The draft Master Plan for Delhi 2021-2041 has a number of significant lacunae ranging from the outdated idea of a “Master Plan” framed once in every 20 years to a lack of articulation of the policies or strategies by which the future vision is to be realised.

Missing from the goals is any notion of equity in the city. Not defining future transit lines and arterial roads amounts to bypassing consideration of what a city is all about, the free and easy movement of people and goods. For amenities, the plan is to reduce the land area provided per capita to about half of what it is for the present population.

Provisions for low-income housing are also seriously deficient. They consign the city to a continuing proliferation of unauthorised colonies and a continuing expansion of slums.

The draft Master Plan for Delhi 2021-2041 or MPD 2041, published on June 9, required suggestions and objections to be submitted within 45 days. This the authors have done. This article is an extract from the suggestions and objections limited to issues that the authors believe deserve wider awareness and discussion while the process of reviewing the suggestions and objections continues within government.

Falling short

Draft MPD 2041 with its 20-year horizon has been prepared to comply with the requirements of the Delhi Development Act of 1957, which is derived from the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947. While compliance with the Act is mandatory, and the present draft Master Plan has gone much beyond what is minimally required, it falls far short of what is needed for effective urban planning today. The entire process of urban planning and implementation needs to be thoroughly and thoughtfully recast. There is nothing in the Act that would inhibit this.

A once-in-20 years exercise, however carefully thought out, simply cannot work because the future is so unpredictable in terms of technology and societal and economic changes. What is needed instead is an articulation of values and objectives – much like the writing of the Indian Constitution – and an embedding of these in laws that makes deviation from these open to challenge in court.

Thereafter, urban planning will be an ongoing process, monitored annually, as specific projects and policies are framed in pursuit of those values and objectives. Those principles remain constant, or may change slowly over time.

It is high time we stepped back and reviewed the entire urban planning process, instead of continuing under laws which have long outlived their relevance. New York and Tokyo have given up master plans. London has a rolling plan, a long-term vision that changes if not annually at least with every change of mayor, in response to changing circumstances. In any case a master plan is meaningless unless current policies and strategies are aligned with the plan’s long-term objectives.

By contrast, draft MPD 2041 has been drawn up without regard to changing circumstances, and indeed without regard to active implementation.

Visitors at the Smartcity Expo in New Delhi on May 20, 2015. Credit: Sajjad Husain / AFP

Such Master Plans are irrelevant to the point of being meaningless. What is needed instead is a recasting of the whole urban planning process to a more flexible arrangement with clearly articulated long-term specific and measurable goals. This needs to be accompanied by a list of projects (prioritised), and policies with rules and regulations fully defined. These projects and policies can be reviewed annually. At all times, they must be seen to align with the long-term goals.

Annual adjustment is needed to respond to difficulties during implementation, to changes in technology, and to changing demand. An important goal that is missing is the need to move towards a more equitable society where in regard to provision of amenities the lower-income groups are given at least as much weight as the rest.

Draft MPD 2041 does not specify that the proportions of housing to be ensured for different income groups should correspond to the proportion which that income group has in the overall income profile of the city. If anything the proportion should be tilted in favour of the lower income groups so that one can begin to address the backlog.

Having said that, we consider next our specific objections to and suggestions for draft MPD 2041.

Market regulation

Capitalism looks like it is here to stay. It seems to be inescapable as the economic system that will be adopted by nearly all societies in future. Most countries have accepted it already. It comes in a variety of flavours, from social democratic or liberal meritocratic capitalism in the West to state-led political or authoritarian capitalism in China. Its fundamental basis is the tenet that self-interest (personal greed) aligns perfectly with what is best for the advancement of society.

That this is not always so, and that there are a significant number of individuals whose lives are driven by compassion or a deep concern for the poor, rather than personal profit, is barely acknowledged.

Governments ideally should be on the side of this countervailing force. But this is usually not so, because the interests of the political leadership often align with those of the wealthiest in society. Nevertheless, experience with capitalism has clearly shown that untrammelled market forces can lead to disaster. Markets need to be regulated if they are to promote the best interests of society. So market regulation is one of most important jobs of government, even when concern for the poor is noticeably missing.

Free and open markets are at the heart of capitalism. Market competition promotes innovation and efficiency in operations, leading to better products at lower costs. This applies to all commodities and even personal skills, where the more skilled person earns more, or where skills are equivalent it is the one who charges less that gets the patronage.

So market forces appropriately controlled to limit wild excesses may certainly be the way to go for commodities and skills. But we would argue that land is not a commodity like other commodities. It differs from the others in several ways. The sum total of these differences leads us to the conclusion that it would be in the best interests of society if land were to be managed differently from the free rein given to market forces as they apply to other commodities.

