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Fragmentary Planning and Spaces of Opportunity in Peri-urban Mumbai

Malini Krishnankutty ( is an urban planning consultant and PhD candidate at the School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Rapid de-agrarianisation and transformation of the rural has been unleashed by “fragmentary” urban planning processes in peri-urban Mumbai. An overview of the outcomes on the ground seen in relation to the urban planning processes is presented through a case study of villages around Panvel city, the last station on one of Mumbai’s suburban railway lines. This paper specifically engages with spatial planning in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and foregrounds the results of fragmentary planning on the ground. It highlights the schism that exists between sovereign planning by administrative or political leadership and technical planning by planners through spatial plans, which renders the spatial expertise of technical planning almost irrelevant to the transformation underway. Additionally, the urban bias of technical planning ensures that the rural either gets overlooked or is transformed as the future urban.

The research was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council’s—Major Collaborative Research Initiative, “Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land, and Infrastructure in the 21st Century.” An earlier version of this paper was presented at the “Frontier Urbanism: Tracking Transformation in Agrarian-Urban Hinterlands of South Asia” workshop, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, 24–25 February 2017.

The paper has benefited from detailed comments and feedback provided by Shubhra Gururani.

Thanks are due to Atul Mhatre, Bansi Ghevade, Shachi Sanghvi, Sitaram Shelar and Smita Dalvi, who helped immensely with local contacts and all the interviewees for their valuable time and insights.

In Maharashtra, where close to half of the total population is urban (45.23%, Census 2011) informal urban expansion through gunthewaris (unauthorised plotted layouts), is common in small and medium cities, which are later regularised by the state over time (Bhide 2014). Urban expansion processes are different in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), comprising 4,312 sq km, housing 22.8 million people with nine municipal corporations, eight municipal councils and 994 villages (MMRDA 2016). The ease of connectivity to Greater Mumbai, where 60% of the formal jobs are located, via the suburban train network, is central to the growth of various towns in the region. The introduction of direct and “fast” suburban train services to south Mumbai that reduce commutes, serves as the trigger for urban growth in the region. Thus, it was the extension of the suburban railway line in 1998 connecting Navi Mumbai to Panvel that hastened its transformation into a peri-urban suburb of Mumbai. Since 2008, the announcement of the location of the second international airport near Kopra–Panvel, has been the trigger for major urban development in the villages around Panvel, that is, however, poorly regulated.

There is a significant body of literature on the processes underway in peri-urban areas around metropolitan centres in the global South, and on their governance challenges. Planning has always played a significant role in the peri-urban and has been described as “flexible” (Gururani 2013) and marked by “informality”(Roy 2005). Benjamin (2007) uses the concept of “occupancy urbanism” to describe how mega plans/projects actualise on the ground while Kennedy (2007) details out impact of regional industrial policy interventions on the peri-urban. This paper seeks to detail out the impact of the fragmentary dynamics of planning on the peri-urban. From the planner’s perspective, I make the case for breaking down “planning” into its constituents, “sovereign planning” and “technical planning.” Technical planning here refers to spatial planning by trained or professional planners (that results in development plans or regional plans and is an instrument of the state while sovereign planning refers to all other state actions that have a spatial impact (such as policies, projects, schemes, infrastructural plans), and are typically undertaken by the administrative and political leadership with no leadership by technical planners in the core conceptualisation. State planning is largely economic planning and a-spatial in conception. Further, in the case of the transformation of the agrarian landscape around Panvel, it is urban planning, and particularly the sovereign planning interventions (with technical planning serving merely as instrument) that have served as key drivers of the current “regime of dispossession” (Levien 2013) that are extensions of the state’s developmentalist role.

