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Reforms In Urban Planning Capacity In India

2021 NOV 29

Mains   > Geography   >   Human geography   >   Urban development


  • NITI Aayog recently launched a report on measures to ramp up urban planning capacity in India, recommending a set of short to long term interventions that can create an enabling environment for planning in India.


  • Urbanization is intrinsic to development and often serves as a major driver of economic growth.
  • As India reaches tipping point of transitioning from a mostly rural to an urban society, the focus must be on ensuring the best opportunities for economic growth for all sections of the society.
  • It is a matter of concern that despite huge investment, our cities still face many efficiency-and sustainability-related challenges.
  • None of our cities feature among the top 50 cities in many global rankings.
  • The need of the hour is incisive, insightful planning – in the absence of which neither investments nor actions would be able to yield long-term solutions.
  • Unplanned urbanization could result in serious downsides. Cities are like living organisms. For them to flourish, it is important that their economic and social infrastructure are in a sound state.
  • There are enormous possibilities to achieve this through adoption of spatial planning tools. We must rethink, reimagine and re-establish the very purpose and approach towards planning of cities and towns in India.
  • The state of human settlements could become a silent crisis in motion.
  • We need to urgently and significantly ramp up the present cumulative capacity of urban planning in the country to avoid the creeping and silent crisis that is overtaking human settlements.



  • The ‘Urban’ Transition:
    • The United Nations in 2019 estimated that India will to surpass China as the world’s most populous country by 2027.
    • Also, India’s urbanisation is poised to accelerate in the coming decades. During 2011–36, urban growth will be responsible for 73% of the rise in total population.
    • Earlier estimations indicate that about 416 million people will be added as urban dwellers in India between 2018 and 2050 (United Nations 2018); and that India will be 50% urban by 2050.
    • Between 2001 and 2011, the number of census towns increased massively—from 1,362 to 3,892. These census towns contributed over 30% of the net increase in urban population between 2001 and 2011—indicating the nature of transformation that is taking place in the rural areas.
    • India is transitioning from a mostly rural to a quasi-urban country.
    • This poses challenges for sustainable development and at the same time presents a great opportunity for leveraging the benefits of urbanisation with robust systems in place.
    • This is a crucial time to leverage technology, and ensure planned development that can bring in greater economic and social benefits across the country.
  • Urbanisation is central to India’s economy:
    • Urban India needs to take a giant leap to become a global player; Indian cities must be well-prepared for dealing with current challenges and a competitive future.
    • MoHUA (2016) stated that urbanisation contributes nearly 60% to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
    • There are some studies that attest linkages between urbanisation and per capita GDP and India is behind other large Asian economies in this context. Furthermore, there also exist large, untapped economies of scale.
    • This needs effective interventions incorporating urban and spatial planning, urban land markets, and governance.
  • India’s global commitments:
    • Cities play a decisive role in achieving India’s commitments to global agendas, such as
      • United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030:
        • The SDGs—specifically Goal 11 (making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable) - promote urban planning as one of the recommended methods for achieving sustainable development.
      • UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda:
        • The New Urban Agenda adopted at Habitat III in 2016 puts forth principles for the planning, construction, development, management, and improvement of urban areas
      • Paris Agreement under UNFCC:
        • Paris Agreement relies upon the pledges of the countries known as National Determined Contributions (NDCs).
        • India’s NDC includes the goals to reduce the emission intensity of country’s GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level
        • Urban areas hold a key in such massive emission reduction.
  • India’s national growth targets:
    • Several growth targets of India reflect the need for concerted action for fulfilling the full potential of the urban economy.
    • For example:
      • (a) economic growth target: USD 5 trillion economy by 2024
      • (b) employment target: total workforce estimated to be 0.64 billion by 2030, of which 0.26 billion to be employed in urban areas
      • (c) infrastructure targets: creation of 11 large industrial corridors as part of the National Industrial Corridor Programme, several multi-modal logistic parks, etc., and
      • (d) environmental protection targets: river rejuvenation, clean air in cities, etc.
    • Strategic spatial planning will be instrumental in attaining India’s growth targets, sustainable development, and to prevent negative externalities of urbanisation.
  • National Infrastructure Pipeline:
    • The Union Ministry of Finance had launched the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) for FY 2020–25 to facilitate infrastructure projects in the country with a projected investment of Rs 111 lakh crore during the period 2020–25.
    • The urban sector has a significant share of 17% in the NIP.
  • Need for capacities to ensure multi-sectoral convergence:
    • There are several stakeholders at Central, State and Local Government levels as well as multi-sectoral schemes that directly and indirectly impact the urban landscape in India.
    • For example:
      • Smart Cities Mission of Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs
      • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy unveiled a concept note on ‘Green City’
      • The Ministry of Heavy Industries has approved Phase-II of the FAME Scheme under the National Mission on Electric Mobility to encourage the demand of electric vehicles in the country.
    • Therefore, there is an urgent need for a multi-sectoral approach to spatial planning as sectoral schemes are executed by different government departments and often not linked with each other.
    • This is certainly not possible without adequate technical knowhow and planning capacities at the local levels.
    • This further necessitates a stronger urban planning ecosystem in the country.
  • Focus on Urban Local Bodies, 15th Finance Commission:
    • The 15th Finance Commission’s report noted that cities are engines of economic growth and adopted a differentiated approach in the allocation of grants to urban local bodies (ULBs).
  • Capacities to manage transition and achieve targets:
    • The transition of settlements from rural to urban, impactful implementation of government schemes, effective use of financial provisions with an overall aim for achievement of the national targets, needs heightened capacities of urban planning in multiple sectors at all relevant levels.
    • The complex and multi-stakeholder task of city planning not only requires advanced technology, equipment, administrative leadership, and political decisions but also skilled professionals, such as planners, urban designers, architects, engineers, data-science experts, geospatial technology experts, and so on.
    • For cities to become more liveable—with opportunities for employment and economic growth—an adequate, empowered, and technically sound pool of planning professionals is critical.
  • Need, demand, and supply of urban planners:
    • In 2015, Ministry of Urban Development had stated that the total number of registered planners is approximately 5000 which work out to one planner for 75,000 urban population.
    • The ratio is low in comparison to developed countries.
    • UN- Habitat in its document titled ‘World Cities Report’ indicated that:
      • India has a grim ratio of 0.23 accredited planners per 1 lakh population—contrast this with the UK, where the figure is as high as 38.
    • The supply as well as involvement of urban planners in urban planning and development is critical links.
    • It is necessary to look into the present workforce of urban/town planners and their supply system in the country.