The principal difference between land and other commodities is that the price of land depends on its location. So particular locations where only the wealthy can afford to live become more and more prized. But these people require a wide range of services, most of them provided by workers or staff who cannot afford the land for housing close to their place of work. The wealthy may at most provide servants’ quarters at zero cost to those who provide them personal home services.

But what of staff that happens to work for a wider clientele within the same high-value locality? Residents there would want a hospital close by, a school, a market for daily necessities, a choice of restaurants. Where will the nurses live, the teachers, plumbers, electricians, vegetable sellers, waiters and all the cleaning staff?

With land prices linked to location they can only afford to live very far away, adding long hours to what is probably already an abnormally long working day. Most nurses in Mumbai for example work a 12-hour shift and have a commute of an hour-and-a-half or more each way, that is, twice a day.

So to have a well-ordered society organised in a way that achieves the best result for all income groups we must look for ways in which ideally the entire cross-section of income groups in the city is replicated within each neighbourhood. This does not mean that everyone who works in a locality necessarily lives there. After all the whole point of living in a city is to broaden one’s choice of where to work, or play, or socialise.

Nevertheless, balancing income levels and area spread, so that each income group is evenly spread across the city seems to be a goal worth pursuing if for no other reason than minimising the load on urban transit, the overall man-hours wasted in transit, or for the larger reason of sustainability of resources.

Inclusionary housing

Many societies have recognised the desirability of such a goal. It is not always formally articulated. But it gets expressed in urban policies, of which the most important one is inclusionary housing. This requires that wherever there is an urban for-profit real estate development, a specified fraction of the total number of residential units or of residential land area must be set aside for low-income housing.

In the US, this affordable housing set-aside differs from state to state, ranging from 5% to 25% and being most commonly between 15% and 20%. In Montreal, Canada, it is 30%. In the UK, which has a long tradition of social housing, it is an obligation imposed on the land owner (not the developer who must accept the obligation when negotiating the land price). Known in the planning system as “S106 affordable housing”, this is negotiated when granting planning permission. So the precise percentage of affordable housing varies.

In the examples cited, mixed-use Imperial Wharf on the Thames in Inner London has 48% of total residential units as affordable housing (calculated by the authors from numbers in Nico Calavita and Alan Mallach’s Inclusionary Housing in International Perspective – Affordable Housing, Social Inclusion, and Land Value Recapture).

France requires the governing body of each arrondissement, or urban ward, to ensure that a minimum 20% of its housing is social rental. Paris requires 25%.

Differing from reservations of built floor space, in some countries the reservation is of land for social housing. In London, social housing is mandatory at a minimum of 35% with a target of 50% of all units. In Ireland, up to 20% of the land receiving planning permission can be required to be handed over to the local authority at use value (the earlier value of the land, usually agricultural, before its change of use). Spain has gone further than any other European country and requires a minimum of 30% of residential land to be reserved for social housing.

Because affordable housing units are often much smaller in area than regular units, the 20% or 30% land area at the same Floor Area Ratio (or FSI, as it is known in India) could thus house much more than 20% or 30% of the resident population.

Children of slum dwellers play under a pushcart in New Delhi. Credit: Ahmad Masood/Reuters

As important point common to all countries is that the inclusionary housing, as the name implies, has to be socially inclusive. That means it must be close to regular housing wherever that is built, ideally part of the same plot. Which means it cannot be in ghettos. It has to be distributed across the city in the same way and spread to the same degree as regular housing.

In India, land area is not considered for inclusionary housing, only built-up floor space. In fact, by proposing very high densities for low-income housing, this implies a disproportionately smaller land area. It means that low-income housing must be stacked up vertically, with much poorer light and ventilation than its higher-income counterparts.

Mumbai has a policy where it is mandatory that 20% of the built up new residential area is constructed as inclusionary housing. The handing over of these units to the government authority is optional and the developer may choose to directly sell them in the open market as long as the dwelling unit size is maintained as prescribed. So the mandate is only in regard to apartment size, not the price at which it is sold.

New residential construction is mostly towards the peripheral areas in Mumbai as the central and suburban areas are already built up. The redevelopment policy has no mandatory parameter for the provision of inclusionary housing. Thus, pushing lower-income people out of the central city is in a way planned.

Small-format housing

The new draft Master Plan for Delhi 2041 mandates 15% of group housing far must be used for small-format housing, where the size range is 40 sq m per unit-60 sq m per unit. This can be sold at market value.