Though I focus on the role of urban planning in peri-urban Panvel, my attempt is to contextualise the simultaneous processes of de-agrarianisation and peri-urbanisation through a multidimensional overview of ongoing transformations. The overview draws on qualitative interviews in and around Panvel’s villages of Sukapur, Adai and Khalapur conducted over the course of six months in 2014–15 with diverse actors, secondary data relevant to the transformation, and an analysis of the recent history of “planned” urban and infrastructural development. Interview respondents included villagers, Agris, (who constitute the majority of the village population) and Katkaris (indigenous groups), new, transient and old migrants to Panvel (from other parts of Maharashtra, from other states and from Mumbai itself), social workers, a leading activist, a senior journalist in Navi Mumbai, the manager of one of the oldest institutions active in leprosy work, a local councillor and local architects and urban planners among others). Data from the Census 2011, the draft regional plan 2016–36, surveys conducted in 2012–13 of naka migrant workers in Navi Mumbai and brick-kiln workers by Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action  (YUVA), an active non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the region (YUVA 2014a, b), on Katkaris by TISS (2014) and recent research papers (Kim 2012, 2015) highlighting the agrarian transformation underway.

For the final section on technical planning’s disciplinary biases, I draw on spatial plans in MMR as well as interviews with several senior government-employed planners and retired planners in Mumbai and at the Town and Country Planning Organisation (TCPO), New Delhi as well as on my own experience as an urban planning consultant who has worked on spatial plans (development and regional plans in Goa and Mumbai). In order to convey how urbanisation is unfolding in the peri-urban Mumbai, the paper first describes the multilevel changes that have transformed Panvel over the last two decades. In the subsequent sections, it describes their implications for rural inhabitants and migrants. The fragmentary or uncoordinated planning that has shaped the peri-urban terrain, its characteristics and its implications for the rural in the metropolitan context are described in the penultimate section, which is followed by a concluding discussion.

Rural Panvel’s Transformation

In the first decade (1998–2008) post the extension of the suburban railway network, the pace of transformation was slow and the region around Panvel town served as a refuge largely for poorer families (from Mumbai and Navi Mumbai and other parts of the state) who were in search of more affordable housing (often informal), considering the very high real estate prices in Mumbai. Panvel also served as the leisure destination for Mumbai’s rich who built farmhouses in scenic, rural areas around Panvel city. However, since 2005, a range of sovereign planning interventions (national, state policies along with several mega transportation infrastructure projects) have intersected to transform Panvel’s surrounding rural areas into a “zone of accumulation” and rampant real estate speculation.

Sovereign planning interventions (especially policies) in India are mostly conceived a-spatially, though they have spatial implications (Ribeiro 2013). Typical examples would include the various policies like the 1991 notification of coastal regulation zones (CRZs) under the Environment Protection Act 1986, the foreign direct investment (FDI) in real estate (2005) or special economic zones (SEZs) Act 2005. Since 2005–06 “a-spatial” policy interventions at the national and state levels, like the introduction of 100% FDI in real estate, 100 acre special township/integrated township projects, SEZs (including free trade and warehousing zones [FTWZ]) have allowed acquisition of land across the country for urban residential or commercial development and have paved the way for opening up of rural lands across India for urban development. These policies undermined the role of spatial plans and planning authorities since they allow developments to parachute into any plot of land anywhere in the country. These have had major implications around peri-urban areas around metropolitan cities. Around Panvel, too, several new townships and the country’s first FTWZ Arshiya International Ltd, spread over 165 acres took shape. While the effects of these policies on the ground have been written about (Kennedy and Sood 2016; Levien 2011), I wish to highlight the dissonance that exists between sovereign planning and technical planning. Though there is a statutory regional plan for MMR (1996) that controls development in rural MMR, including Panvel’s villages, the SEZs and special township projects (STPs) that are sanctioned after the regional plan was drafted do not necessarily take cognisance of the zoning of regional plan 1996. Thus, there is no method of spatial integration to synchronise sovereign planning actions envisaged at different scales of government.

