In most major cities of the world, mayors are very powerful while state and central governments do not have much of a role in taking decisions at a local level. Urban planning experts have long been arguing that this should be the case in Indian cities, too. This is not about granting more power to the mayor, but about decentralising decisions. Much of the urban planning failures in India have to do with city-level problems being tackled by state governments or the central government. But there is only so much that the national and state governments can do.

It is difficult for the head of the country to keep himself informed of the problems in a city in Maharashtra, and take the right decisions. Similarly, it is difficult for the head of the state to be aware of everything that happens in each city in Maharashtra, and take the right decisions. This is why decentralisation is the norm in western capitalist democracies and in some of the most prosperous countries, too. Private firms find this obvious, and this is why decision-making is always decentralised in private firms.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) chief Ajoy Mehta recently told Maharashtra government that the civic body should be the sole planning agency for Mumbai. This may seem like a self-serving statement. But, Mumbai is the only city in India that has many planning agencies. This makes decision making slow and conflict-ridden. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seems to be in favour of this. This is not surprising, because Fadnavis has been arguing for a while that mayors deserve more power. Having many planning agencies have the same effect as state and central governments interfering in city-level decision making.

Recently, the BMC made the blueprint for the cluster redevelopment of Bombay Development Directorate (BDD) chawls, but Maharashtra Housing And Urban Development Authority (MHADA) is the nodal agency for the redevelopment process. When there are many agencies engaged in urban planning, it is likely that one agency opposes the implementation of plans, often without a good reason. According to the draft development plan 2034, Mumbai should have only one planning authority. This is also in line with how decision making is done in major cities across the world.

As Mehta rightly pointed out, “Under the BMC Act, it is the corporation’s obligatory duty to provide civic infrastructure. So, even if different agencies plan for their area, ultimately they turn to the BMC to provide infrastructure. Our suggestion is from the point that if the BMC is involved right from the planning stage then delays can be avoided, infrastructure can be better planned and once the project is completed, its integration into the existing infrastructure network can be smooth. After all the BMC is the custodian of the Development Control Regulations for the city.”

Actually, basic principles of urban planning are simple. But cities across the world are case studies in urban planning failure, because such decisions are taken collectively. The biggest challenge before cities is not coming to grips with fairly obvious urban planning concepts. The biggest challenge is building a consensus, and implementing sound policy measures.

Whenever more people are involved in the decision-making process, negotiating agreements will be difficult. Even if the BMC is the only planning agency in Mumbai, reaching a consensus will be difficult, because it has many employees. It is difficult to get the cooperation of key decision makers, because government planners tend to be stubborn, evasive and out of touch with reality. Having many planning agencies make the problem even more complex

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