There is a further 15% mandated as additional far, over and above the group Floor Area Ratio. This is to generate housing for economically weaker section of size 25 sq m-40 sq m. It is worth noting that half of the housing units so created are to be handed over to government for allocation as public housing.

The other half is first offered to the owners of the group housing at market value as servant housing. So in effect only 7.5% of the group housing Floor Area Ratio is utilised for new units to be issued by government on such terms as it decides, presumably less than market value.

In both Mumbai and Delhi the central problem with this policy is that the inclusionary housing is offered on ownership, not rental. So, it is not likely to continue as housing for low-income residents for very long. The first beneficiaries are assigned the housing at a low cost, paying virtually nothing for the cost of the underlying land. While these beneficiaries are initially not allowed to transact in their properties, the constraint is lifted at the end of 15 years. Thereafter the occupants can sell out and realise the full market value of their property.

In fact, in Mumbai many beneficiaries have sold their properties immediately, giving immediate possession together with a sale deed dated 15 years hence. So some of it is no longer low-income housing, but a windfall bonus to those identified as beneficiaries. And 15 years down the line, all of it will be on the market, at market prices, defeating the purpose of inclusionary housing altogether.

A slum rehabilitation project in Mumbai's Dharavi. Credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

The correction needed is obvious. Land dedicated to inclusionary housing should be taken off the land market altogether, for all time. There is nothing unfamiliar about land being off the market. In a city, land for streets and railways, parks, museums, schools and hospitals is off the market. Such land is available for common public use, but its value on account of location is not encashable. The same is true of land set apart for a wildlife reserve or a forest reserve.

Land for low-income housing could similarly be taken off the market, with ownership of the land either with government or with an agency that is committed to the welfare of the underprivileged. Registered Social Landlords perform this kind of function in the UK. They are strictly regulated by government in regard to the fees they can charge for administration and maintenance of their property.

Community Land Trusts perform a similar function in the US. We have enough NGOs that could be entrusted with such responsibilities. And we have enough talented people who would be happy to work for a Community Land Reserve whose purpose is community service and not profit.

The Community Land Reserve would rent out housing to the occupants. Ownership if allowed would be conditional on the occupant fully recovering the cost of all investments he or she has made in construction, including allowing for inflation, but nothing for the appreciation in land value because the underlying land would always be owned by the Community Land Reserve. And the Community Land Reserve is bound by the terms of its Memorandum and Articles of Association to use the land for nothing other than low-income housing.

How much residential land should we set aside for inclusionary housing? To quote the draft MPD 2041:

“As per Socio-Economic Survey of Delhi, GNCTD, 2018-19, 85% Population requires affordable housing options. This mismatch has resulted in proliferation of unauthorised colonies (UCs) and slums, and densification of existing urban villages…” 

Reducing the backlog

We cannot hope to correct this situation quickly, but we need to ensure that we go beyond what would be the normal provisions for inclusionary housing so that we begin to reduce the backlog, however gradually.

Inclusionary housing addresses the 80% of those below the median income, that is, the household income bottom 40 percentile. This should be lifted to 50% of all housing units if we are to seriously address the backlog. We have a precedent for this in Italy, where in return for being granted building permission the property owner retains development rights to one-third of the property. The city retains two-thirds of the area, of which half is to be devoted to public facilities and half to social housing.

This is identical of what was proposed by Charles Correa for the mill lands when these were to be taken up for redevelopment in Mumbai. It is a formula that makes complete sense in the Indian context, all the more so because it aligns well with international norms and might be expected to begin addressing past deficiencies.

As against this we have the following in the Draft MPD 2041: “At least 15% of the residential FAR…shall be utilized for development of small format dwelling units of 40-60sq.m.”

And Table 17.1 of the Draft MPD 2041, reproduced here as Table 1.

Table 1 Distribution of land uses in land pooling areas Master Plan for Delhi 2041

The 53% of Gross Residential area is only 55% residential, the balance 45% being devoted to home-base industries, essential services etc. So in effect only 55% of 53%, that is 30% of total land area will be for residential plots. Within this 30% residential land area the inclusionary housing units (15% small units at market price + 15% for economically weaker sections) will be 30% of built area.

Assuming inclusionary housing is built to the same density at regular housing – the highly improbably best-case scenario – the land area consumed for inclusionary housing will be 30% of 30%, that is, 9% of total land area, against the 33% according to international practice.

In reality, the small format and economically weaker sections units in new housing can be on as small a percentage of the land area as the developer desires. It implies a stacking up of the small units to a density whose upper limit is not specified.