The 100 ha size of the STPs proposed by the central government, were reduced in size to 30 ha by the Maharashtra government with a view to make it easier to agglomerate the rural lands to capital accumulation. The state also proposed a new rental housing scheme (2008)1 wherein high incentive development rights (FSI of 4) were granted to builders in urbanisable areas anywhere in the MMR.2 Rental housing (each unit of 160 or 320 square foot carpet area) constituting a fourth of the total houses, were to be handed over to the state government while the remaining units were saleable in the open market for profit.3 This scheme has resulted in eight mega-projects, in Panvel taluka (and many more elsewhere) and is now discontinued.4 These schemes are set to generate around 35,000 tenements and could accommodate around 1.5 lakh people when fully occupied. They will occupy 18–25 storey apartment towers with very high plot densities of 2,000 people per hectare (ppha). In other words, these eight schemes will house a population equal to that of Panvel city’s current population on a fraction of the latter’s footprint. The other policy with significant impact in rural MMR is the gaothan extension scheme wherein incentives (extra floor space index, FSI) were offered to development in a 300 m buffer zone around village cores (gaothans) to enable village extensions. This too has resulted in haphazard growth and densification without necessary physical infrastructure.

Apart from the sovereign planning interventions above, there have also been other sovereign planning actions in the form of a number of major transportation proposals in and around Panvel due to its strategic location along major road networks (like the Mumbai–Pune highway and Mumbai–Goa highway) and its importance as a major railway station. These serve a larger national and regional geography centred on Mumbai and are a major cause for the local transformation underway around Panvel. There are several sovereign planning proposals in the pipeline (that have not been envisaged in any regional plan for the MMR), including Mumbai’s second international airport, and several road and rail projects like the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL) road connecting Mumbai with the mainland, a major freight corridor—Delhi–Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) (connecting the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust [JNPT] port to the rest of the country), a multi modal corridor (MMC) to connect peri-urban regions in MMR (linking Vasai–Virar and Alibag) along with a metro, a train terminus and suburban rail augmentation.5

The most significant aspect of all these projects is that they all require lands that have to be acquired by the government against compensation. This inevitably means dispossession and loss of livelihoods apart from the physical fragmentation of the landscape. Additionally, it also means the onset of rapid restructuring of land markets and “highway urbanisation” (Balakrishnan 2013), which is common across India and in the global South. Accompanying the mere announcement of new infrastructure is the commencement of the processes of commodification of agricultural lands. As Balakrishnan (2013) points out, serviced land is a key gap in India’s urbanisation story. With roads and better communications, land gets serviced and is then attractive for urban real estate and as a destination for capital. This is the route to commodification of land. Of these infrastructure projects, the airport, the MTHL sea-link and the MMC were the projects that have generated the maximum speculation since they made relatively inaccessible agrarian lands accessible through the proposals to the real estate market cheaply with the promise of windfall gains. With such huge investments in transportation infrastructure planned for the Panvel region, it is no surprise that this region has become the single most attractive destination in the MMR for speculative investment.

Agrarian lands were thus commodified through various policies and the promise of infrastructure. The final nail in the coffin of productive agricultural lands was struck on 5 January 2017 when the Maharashtra government’s revenue department issued an ordinance relaxing the norms for purchase of farmland for development purposes and abolishing the need for obtaining non-agriculture (NA) permission from the district collector, with the view to facilitate the “ease of doing business” in the state.6 All agricultural land is now deemed to be automatically urbanisable if it comes under the jurisdiction of any urban local body (ULB) or if it is in an urbanisable zone in an area covered by a regional plan. In effect, for the first time in Maharashtra, the plan is a direct bringer of de-agrarianisation. Earlier, even if a development plan or regional plan was notified, land remained “agricultural” until the owner applied for development permission after conversion of use to non-agricultural land. Now all agricultural land in urban areas is automatically rendered non-agricultural and “developable” and any collector who holds up the conversion certificate is liable to be punished. Thus, it is clear that the transformation of the rural lands has been directly set in motion through a range of sovereign planning interventions (policies, ordinances and infrastructure projects) and not through technical planning. The regional plan has played no major role in this transformation post 2005.

To conclude, the slew of infrastructural projects coupled with policies initiated through sovereign planning, that are not integrated into the technical plans (development plans or regional plans), have set in motion major commodification of land resulting in widespread alienation of those bound to the land.7 The resulting transformation of agrarian land relations is covered in the following section.

