Peoples Planning Campaign in Kerala is a matter of great pride. Unlike the dramatic social changes that we have seen in our history, this one is genuinely home grown and therefore a rather slow and labored process. That needs to be seen as a healthy sign. We are slowly and steadily moving towards social equity as a component in the planning process itself. This could be closest form of democratic expression a society can aspire for.
This is real transfer of power and it is also a steady correction of an existing system; where one mechanism of power willfully, slowly loosens its grip over the power it wields. There are bound to be hiccups and since this is home grown, some amount of trial and error is bound to occur during the transition. The global climate too is undergoing extreme dynamics and the economy of Kerala is rather well connected to the global energies via its Middle East connections. This makes the transition even more difficult.
As the system invents itself and shuffles under the unevenness of the internal power corrections, newer institutional mechanisms are being created in the process of Development Plan preparation and its implementation.
The power to create Development Plans have been transferred from the State Town Planning Department to the Urban Local Body. The ULB is still ill-equipped to deal with this power in terms of its staffing and also, in terms of its understanding of the scope of using this dramatic power that has been gifted to it unsolicited.
So, the ball (the preparation of the Development Plan) has been bouncing around and finally, ended up at the table of the State Town Planning Department all over again. It is not easy to draw a boundary around the cities of Kerala. Such boundaries wouldn't justify the impact/ influence zones of these cities. So, an urban agglomeration was to be identified that would include the core city and its immediate surrounding villages (Municipalities or Panchayats). The Development Plans were to cover this Region.
The State Planning Department could foresee the need to create a legal entity to administer and implement the Plans that were prepared for this Region. This they have done and also, they have sought and created an administrative unit for the same called Joint Town Planning committee (JTPC). The JTPC comprises of the members of the Mother City and its surrounding Local Bodies, plus representatives of the Town Planning Offices.
The JTPC is composed of the following; the Mayor & the Secretary of the City Corporation, Chairman of its Standing Committee on Town Planning, all chairmen of the surrounding municipalities or panchayats, the Corporation Engineer and a couple of Town Planners from the Regional Town Planning Office. With no disrespect to the good offices of the constituent team, I wonder if this is arrangement can ever reflect the exigencies of the local planning issues? How does this team “listen” to the needs of the local people? How do they keep on updating the contents of the Plan to take care of the concerns voiced by the citizens?
We need a better “listening” mechanism for that to happen. Also, it is pertinent to bring in fresh ideas in the planning and design of urban places. This is where it is happening. This JTPC is to be advised by a Spatial Integration Committee comprising of technical people nominated by the JTPC. Where are the Urban Designers in the team? Where are the ecological planners? Where are the Transportation planners? Shouldn't they be part of the team that advices this committee?
Our education system subsidizes the creation of such professionally qualified personnel and we have no mechanism to hire and use their skills? This is where they are needed. Look at what we are doing instead.
All and sundry make extra-ordinary suggestions and sometimes ridiculously silly ideas as solutions to urban problems. Its good that the citizen is provoked enough to come up with their own solutions and feel they are good. We need to listen to that, but, where are our technical experts who can tell us which ones are good, and which ones need to be nipped in the bud. Shouldn't our technical team already have a Vision for the Development of the region? Shouldn't there be a Vision Statement that says what are the core values to be adhered to?
The Development Plan is a very important step for the city and its surrounding region and we need to bring in competent professional input into its formulation. There has to be a system that can hire profession consultants to provide inputs or the JTPC should ask institutions like ITPI, IUDI, ISLA, IIA (i.e., ecological & transportation planners, urban designers, urban conservationists, landscape architects, architects) to send in nominees from each of their ranks. Irrespective of from where they are chosen, they should be hired to deliver proper proposals and drawings that are consistent with the agenda set forth by the Vision Statement of the JTPC.
We see many too ad-hoc decisions taken on the urban development scene of the city by various agencies. Some of them are extremely dramatic decisions that will have large and irrevocable impact on the region. This adhoc-ism must give way to a proper institutional mechanism for hiring competent professionals and it is to occur between the JTPC and the Spatial Integration Committee. Lets us hope for some action here.