Citizens must come together and stop politicians from grabbing land and destroying cities
In Mysore, which has unveiled a draft master plan for 2031, the corrupt political class is prepared to ruin a city to make massive profits through land grabbing. What is true for Mysore is true for other cities in India. The difference is that Mysoreans led by Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP) is leading a campaign to stop the loot
No major city in India can claim to be free from the problem of the growing pains of urbanization. This is despite the need to undertake regular exercise of carrying out master plans every 10 to 15 years as per the Town Planning Acts (TP Acts) of different states.
It would not be an exaggeration to argue that India’s major cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, etc have literally collapsed with ever increasing garbage, shortage of power, water and housing, horrible traffic jams, etc. However, there are cities like Pune, Surat, Mysore, etc which can still be prevented from reaching such a tipping point provided we have sound comprehensive development plans based on the lessons learnt from the best practices of modern urban planning.
Unfortunately the example of Mysore, which has unveiled a draft master plan for 2031 recently, shows how the corrupt political class is prepared to ruin a city to make massive profits through land grabbing. What is true for Mysore is likely to be true for other cities in India. The difference is that Mysoreans led by one of its well established NGO, Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP) is leading a campaign to pressurize Karnataka government to discard the draft plan—Mysore Master Plan (MMP) and redo the MMP. Below is a brief account of what is wrong with the current draft plan and what one active NGO can do.
Of the major cities in India, Mysore is unique in many aspects. It was the first country in India to have an urban planning authority in India. Because of this reason, Mysore was a well planned city with parks, beautiful buildings with attractive architecture, broad tree lined roads with adequate footpaths, well laid residential layouts, 24X7 water supply, clean roads, attractive markets, etc.
However, post independence things have started to deteriorate because of the incompetence of Mysore Urban Development Authority (MUDA). Fortunately Mysore has still not reached the point of no return like other cities.
But MUDA appears to be in a big hurry to get the MMP approved by the government. There is a feeling that approval of the present MMP will allow vested interests to make a killing on the land they are holding. For their benefit, the MMP should not sacrifice the well-being of millions of Mysoreans. The MMP should have addressed five major crises which are threatening Mysore City, but one cannot find answers in the MMP to them.
Water Crisis: There is a shortage of rains this year and Mysore city is facing a terrible water problem. If you look at past records, we are sure to face bigger droughts in the future, but the MMP does not consider this possibility at all. With the population of Mysore rising rapidly, this is a scary prospect. Why has the MMP not included the 50 year master plan prepared by Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWSDB)?
Traffic Crisis: The traffic situation in the city is getting worse by the day. Vehicle ownership is increasing fast with higher incomes and so also accidents in the city. The day is not far away when the traffic in Mysore will come to a grinding halt in a gridlock. The Traffic Police still do not have a computer simulation model to find solutions to the traffic problems of either today or the future. Why has not the Traffic Police too given a 50-year Master Plan like the KUWSDB? It must be prepared, presented, and considered, if we want to avoid the chaos on the roads that we see today in Namma Bengaluru.
Garbage Crisis: It must be a cruel joke to award Mysore City the second cleanest city in the country award. Incidentally awards too can be purchased like awards in some cases! With the lack of planning in the MMP with reference to garbage handling, we will soon be drowning in garbage. How did the MMP underestimate the current generation of garbage as just 350 tonnes per day? Why has the MMP ignored several studies done for the city by other experts on this subject which gives a different figure?
Education Sector Crisis: We all know that the destiny of a country is shaped in the classrooms. But the MMP has paid very little attention to this important subject. Government schools are closing down. Private schools are coming up in congested areas with no playgrounds. Poor children are dropping out before completing high school education. In the future if all of them demand high schools where will we build high schools? The MMP does not talk about this point.
Heritage Crisis: The MMP pays a lot of lip service to the need for preserving the city’s heritage. But we are destroying it at an alarming rate. How can anyone allow a huge mall (Garuda Mall) in the heart of the city next to the historic palace? How can a parking lot be constructed within the premises of the Town Hall, another heritage building? One day, they might even pull down the Town Hall and replace it with a shopping centre or a parking lot! The MMP has no serious discussions on topics like green belt (disappearing), parks (encroached and poorly maintained) and water bodies (shrinking).
Instead of catering to the demands of developers who are holding large tracts of agricultural land around Mysore waiting for the green signal from the MMP for development, MUDA and the implementing agencies should be planning for the above crises which will have a major impact on the citizens. But MUDA during its planned interactions with the citizens failed to respond to this type of issues.
Mysore Grahakara Parishat organized a discussion on the MMP to develop a strategy to convince the government to redo it. The presence of one official from SAI Consulting Engineers (the private company which had won the contract to develop MMP), though he participated in his individual capacity as a concerned citizen, added value to the discussions.
What came out of the meeting on the future of Mysore should disturb not only concerned Mysoreans but also Indians. Even though the MMP is derived from Karnataka's Town and Country Planning Act (TP Act) and despite pious intentions of the makers of MMP-2031, Mysore will go the Bangalore way—from a well-planned garden and heritage city to a garbage city.