Transformations on the Ground

Panvel and the villages within a 10-km radius of its suburban railway station have seen most of the unplanned transformation in the last decade due to assured accessibility to Mumbai and Navi Mumbai via the suburban train. Since 2008, improved transportation infrastructure and the Mumbai–Pune expressway, commissioned in 2000, brought with it several transportation and travel-related activities, including restaurants, hotels, logistics and warehousing in villages located near the expressway, in and around Panvel.

The changes observed are corroborated both by the urban sprawl data from Regional Plan 2016–36, and existing research (Kim 2012) which indicates that development in Panvel taluka is occurring along the major roads in the region and the period 2001–16 has witnessed the most rapid transformation (MMRDA 2016, Map 9). The RRP 2016 reports that the development trends in the rural MMR show that “significant amount of development is within the 200 m [metre] buffer beyond existing gaothans”, while census towns in Raigad district grew at a very high compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7% between 2001 and 2011 (MMRDA 2016: 12). Further, Census 2001 data indicates that 26.37% of the houses available in Panvel city were vacant (MMRDA 2016: 45). Vacant houses are a good indicator of real estate speculation since these are generally second homes bought for speculation. All of this implies that rural areas in Panvel taluka were rapidly urbanising, especially around Panvel town alongside rampant real estate speculation. Developers are wooing Mumbai residents and other investors, including non-resident Indians (NRIs) with a range of buying or investing options in projects in surrounding villages: plotted development, special township schemes, flats, farmhouses, villas, shares in proposed schemes and inducements in terms of commissions if the customer can bring in more buyers. The commodification of village lands is rampant and its impact on farmers, indigenous communities and migrants is sketched out below.

Panvel is home to various communities, including the Agris, (originally salt pan workers and now fisherfolk and agriculturalists, who constitute the majority of the population) and Kolis, (fishing communities) who belong to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs)8 in the state and the Katkaris, who are indigenous people listed under the central government’s list of particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PvTGs).9

The villages in this agrarian periphery have historically been engaged in paddy cultivation with Panvel city serving as a trading hub. Most landholdings in the area are small, less than half an acre. These villages are linked through the markets to the next local centre only (either Palaspe or Panvel city). Electricity is not available round the clock, with “load shedding” (planned suspension of electric supply) for six to eight hours daily. In interviews with activists and social workers in the region I was repeatedly told that a shift is underway and a sizeable number of small farmers are moving away from farming: “Now agriculture is coming to an end. Only the old parents are continuing with agriculture. All this has happened in the last decade since the railway and airport have come.”10 The fastest growing profession is that of the real estate “broker” due to the lure of making a fast buck with commissions from both the buyer and the seller. Some of the village youth have become developers while others engage in construction. Developers and builders have a network that grows stronger over time and land is slowly amassed and accumulated. In short, as one respected activist lamented, “the village is no longer a village.”11

The farmers’ relationship with land seems to have changed. Agricultural lands are increasingly left fallow as the monetary returns from avenues other than farming are now possible. Increasing development has made farming difficult due to the disruption of older local irrigation systems among other things. By and large, however, villagers still hold onto the land needed to meet their annual supply of rice. Large landowners have cashed the land they can spare and have made windfall profits. Small landowners either find it difficult to hold out even when they wish to do so, since they depend on the produce for their own food needs but find it difficult to farm as the city expands. Distress sale of small plots of land to meet special needs like a daughter’s wedding are also common among the small farmers. In some cases, farming lands have been turned over to brick kilns considering the escalation in demand from the construction industry.

The landed or propertied villagers are also taking the opportunity to make some money through property or through offering services for the urban dweller. Since the migrant worker, as well as the less affluent Mumbaikar in search of affordable housing, is now a constant presence in villages12 that within 10 km of Panvel railway station, villagers are now renting their own properties or building chawls on their lands to provide rooms on rent to poor migrants who often live in shared accommodation, a familiar stage of slum formation even in Mumbai’s urban villages (Nainan 2012). Villagers have also monopolised the supply of building materials in and around Panvel city and in all construction activity; they reportedly resort to force to ensure that material is sourced from them alone. Similarly, there were accounts of villagers who try to control vending by migrant street vendors who wish to hawk their wares in pavements in City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO)-planned New Panvel13 adjoining the old town. Further, in the same area, the entire vegetable vending trade was reportedly controlled by the villagers only and no “outsiders” were allowed to ply the trade. Other villagers have turned to transportation and operate Intermediate Private Transport (IPT) in the form of vikrams (eight-seater vehicles), and “tempos.” Migrants are hired as drivers and the vikrams connect the villages to Panvel city.