  • Statutory Towns growing without ‘Master Plans’:
    • Master plans are critical for managing urbanisation. They are statutory instruments to guide and regulate the present and future utilisation of land, expansion, and zoning of cities for 20–25 years.
    • As per the data compiled by the Town and Country Planning Organisation (TCPO)>> about half of our statutory towns are expanding without any master plan to guide their growth and infrastructural investments.
    • Several challenges are faced during implementation of the master plans like delays, disputes in courts etc.
    • Some master plans also get amended more than a thousand times during their implementation. There could be multiple reasons behind this.
    • For example, lack of data supporting ground realities, lack of communication between various departments and planning agencies, and lack of development policy awareness amongst citizens.
  • Lack of preparedness to capture benefits of urbanisation in census towns:
    • Urban economic activity is growing rapidly in these towns but there is no local government responsible and accountable for infrastructure development or service delivery.
    • The census towns continue to be governed as villages and do not have an urban local body
  • Sub-Optimal Utilisation of Urban Land
    • MoHUA (2016) noted that the urban land in India is 3.1% of the total land area of the country, and paradoxically land parcels of high urban densities co-exist with those which are sub-optimally utilized.
    • Causes for land use in-efficiencies:
      • Fragmented and poorly recorded ownership of urban land.
        • In a typical Indian city, multiple public sector organizations or agencies - ports, railways, ULBs, etc - own land under their jurisdictions.
        • For a city to develop holistically, planning for each land parcel needs to fall into one comprehensive spatial strategy.
      • Land acquisition is a complex process and the infrastructural provision is costly.
  • Magnitude of population living in slums:
    • As per Census 2011, 17.3% of the total urban population was under slums in India.
  • Increasing risk of water scarcity in cities:
    • The World Wide Fund for Nature India (2020) has found that Indian cities dominate both current and future lists of cities from across the world with the highest overall water risk.
    • Moreover, 30 Indian cities, including Jaipur, Indore, Amritsar, Pune, Kolkata, Bangalore etc. are likely to face acute water shortage in the next few decades.
    • This situation is further exacerbated by the lack of adequate infrastructure in cities and towns to handle their own wastewater and solid waste.
    • This may lead to contamination of remaining groundwater resources or deterioration of surface water quality.
  • Financial crunch of ULBs:
    • Taxes collected by ULBs are not sufficient to cover their expense.
    • The Economic Survey of 2018 pointed out municipalities do not realise the full potential of property tax.
  • Excessive State control over ULBs:
    • State control restricts the autonomous functioning of urban local bodies.
  • Lack of power with elected representatives at local level:
    • In most ULBs >> Mayor is ceremonial head. The real executive power is vested with state-government appointed commissioner


