Thursday, May 28, 2015

Govt & land owners are partners in development for well-planned towns

This is the centenary year of the first modern town planning legislation in Gujarat State. Bombay Town Planning Act was first legislated in the year 1915 and the first town planning scheme was prepared in the Jamalpur area of Ahmedabad in the year 1917. We have a hundred years of history of developing common infrastructure by land pooling and converting agricultural land into urbanised land in peri-urban area of a city. When the whole country including the parliament is debating the land acquisition act, Gujarat has shown a collaborative and practical way of getting land for common purpose nearly hundred years back.

In a typical town planning scheme, all land parcels of an area are pooled together irrespective of their revenue boundaries. A town planning officer then plans the area for roads, basic services provision and reserved land parcels and returns about 60-50% of land to the land owners in the close vicinity of their original area. Laying down infrastructure in the area brings dynamics of land market and even after losing nearly half the land, the owner rips immense benefits out of well-adjusted, well-shaped land parcel in return. The government gets the benefit of planning the area properly with a land bank for common infrastructure. In well-planned town planning schemes, both the government and the land owners are partners in development – not adversaries like the land acquisition process. 

The success of town planning schemes in Gujarat almost sounds like a fairy tale but we should not kill a hen laying golden eggs. On one side, we have a real challenge of making the town planning schemes more widespread, more effective and quicker in implementation. On the other side, the town planning scheme mechanism should not be used where it abuses the very spirit of it - seeing the land owners as partners in development. When town planning scheme mechanism is used in green-field sites like the Special Investment Regions (SIRs), the land owners will tend to lose instead of gaining out of the promised development. The government can only promise urbanisation in the SIRs but cannot jump start it. In absence of urban land market rural lands, the rural land owners or the farmers are exposed to huge risks and the government has a little liability. It is unfair to use the town planning scheme mechanism in such situations. 

So how should we celebrate the centenary year of modern town planning in Gujarat? First of all, by documenting the good practices of town planning so that this can be emulated in other states and in other cities. Secondly, by introspecting – city planning has a lot of scope beyond mere land re-adjustment. We need better designed streets, more open-green spaces, and better municipal services. A city is all about her people not only its land. So we need better mechanism of planning beyond land pooling. And finally, we must celebrate by future proofing – how do we improve the town planning scheme mechanism so that it is more sustainable mechanism and is abused less. Let’s celebrate 100 years of mutual benefits and equitable profits of development. 

(18th May, 2015: DNA Ahmedabad edition, Cities Supplement, Page 5)

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