Lack of Tolerance for Migrants

According to the manager of a social work institution that has been in area since the late 1960s, it is the lack of tolerance for migrants in the planned Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation area that Panvel and its surroundings have become the refuge for all urban migrants.14 Migrants from other states, and from within Maharashtra have also increased in number to serve the need for more naka workers, construction workers, drivers of mini tempos and IPTs. Migrants from particular regions cluster in specific occupations; fruit sellers are usually from Jalgaon and Bhusawal, dumper drivers from Latur and construction workers from Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal.15 Migrants have also entered new service jobs like shop/mall attendants, security personnel, drivers for private firms or individuals. Women also join the construction trade daily wage labour, or domestic help. The poorest villagers also seek some of these jobs in case they do not have land to fall back on or in some cases, if they have run through the windfall profits from selling landholdings to CIDCO or private developers. A common story is that shared by a young first generation migrant from a nearby village who now owns a shop in New Panvel. He goes back to the village and the family has enough land under paddy cultivation for its own annual supply of rice. Thus, young villagers who may have moved out still keep links with the village. One of them runs a shop in New Panvel, but returns to his village nearby to help his parents with sowing and harvesting on their subsistence scaled farm. Since land values have gone up several times, the farmer, whose agricultural output was never yielding enough, is facing uncomfortable choices. According to an activist involved with the anti-Navi Mumbai SEZ referendum in Raigad district,

For every family alienated there are seven more who are affected by the alienation. This is not talked about though. There is a slow displacement that takes place over time that is not recorded. This is happening on a large scale. (Personal conversation)

It is also significant to note that though the Mumbaikar is able to access the rural areas outside Panvel city, the villager in rural Panvel is connected only to the closest big settlement that is easily accessible (in this case Palaspe or Panvel). So when villagers migrate, they usually migrate to the next largest settlement. The mobility patterns of the majority of villagers continue unchanged despite the urbanisation of the rural (Kim 2015). The urbanisation of this last decade has resulted in increasing real estate costs, causing gaothan rentals to rise out of reach of poorer migrants. Thus urbanisation and commodification of land in peri-urban Panvel has hit the weakest and most vulnerable the hardest. This is also the case of the indigenous people, the Katkaris, who have traditionally had dali lands16 given by the British with the aim to settle them. They worked on their own agricultural lands, reared animals, collected grass from the forest to sell to cattle sheds, and also worked on other people’s fields. There were lots of tabelas (cattle sheds) and almost all families used to live off getting grass for tabelas from the forest 25 years ago. In Shiroliwadi, Khalapur (30 km south of Panvel city),17 for instance, the entire way of life of the Katkaris has changed from a few decades ago when hunting, gathering forest produce, fishing and cultivation was undertaken collectively and food was shared. Since the 1990s there has been a major change in the lives of the Katkaris. With increasing urbanisation and land conversion, less agriculture and forests has meant fewer cattle, grass, trees and honey, all of which has meant that they have had to seek alternative livelihoods. The Katkaris have become even more marginalised, since land itself is out of bounds now. Farmhouses (luxury getaways or second homes of the urban rich) have displaced the Katkaris
in some areas since the farms on which they worked as farm labour have now been converted and farming no longer pursued. Now they are largely engaged in seasonal work and they are engaged in brick kiln work from November–December to May, and between June and November, they work as agricultural labour. A study by YUVA (2014b) records how the Katkaris work as bonded labour stuck in a cycle of debt with the kiln owner.

Thus, the Katkaris and farmers are being alienated from the lands that they were historically connected to. Those who do not sell their lands to developers, remain as islands even as real estate speculation takes over and engulfs the village and marches on to new frontiers in search of even more land. Though building activity is not visible everywhere, almost all village lands have been booked on the basis of advances paid to villagers by developers.18 Levien’s description of the effects of India’s first SEZ in Jaipur, could well describe the agrarian transformation in Panvel which has led to the

disaccumulation of productive agrarian assets among the peasantry, ... and capitalist transformation of the countryside—characterised by non-productive speculation and rentiership, the expansion of pre-capitalist exploitation and the creation of a marginalised pool of underemployed labour.

