An Invitation to Sprawl?

New legislation by the Maharashtra State Governments would allow private land owners to apply for city boundary expansions as a tool to ease congestion.

The article in the Hindustan Times lightly covers this important legislation: "This would help planned development in areas neighbouring cities, as cities are getting more and more congested. The amendment would set off growth of several cities in Maharashtra. In the past 100 years, only 45 area development schemes were cleared in the state since there were legal roadblocks, which have now been removed."

Contributor Bharat Singh notes: "This is seriously a move fraught with disastrous consequences. Does this mean that the Master-planning process will be compromised every time a developer buys land next to the city limits?"

Thanks to Bharat Singh

Full Story: Legislation for expansion of cities cleared

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An invitation to sprawlin Maharashtra: India

Prakash M. Apte
Urban Development Consultant

Liberalization of land legislation in Maharashtra: An invitation to sprawl

Oxford English Dictionary gives one of the meaning of the word ‘Liberal’ as generous. An overview of the current scenario of physical planning in Maharashtra would seem to make it as the ‘only’ meaning! Be generous to Builders, be generous to Investors, be generous to Industrialists, Urban Development will take care of itself! After all we had no Planners in this country for a very long time and yet urban development has been going on hasn’t it?

I am reminded of an incidence that I witnessed about 45 years ago. A central government officer had 5 sons, ranging from age 5 to 12 ,all boisterous and constantly at each other’s throat, quarreling, fighting for the meagerly provided food and other items of use, throwing things around in the tiny government flat. The wife complaining and bickering about shortage of funds and non availability of domestic services and sundry things. Amidst all this mayhem the man of the house just sat on a cane ‘Mudah’ nonchalantly peeling and eating peanuts while I almost went insane ! When I asked him in desperation “ how do you manage the household” he said quietly “whatever happens, is management”!

One could sympathize with him because he was at least genuine in his helplessness! But are our governments helpless to control the anti people urban development? If they were, we as planners, could have suggested remedies. But the Governments and the administration is not only NOT helpless, but is actively aiding and abating the chaos in the name of liberalization!

Till a few years ago the governments, administration and the local self governments undertook projects to benefit the people but in the process of awarding the works and contracts favoured their kith and kin and got their gratification by way of “Diwali” gifts. Soon the gifts turned into “cuts” from the payments to contractors. Then the politicians, directly or indirectly aided by the Bureaucrats and Technocrats started undertaking huge projects which did not necessarily benefit the people but brought huge kickbacks. Construction of a large number of flyovers in Mumbai as against the assessed requirement by MMRDA a few years back is a glaring example. It was then that I had to write-and many agreed with it- “Projects are undertaken for their propensity to generate kickbacks for the Politicians and Bureaucrats and any benefit accruing to general public is incidental and unintended”! I thought we had reached the nadir! I was sadly mistaken, more was to come!

Mr. S.S. Tinaikar the ex- Municipal commissioner of Mumbai said in a televised interview, the breed of the Bureaucrat and Technocrat who used to stand up to the politician and say “it can’t be done” is now extinct! We now have a new generation of the breed who ask the Politician “ FARMAIYE APKI MARZI KYA HAI MERE AKA” (command what is your wish my lord) and we shall fit it into the framework of laws and bylaws! How can one otherwise explain the recent blasphemy of the Town Planning minister of a small state in designating the entire state as an Urban Area in the regional plan! A new Politician-Bureaucrat-Technocrat (BPT) combine is born!

When the Bureaucrats and Technocrats found that the wishes of the Politicians and their moneyed masters could not be “fitted” within the framework of the existing laws the solution was simple, legislate new laws! Thus were born the Notification (in Maharashtra) regarding development of townships of 100 acre or more on any land be it in the coastal ecologically sensitive zone, forest lands, Adivasi lands and the SEZ law to allow private industrialists to buy and take over any agricultural land! The Bureaucrats and technocrats in fact vied with each other in justifying such projects and jumping on the band wagon of lucrative assignments and jobs that these projects brought in their wake!

New Townships Notification: Accommodating the Rich?

The notification in Maharashtra applies to projects with a minimum size of 100 acres. For projects of this size, the developer does not need to get the user status of the land changed from agricultural to non-agricultural. All that the developer has to do is approach the Urban Development department with the details of the project and get it notified as an "Integrated Township Project". This notification changes the user status of the land from agricultural to non-agricultural. All further clearances for the township are given by the relevant district collectorate or municipal corporation. .

Companies taking advantage of this policy are supposed to develop all the infrastructure within these townships, from roads, to sewage treatment plants and schools to shopping malls. To make these investments attractive, the government has also reduced stamp duty on transactions within these "Integrated Townships" by 50 per cent. The policy is supposed to tie in with the government's stated aim of attracting Foreign Direct Investment into the real estate sector, the minimum project size for which is also 100 acres.

This notification by Govt. of Maharashtra allows the developer to build “townships on land 100 acre or more and these proposals are directly sanctioned by the state government. The lands could be located within or just outside the municipal limits of existing cities, could be forest or Adivasi land or could be in the no development or green zone of the existing city plan or could be ecologically sensitive areas of the coastal zone! The Planners thought they had maintained their professional integrity by insisting that all physical infrastructure within the Township be developed by the Developer!

What about the source of water supply? Energy? Solid and liquid waste final disposal? Schools, colleges, hospitals, work places? These facilities could be availed of from the infrastructure of the existing city with the permission of the state government! So it amounted to development of “Posh” colonies with wide roads, gardens as on the periphery of New Delhi or like the “Amby Valley” near Pune at the expense of the middle class taxpayer of the existing cities. These “Parasitical” developments are aided and abated by the Politicians, Bureaucrats and the Technocrats!

The impact of this liberalization on urban development will be, a luxurious habitat for the rich resulting in:

destruction of environment and ecological balance,
paucity of land for agriculture, horticulture and vegetable farming, making these commodities scarce for city dwellers,
displacement of large Adivasi population which may migrate to cities adding to slums,
deforestation resulting in climate changes,
increased vehicular traffic to existing cities from these townships for work, recreation, higher education and medical facilities,
serious imbalances in the urban economy leading to crime and lawlessness.

Not for a moment should one imagine that this impact is not comprehended by those in power! On the contrary that is what is the purpose of this liberalization, to create more problems or accentuate existing ones making life miserable in the urban areas so that the politicians can initiate, Bureaucrats can programme and Technocrats can prepare blue prints to undertake new projects like flyovers, metro rails, sea links, multistory housing, that will generate an eternal source of kickbacks for the PBT combine!

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