  • Programmatic intervention for planning of healthy cities:
    • Every city must aspire to become a ‘healthy city for all’ by 2030.
    • This would need a convergence of multi-sectoral efforts at the intersections of spatial planning, public health, and socio-economic development.
    • NITI Aayog recommends a central sector scheme ‘500 Healthy Cities Programme’, for a period of 5 years, wherein priority cities and towns would be selected jointly by the States and the local bodies.
  • Programmatic intervention for optimum utilization of urban land:
    • All the cities/towns under the proposed ‘Healthy Cities Programme’ should strengthen development control regulations based on scientific evidence to maximize the efficiency of urban land.
  • Ramping up of human resources:
    • The public sector must have an adequate workforce in terms of quantity and quality to tackle the challenges of urbanization.
    • States/UTs need to fill up vacant positions of town planners and additionally sanction town planners’ posts as lateral entry positions for a minimum period of 3 years.
  • Ensuring qualified professionals for undertaking urban planning:
    • Urban areas and their developmental complexities have increased over the years.
    • The discipline of urban planning or town planning has dedicated course curricula with which graduates acquire a multi-sectoral overview and skillset to address such challenges.
    • The States may need to undertake requisite amendments in their recruitment rules to ensure the entry of qualified candidates into town planning positions.
  • Mainstreaming capacity-building activities and rejuvenation of capacity-building centres:
    • Concerted efforts are required by the States/UTs to ensure regular capacity building of their town planning staff.
    • Also, the existing centres of excellence established by MoHUA and State-level training institutions need to be further strengthened to regularly build the skills and expertise of urban functionaries.
  • Re-engineering of urban governance:
    • There is a need to bring in more institutional clarity and also multi-disciplinary expertise to solve urban challenges.
    • The key aspects that would need to be addressed in this effort would be:
      • (i) Clear division of roles and responsibilities among various authorities, appropriate revision of rules and regulations, etc.
      • (ii) Creation of a more dynamic organizational structure, standardisation of the job descriptions of town planners and other experts
      • (iii) Extensive adoption of technology for enabling public participation and inter-agency coordination.
  • Revision of Town and Country Planning Acts:
    • Most States have enacted the Town and Country Planning Act, which enables them to prepare and notify master plans for implementation.
    • These Acts provide a fundamental basis to transform cities, regions, and their character.
    • However, many need to be reviewed and upgraded to the latest advancements in technology, urban and regional planning approaches and policies.
    • Therefore, the formation of an apex committee at the State level is recommended to undertake a regular review of planning legislations.
  • De-mystifying planning and involving citizens:
    • Due to the planning process being highly technocratic in nature, the public’s participation in it is limited.
    • While it is important to maintain the master plans’ technical rigour, it is equally important to demystify them for enabling citizen participation at relevant stages.
    • Therefore, the NITI Aayog strongly recommends a ‘citizen outreach Campaign’ for demystifying and making urban planning more accessible.
  • Building local leadership:
    • NITI Aayog recommends a short-term training programme for city level elected officials on the economic and social benefits of urban planning.
  • Steps for enhancing the role of private sector:
    • NITI Aayog recommends that concerted measures must be taken at multiple levels to strengthen the role of the private sector to improve the overall planning capacity in the country.
    • These include the adoption of fair processes for procuring technical consultancy services, strengthening project structuring and management skills in the public sector, and empanelment of private sector consultancies. 
  • Steps for strengthening the urban planning education system:
    • Educating young planners on human settlements:
      • History of human settlements in the Indian subcontinent must be taught to all young planners in a more exhaustive and analytical manner
    • Establish a department of planning and public policy:
      • The Central universities and technical institutions in all the States/ UTs of the Indian Himalayan Region may be encouraged to establish a ‘department of planning and public policy’ and offer postgraduate degree programmes (M.Tech.) with specializations in ‘hill area planning’ and ‘environmental planning’.
    • Mentoring:
      • The development of the educational institutions needs mentoring from peers.
      • NITI Aayog recommends that the institutions in the domain of planning education may identify prominent international and national institutes, connect with them and sign MoUs for mentoring.
    • Address faculty shortage:
      • Faculty shortage in educational institutions conducting degree and PhD programmes in planning needs to be resolved in a timebound manner.
  • Measures for strengthening human resource and match demand–supply:
    • The profession needs more structuring, skill-mapping, and data-basing of the workforce to bridge the gap between demand and supply.
    • NITI Aayog recommends the constitution of a ‘National Council of Town and Country Planners’ as a statutory body of the Government of India.
    • Also, a ‘National Digital Platform of Town and Country Planners’ is suggested to be created within the National Urban Innovation Stack of MoHUA.
    • This portal is expected to enable self-registration of all the planners and evolve as a marketplace for potential employers and urban planners.


Q. We need to urgently ramp up the present cumulative capacity of urban planning in the country to avoid the creeping and silent crisis that is overtaking human settlements in India. Discuss