There is widespread

speculative land commodification, which intersects in complex ways with agrarian social structures, draws certain classes into a chain of land-based rentiership, and ultimately amplifies existing inequalities in the rural class and caste structure. (Levien 2011: 457–58)

Sovereign planning interventions are responsible for major rural transformations on the ground. The fragmentary nature of these planning interventions is an important reason for the shape of the transformations on the ground. It is essential to reflect on the nature of the institutional framework that results in fragmentary planning and how planning constructs the rural, so as to better understand both the planning apparatus and why it is unable to address the rural.

Planning the Rural within a Metropolitan Region

Apart from causing de-agrarianisation, planning is also unable to actively address the rural. This failure can be traced to a fragmentary planning apparatus and to the urban bias in planning. To better understand the nature of urban planning a quick look at the planning apparatus is presented along with of spatial plans in MMR.

A fragmentary planning apparatus: The various infrastructure projects currently ongoing in the region and proposals in the pipeline, that were detailed out earlier in the paper, are initiated by multiple state and central actors and parastatals along with special planning authorities. It is known that Mumbai has a polycentric governance framework (Pethe et al 2011) with overlapping jurisdictions. In terms of spatial planning, the whole of the MMR is covered by a statutory regional plan prepared by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) which is revised every 20 years. Each of the 17 ULBs take cognisance of this regional plan in preparing development plans. Additionally, there are seven areas under special planning authorities (SPAs) that have been carved out of the metropolitan region with their own development plans (MMRDA 2016: 6). The MMRDA’s regional plan (which demarcates various zones, permitted uses and extent of development permitted through FSI), thus directly controls the future development of all the rural areas in the metropolitan region. This means that anyone who wishes to undertake any development must obtain building permission from the district collector. In theory the urbanisation of the peri-urban is supposed to be governed as per the regional plan, but what is the reality?

The sovereign planning interventions made after the Regional Plan 1996, such as FDI in real estate (2005) or SEZs Act 2005, do not take cognisance of the existing regional or development plans that are in force. They usually run parallel to the spatial plans and it is only in a subsequent revision (every 20 years) of the plan that they get incorporated. None of the infrastructural proposals, the proposed second international airport, or the DMIC, the Panvel train terminus, the JNPT expansion, or the MTHL have been part of the regional plans for the MMR before they were conceived. They are perfect examples of sovereign planning interventions, initiated at different times by different levels of government, or by central or state bodies and parastatals. These institutions bypass existing spatial plans and make their own proposals independently based on the immediate objectives of the concerned agency taking decisions. Thus, decisions regarding projects to be undertaken and their location are often taken unilaterally
by the political-bureaucratic leadership without the involvement of the planning department, that houses trained, professional planners. Later, in my experience, the planners simply incorporate these projects in their spatial plans. Examples of such decisions include the location of the second Mumbai international airport near Panvel or the coastal road in Mumbai.19 Unlike the previous Regional Plan 1996, where the planning authority, the MMRDA, conducted studies to establish the feasibility of the second airport location at Rewas Mandwa, and was deeply involved in the decision-making of the location for the new airport, in the case of Regional Plan 2016–36, planners merely incorporated the new location (near Panvel) decided by the state political leadership in the latest regional plan. Similarly, the Rental Housing Scheme, which comes after the Regional Plan 1996, renders the Regional Plan 1996 population projections invalid by adding a population equal to the existing population of Panvel city to Panvel’s surrounding villages. Additionally, the villages where these schemes are located clearly lack the institutional or governance capacities to meet any of the infrastructural or safety requirements that the scale of these housing schemes need. Thus, it is clear that there is no official mechanism for incorporating all the projects initiated through sovereign planning to the statutory plans in a coordinated manner except recording the projects in the next revision of the development or regional plan as fait accompli! This is an illustration of the extremely fragmented and uncoordinated planning process that is in existence.

