Revised Master Plan-2031: Revisions Only – Neither Mastery Nor Planning?

(This article on Revised Master Plan was originally written by Revathi Shiva Kumar.  )

Revised Master Plan 2031
Revised Master Plan 2031

The Revised Master Plan (RMP) 2031 is being scrutinised by the public. Most experts feel that too much priority has been given to archaic rather than progressive planning.

Although the government has not conducted enough workshops or feedback meetings with the public, the draft is out for public comment. You can view all the rules here.

In a workshop organised by the Environment Support Group (ESG), participants were taken aback when they learnt that every one of them, ranging from planners to industrialists, could become part of the planning process as a constitutional right!

A bottoms-up approach is supposed to be part of the planning process. Hence, the current plan is not “legally legitimate”, according to Saldanha. The RMP has been drawn out more in the “old school” structure, while models in UK, Holland, South Africa and Brazil are progressive and modern, explain the critics.

The plan is thus termed “undemocratic”, according to a column by Ashwin Mahesh, in Deccan Chronicle. Having sidelined the Metropolitan Planning Committee, the correct body to execute it, the RMP is “unconstitutional”, and it has its own seeds for collapse, repeating the mistakes of history.

The planners who have drawn up the Masterplan don’t seem to have much experience in either the subject or planning. Yet, they continue it because of the “political economy around land” in the city. It is an economy that depends strongly on secrecy in planning, as well as on “protecting vested interests”.

The positives

The RMP’s “four pillars for development” are ecological sustainability, mobility, inclusive growth and streamlined governance. The RMP-2031 can be appreciated for creating a “good spatial dataset”. The internal maps of building footprints and estimated areas seems to have got some care. A lot of data collection through “surveys, extensive transport modelling, population projections and analysis” has been collated. Heritage conservation has been included in a master plan for the first time. The Good can tick off ecological considerations and mobility solutions, according to another article in Deccan Chronicle by Ravichandar V.

Land use

The RMP-2031 seems to be an archaic template of a bygone planning system. Why does it rely only on land use and zonal regulations?

Urban sociologist, Dr. Swetha Rao Dhananka, has pointed out that some underlying assumptions in the RMP are inadequate for Bangalore’s cityscape, in which 80% of the structures violate laws and regulations.

What would be the development projects by the BDA in the next 15 years?

First of all, the land use guidelines have not really been understood. According to columnist Ashwin Mahesh in Deccan Chronicle, they have been “fixed” in various places with no understanding of all the sectoral needs for transport, energy and health.

The BDA’s jurisdiction is 1,320 square kilometers, so it cannot really support more than 7 million residents. The RMP-2031, however, is based on the assumption that the area can support twice the population we now have. An increase from 11 million to almost 23 million has been shown to be expected in less than 15 years.

The RMP’s Existing Land Use (ELU) plan is not too practical and is full of cartographic errors, according to an article in The Hindu. It is likely to “derail the land use policy”. The residential land use area shows an increase from 212 sq.kms to 424 sq.kms For instance, V. Ravichandar, a member of the BBMP Restructuring Committee said that within a walking-distance radius of his house in Langford Town, about eight roads and many parks were not shown in the ELU maps. Hence, the roads could be “gobbled up” if implemented. Some places were inaccurately shown as “open spaces”, even though the development plans had been approved.

As both ELU and PLU maps are PDF files, not layered on a GIS-enabled base map, they are not even searchable. The increase of 80 sq kms in the city’s development area is not matched by a proportionate reduction in the nearby agricultural area. It instead, shows up expansion by more than 22 sqkms! Hence, it doesn’t seem to exist!

Floor Area Ratio is reduced

The expansion of the urban sprawl is projected to be about 80 square kms, according to an article in The Hindu. Hence, it is expected that the city would experience vertical growth. This should be accompanied by a more ‘liberal Floor Area Ratio’ (FAR). Yet, the draft plan proposal shows a reduced base FAR. The last RMP–2015 with a permissible FAR ranged from 1.75 to 3.25. But the base FAR in the current RMP has actually been reduced. It ranges from 1.5 to 2.

The plan does makes room for additional premium FAR or loading Transferable Development Rights (TDR). The maximum limit for it is earmarked at 4. Other cities such as Mumbai and Hyderabad are increasing FAR so that real estate can be affordable. However, the reverse has been suggested in the new RMP.

An issue of concern among real estate and urban planning experts is that if the base FAR is reduced, then the market gets open for manipulation. This automatically translates into the creation of a false market for premium FAR. And that has to be bought from the government at a cost. The same scene applies to TDR. It has no takers among land losers, with no profitable market available for it. Even after loading premium FAR or TDR in some areas, the upper limit of FAR is 2.7, a reduction from the current limit of 3.25. Only some restricted areas are permitted FAR up to 4.