In all its public meetings and also during the meetings with Mysore City Corporation, MUDA officials have been stressing that MMP is strictly in compliance with the TP Act. The TP Act states that the main objectives of the Act are to provide civic and social amenities, to prevent uncontrolled development of land driven by speculation and profiteering, to ensure environmental health and hygiene, etc. However, the question arises as to why the MMP does not meet any of these basic objectives specifically stipulated in the TP Act.
During the MGP meeting, it became clear that the best practices of a well-planned city like Chandigarh or any such city were not incorporated. This is because there was no such need as per Town Planning Act and as it was felt that every city has its own unique characteristics. Interestingly, no world-class urban planner was consulted to develop the MMP either.
To comply with the TP Act, the consulting firm SAI had submitted a list of stakeholders to be invited for consultation to MUDA. This compliance was simply on paper. How is it that a leading NGO like MGP, which had been taking active part in earlier Comprehensive Development Plans (CDPs), has not been invited?
Like the MGP, there must be many other stakeholders who have also not been invited. It seems that according to TP Act, if a stakeholder does not come and make a presentation, their requirements can be ignored. There cannot be more ridiculous argument than this if the objective of the MMP is to save and develop Mysore as a heritage city and not allow it to be exploited by the land mafia. Therefore, this must be a mischievous interpretation of the Act only to benefit some unscrupulous people whose only objective is to benefit from improper land use.
The fact that the basic requirements of Mysore have been either totally ignored or inadequately dealt with in the MMP was obvious from the deliberations at the MGP meeting. Following are some examples:
CHESCom & Water Board
Chamundeswari Energy Supply Company (CHESCom) is a stakeholder (it is represented on Town Planning Committee) but it did not give its requirements and the MMP has not provided for future power requirement as a result. Similarly, even though Water Board had submitted their long-term plans and needs, they seem to have been ignored for some mysterious reasons. The MMP has claimed that Water Board has stated that there is plenty of water to meet future needs of city. This was hotly debated based on the present acute water shortage and the crisis experienced by many all over the city.
Mysore is acknowledged as an educational centre of national and international repute. But it is shameful that Education Department, University of Mysore or Open University did not submit their future requirements to MUDA. Problems of schools and colleges in the old city like the overcrowding, lack of playgrounds, lack of toilet facilities, etc, are well known. Still the planners did not feel the need to reserve land for educational facilities in the MMP. The argument was that since Mysore has more than ‘adequate’ educational institutions as per norms of the TP Act there was no need for reserving additional land!
Medical Tourism Centre
There has been a proposal to develop Mysore city as a Medical Tourism Centre to attract foreign patients. This did not seem to have come to the notice of the planners of the MMP. Again no one from Health Department presented their requirements. The result was that some land has been allocated only for one more hospital—KR Hospital.
Similarly the MMP did not find it necessary to deal with the problem of the construction of multiple dwelling units in plots meant for single dwellings. Already several localities are seeing the mushrooming growth of high-rise residential buildings creating problems of overflowing sewage, garbage and falling water pressure. The tragedy is that such distortions to the planned city are passed on as the limitations of MCC bylaws! What suggestions or steps are proposed in the MMP to restrict such distortions? None.
It was not clear why the land allocated for Autonagar was not shown in the MMP. There was a large representation of members of the Motor Vehicle Mechanists Union. They explained how they have been lobbying with MLAs, MPs and ministers over the years and got nothing.
The most disturbing thing we learnt was that most of 12,168 hectares of agricultural land as of 2009 has already been given permission for conversion for development by different authorities. The only thing the planners have done is to regularise it. Instead of discussing what can be done to reverse that process since it is blatantly illegal as per the earlier CDPs, the planners have taken the easy course to meet the needs of the land mafia.
Conversion of residential buildings
So is the case of conversion of residential buildings into commercial ones within a residential layout. None of the planned residential layouts have remained purely residential. In contrast, plots/areas specifically meant for public amenities, known as Community Amenity sites (CA sites) continue to be vacant awaiting further appreciation of values or grabbed by the politically powerful!
One is compelled from above observations that the MMP has totally failed in understanding the prevailing problems of the city, let alone having a clear vision for its future. We are told that MMP is only a spatial plan and it will be supplemented by a CDP in evolving the details of developmental issues later on. But when the macro-level planning in the MMP itself is so deficient and defective how can one expect that the micro level planning will do anything better? The MMP is a legal document while CDP is not. Can we be more irrational?
Therefore, the meeting was unanimous that all concerned citizens and institutions of the city should vehemently oppose and stop approval and implementation of Mysore Master Plan-2031. Supporting the MGP’s letter writing campaign to the state chief minister is just one strategy.
It can even be argued that the MMP is violating the fundamental rights of the citizens since the current plan will convert the heritage town into a garbage town like Bengaluru and make life miserable for citizens. This alone should provide ample ground to file a PIL. It is high time either we change the TP Act if it does not allow a holistic plan approach with all the limitations claimed by MUDA or redo the plan to “Save Mysore” using more qualified urban planner.
In conclusion if we the public do not take action and get involved in solving civic problems like development of a sound master plan, our elected representatives will take us for a ride. No use blaming the politicians for the failure of democracy. It is we the public who are responsible for our inaction. If Mysoreans in large numbers take part in the CM letter writing campaign, we can succeed in developing a world-class master plan for Mysore and preserve the old charm of the city.
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