The consequence of such a fragmented multi-institutional decision-making process is that it is difficult to envisage the physical implications of the projects proposed since they are not integrated spatially into the plan. Technical planning and spatial plans are based on projecting a future population and planning for the spatial needs of that population. But if the planner cannot know in advance how any plot of land in the MMR is going to transform in the future, what uses it will be put to and what populations it will attract, the regional population projections have no meaning. Government policies like the introduction of 100% FDI in real estate, or the 100 ha special township schemes, or the SEZ policy can thus be argued as being “anti-planning” as they contravene the basic principles of urban planning. Another reason why they are anti-planning is that in regional planning theory, a key principle employed is the ease of infrastructure provision. Only those lands that can be easily and efficiently serviced with infrastructure are zoned as “urbanisable.”20 This necessarily results in compact planning around existing core settlements. As against this practice, policies like the STPs open up lands indiscriminately to development and promote dispersed development. Since the developer is responsible for infrastructure provision, it may be argued that the state is not saddled with the high cost of provision of infrastructure. However, regardless of who provides the services, it results in a highly inefficient spatial pattern resulting in a waste of valuable resources, is expensive and ultimately not sustainable. Its unintended outcomes include fragmentation of the rural landscape and eventually, de-agrarianisation, since entire ecosystems of farming practices get disrupted by such pocket urbanisation. Technical planning is rendered unable to effectively discharge its core functions of planning for a projected future population and arrive at some spatial distribution and infrastructure provision due to the fragmentation.

Thus, though it is widely assumed that there is comprehensive planning within the state represented and controlled by the statutory plans (development and regional plans), prepared by “technical” planning professionals within the state, in reality, technical planning is increasingly marginalised from the major transformations envisaged in urban space both within and outside cities. It is sovereign planning, led by the administrative-political leadership, and not grounded in technically sound decision making21 that is the major determinant of urban change. It must be foregrounded that unlike sovereign planning decisions, the practice of professional planning usually follows some tenets and disciplinary norms and logics—for instance, of working in the larger public interest, working towards comprehensive planning, equitable distribution of resources, greater efficiency and order, envisaging social and technical, economic infrastructure needs, coordination of infrastructure with land use, etc. The primary role of the technical planner in preparing spatial plans—to plan for the future, through rational comprehensive planning for a projected future population—has been undermined the interventions by sovereign planning decisions. As against this, since it is sovereign planning that is largely responsible for sanctioning (and overriding existing plans) planning interventions in urban space in India, both within and in peri-urban contexts, decisions affecting spatial development are taken by powerful actors who do not have any formal training or commitment to technically sound urban planning. Thus trained urban planners, the so-called experts, end up with a very marginal role as compared to state-led sovereign planning. It is but natural then that there are “zones of exception” (Roy 2009) and related planning practices prevailing, which are coded into the practice of sovereign planning. The spatial plans produced by technical planners merely serve as the basis for development control permissions to be issued by the district collector.

However, this does not imply that technical planning has all the solutions. In fact, in the West, master planning has been criticised and abandoned due to its narrow technicist orientation and an inability to address the broader socio-economic and political context (Taylor 1998). Given the a-spatiality of sovereign planning interventions and fragmentary institutional architecture, the statutory regional plan produced by technical planners renders a comprehensive spatial outcome impossible and produces the many unintended disastrous outcomes on the ground.

The urban bias in planning: One of the limitations of urban spatial planning is, I would argue, its urban bias. The rural is largely absent from the planner’s imagination. The physical implications of technical plans for the rural population are simply not accounted for systematically anywhere. Spatial plans are useful artefacts to study the stated objectives as well as the underlying logic and beliefs that guide the plan proposals. The spatial plans that impact the peri-urban primarily are the regional plans drawn up by MMRDA. The first regional plan was drawn up in 1971, followed by the revision in 1996, while the second revision (Regional Plan 2016–36) is currently under review. I provide a brief overview of two statutory plans along with the plan for a new city Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area (NAINA) that has emerged with the second Mumbai airport. I also draw upon my personal experience as a planning consultant along with interviews with senior planners in MMRDA, Town and Country Planning Organisation (TCPO) for this section.