Green areas

For every 2,000 sq. kilometres, there will be about a provision of 10 per cent mandatory greening, explains the RMP, according to an article in TNIE. The primary, secondary and tertiary drains will be classified according to the NGT guidelines.

The ELU forest area is shown to be 27.53 sq. kilometres, while the PLU’s reduced forest cover is projected to be only 5.7 sq. kilometres. Leo Saldanha points out that the RMP reflects the poor understanding of the complexity of land use. Why does it refer to land use in Bannerghatta National Park, which falls under forest land, not the BDA? The BDA area simply does not match with the Bengaluru Urban district figures.

Water Bodies

The Masterplan violates National Green Tribunal’s order that a 75-meter buffer zone needs to be built and maintained around lakes as well as other water bodies. According to an article in The Logical Indian written by Poorbita Bagchi, several areas have been identified where corridor roads can be built to create an integrated transport system at a 12-18 meter radius from the lakes.

There are four lakes that are alive but have not been leveraged for development. Two lakes, Kasavanahalli and Kaikondrahalli, in Bengaluru east, are maintained by residents and members of Mahadevpura Parisara Samrakshane Abhivrudhi Samiti (MAPSAS).

An analysis of the land use mapped out in the RMP in the Bellandur-Haralur area, shows that of the 9,555-acre area that has been laid open for “development”, water bodies occupy 909 acres, while 1,030 acres are just buffer zones. A road seems to be constructed on a Rajakaluve, or storm water drain on the Kasavanahalli lake. Many encroachments are also being done here.

In the RMP, the Achhana and Saulkere lake boundaries seem to have cut through by a 12-meter road. There is another road that has been situated near Kaikondrahalli lake. The situation is worse in the Chinnappanahalli and Doddanekundi lakes, with 12-meter and 18-meter roads that have actually run through the middle of the lakes! They all somehow point the way to techparks and office spaces.

Air quality

What could be the impact of land use on mobility patterns as well as on the climate and air quality? No one knows. Still, it could have been assessed, which the RMP does not seem to have done. The transport strategy has to be worked out in terms of quality of life and pollution levels. However, it does not seem to have happened.

Even though land use makes an impact on trips in terms of the number, length as well as the choice of mode of transport, the correlations have not been worked out, according to an article in The Hindu.

Transit and transport systems

Currently, the usage of public transport is 48 percent, but the plan is to increase it to 68-70 percent. Hence, the BDA’s plan has put out two new proposals for Ring Roads around the existing three, along with a couple of new 100 km Metro routes along the Peripheral Ring Road (PRR) to be developed by BDA. It will be done along with an extension of the proposed Silk Board to K R Puram route (Metro Phase 2A), covering the entire ORR. Another network hoped to be extended would expand the Phase 2A route from K R Puram to Hebbal-Magadi Road-Mysore Road.

In order to speed up commuting and transportation, it is important to enhance public transport in 15 years, according to BDA’s report, says The New Indian Express. The expected expansion in population would be 2 crore-plus in 2031 from the present 1.15 crore population. So the Metro network and Bus Rapid Transport, along with the monorail and commuter rail systems, have been enhanced.

In a chaotic city whose population is expected to shoot up to 20.3 million by 2031, the lack of a strong public transport system is a major issue. The RMP plans to focus on infrastructure for private vehicles, as well as ring roads and mass transit systems, a commuter rail service and multiple options for bus transit too.

However, experts find many ironies in the proposed plan, according to The Hindu. Why does the RMP target expansion of the vehicular carrying capacity with more infrastructure, but fail to address the issue of the volume of the traffic? There are worries that the conventional approach of increasing the capacity might not be sustainable with a shoot-up in the traffic.

A point that has not been addressed adequately is addressing the increase in the number of buses. The existing BMTC fleet of 6,000 buses has been planned to expand to almost 15,000 buses, along with Transit Transport Management Centres. Other proposals include Bus Rapid Transport System, Light Rail Transit and Mono Rail.

However, about 15,000 buses are needed today, not in 2031, Urban mobility expert Pawan Mulukutla told The Hindu. But the RMP has not fixed the number to the requirement of the time.

On the other hand, demand management strategies such as parking fee and corridor pricing just get a passing mention in the RMP. The focus on multimodal transit integration that can be achieved through unified metropolitan transportation authority and a common ticketing system are also not referred to. The accessibility and viability of transport modes for the weaker sections of society have also not been evaluated.

Missed opportunity?

Hence, although it was a “golden opportunity” to fix local problems, and point out a “robust, implementable road map”, the real report card would be “B for effort, D for results”, sums up V. Ravichander in a Deccan Chronicle article.

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