Apart from what has been discussed above regarding new development, if we look at what is proposed for redevelopment of existing slums, unauthorised colonies and other unsatisfactory areas, we see a recommended upper limit of density at 900 dwelling units per hectare (du/ ha). If we look at MPD 2041’s own recommendations of area needed for amenities these work out to 7.14 sq m/ person of land area.

With the number of inhabitants being 900 x 4.5 = 4,050 persons, the area they will need for amenities is 4,050 x 7.14 = 2.9 ha. So for every hectare of built-up land for housing for the economically weaker sections, we will need 2.9 ha for the corresponding amenities. Actually required to be provided within a layout is zero.

And because the numbers provided are so far short of what the income profile demands, we can confidently expect unauthorised colonies and slums in Delhi to continue to proliferate in the new development areas over the next 20 years. That is the plan.

Opportunities of high density

What distinguishes a town or city from other places of habitation is density coupled with size. High density living among a large group of people multiplies choice. Opportunities expand, in terms of people one can work with. There can be increasing specialisation within occupations, with the benefits this brings in terms of better products and more variety.

There is a boost to output and higher quality obtained from the stimulus that is provided by the interaction with others engaged in a similar occupation, whether by way of rivalry or by way of encouragement and support.

A fundamental requirement for the system to work is that it must be easy to move around. Interaction with a chosen few from among a large number of inhabitants will happen only if those few can reach one another without too much loss of time and without too much expense. So a high-speed, low-cost comfortable transit system in a network the covers the entire city is critical for efficient functioning of the city. If nothing else it needs a grid, not necessarily linear but a crisscross grid of streets that covers the whole area to be serviced.

That such a grid works well is exemplified by New York. There, 200 years ago, the Commissioners laid out a grid of future streets on a plan. Thereafter if anything was built on such a street it could be demolished without compensation. The street areas were thus fully respected and development, of all kinds, happened on the areas enclosed by the grid. Although buses could run on the streets, the major use of streets in due course was by cars and taxis and pedestrians. The major transit lines were later laid in the form of underground trains, another grid on a separate, underground layer for fast mass public movement.

In draft MPD 2041, there is no plan for transit at all. There in not even a clear layout of arterial roads that will cover the area. The provision of land area of 12% for roads (see Table 17.1 above) is hopelessly inadequate. It may take care of internal layout roads, but cannot possibly include the area needed for arterial roads or surface transit systems.

Table 2: Road area as a percentage of total urbanisable area in orld Cities

*These are roads operated by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and exclude roads managed by other agencies. Source: Patel et al (forthcoming) Table 12.5

Table 2 shows a comparison of the land area devoted to transport in several cities around the world. Delhi’s area at 28.8% is in the middle of that range. But MPD 2041 mandates a minimum of just 12% for roads and circulation (see Table 1). Is future development of roads in Delhi to be seriously restricted to 12% of pooled land area? That looks like a blunder, not a seriously thought out figure.

Table 3: Comparing Land Area per Capita for Amenities in World Cities

Source: Patel et al (forthcoming), from Tables 11.9a, 15.17, 15.29

Notice that the area for amenities in Delhi, already well below the level for all other international cities, is to be further reduced in MPD 2041 to bring it closer to Mumbai’s abysmally low levels. So much for making Delhi a world-class city.

In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and its after effects, perhaps we need to re-examine the composition of transit demand and the distribution of land uses. MPD 2041 shows no awareness of these changing transit needs.

Serious deficiencies

To conclude, there are very serious deficiencies in draft MPD 2041. First we have to question the entire process of producing a Master Plan once in 20 years, disconnected from implementation and with eyes firmly shut to changing circumstances.

Second, with the proposals set out in the plan, unauthorised development and slums are bound to increase. More importantly, as long as land for low-income housing is not permanently dedicated to this purpose and taken off the land market we will see no real improvement in such housing being well distributed throughout the city, This matters, both from the point of view of having a society that is more equitable and socially inclusionary as well as from the point of view of minimising transit demand and thus conserving resources.

Third, areas proposed to be set aside for low-income housing are woefully inadequate, a quarter or less of what they should be. In the absence of such a provision, unauthorised colonies and slums are bound to continue to proliferate.

And finally, any kind of long-term city plan must lay out explicitly, on a map, where its transit lines and arterial roads will run so as to clearly define the land areas on which construction can be allowed. These are the lifelines on which a city runs. Adding them as afterthoughts makes nonsense of planning, reducing it to nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking.

Shirish B Patel was the first Director of Planning & Works for Navi Mumbai.

Jasmine Saluja and Oormi Kapadia are both architects and urban designers and recipients of the first prize for an international design competition “Reinventing Dharavi” held in Mumbai in 2014.