri Shivakumarji, first take charge of planning and policymaking for Bengaluru city and region, and then think of making Kanakapura part of Bengaluru South or building corridor roads or the highest revolving tower after examining their utility and financial viability. Perhaps you will have second thoughts and begin providing proper basic facilities first and making the city livable and citizen-friendly—a revised Brand Bengaluru.

(The writer is a former chief secretary, Government of Karnataka)

(Published 29 October 2023, 22:23 IST)

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