The MMR is described by the Regional Plan 1971 as comprising of 947 villages, but no further descriptions of these villages are offered. It does have a section on “Planning of Rural Areas” (BMRPB 1974) to “pay adequate attention to the healthy development of these rural areas ... for … avoiding steep polarisation between urban and rural populations in the region” (BMRPB 1974: 142). However, the implementation section does not have outlays for the rural. The Regional Plan 1996 has a more emphatically urban focus. It does not even mention the number of villages in the MMR and interestingly though it has a section titled “Urban land policy,” it says nothing about rural land policy (MMRDA 1995). Clearly the emphasis is firmly on managing Mumbai’s growth and the urban population. The rural remains an afterthought in regional planning, even when it does get incorporated in the plan. Residential cores of villages are simply left untouched by the plans and bypassed even in the case of entire new town development. This is seen in the case of Navi Mumbai while in Delhi a laldora (red line) ring fences the village, which is not governed by the plan.

The reasons for this treatment of the rural can be traced to modern urban planning’s roots. The discipline emerged as a response to the problems of the cities of the industrial age: ill health, poor sanitation, slums. The urban has always been the primary focus of planning. Therefore, the rural is not well imagined by urban planners or is imagined as a residue and viewed primarily as a resource. The most common view held by urban (technical) planners seems to be that voiced by a senior government planner,22 when he said that the transformation of the rural lands surrounding an urban area is “inevitable.” My own experience in working on two regional plans, (MMR and Goa) is that the rural areas in a metropolitan region (unless protected by laws like the forests or the CRZ) are primarily seen as potential resources for supplying land for infrastructure and as sites for expanding urban footprint. It is common land use planning practice to look for government lands, waste or vacant lands, followed by agricultural lands, in that order, to locate new infrastructure since these are seen as “green field” or vacant (even though they are not so in reality) and of lesser value, if they need to be acquired. Urban planning here works to “improve” the land by servicing it with infrastructure, and in the name of “development” acts as capital’s handmaiden, enabling the commodification of the land. However, ironically, it rarely provides improved infrastructure and services to existing village cores/gaothans that continue with the same neglect and lack of physical and social infrastructure.

A review of a more recent initiative, the Interim Development Plan (IDP) prepared for the NAINA,23 again reinforces the planners’ lack of deep engagement with the rural. Here, the planners aim to realise a new city, covering a small area of 38 sq km in peri-urban Panvel, covering 23 villages. They have moved away from conventional master planning and have focused on multiple modes of implementation. The aim here is to control future development and prevent haphazard growth. Given the impossible cost of land acquisition, and the high infrastructure development costs, the planners have proposed a partnership model where villagers have to give up 40% of their lands to CIDCO towards city infrastructure be developed by the planning authority. The farmers are compensated with higher developmental rights in return. While proximity to the airport has led to increased speculative interest in the NAINA area, the plan is meant to channelise that interest and encourage villagers to give up their lands for common public amenities. This is a new role where the state planning agency is not acquiring land but is actively trying to garner lands to implement its master plan. Once again what is visible here is a superimposition of a vision of a city on these villages, a view of urbanisation that is a foregone conclusion, and a lack of engagement with the future of the villagers, once they are divorced from their lands and livelihoods. There is also no engagement of planners with any idea of conservation, tangible or intangible or of productive farmlands.

In the abstraction typical of modern town planning, the villager and her ways of life are rendered invisible in representation with only the land visible as a resource, meant only to be put to “better use” or “to generate best economic value.” Thus, in the plannerly imagination, the “rural” is only a tabula rasa (Kennedy and Sood 2016) meant for “development,” usually through a town planning scheme. In various informal discussions with planners and MCGM officials over the new LARR Act when it was passed, the common view was “this would mean the end of development.” Planners view the agrarian periphery largely as a landbank for necessary urban infrastructure24 and while sympathetic to the villagers, those who had experienced the Navi Mumbai resettlement process with PAPs, also saw the mandated negotiations with increasingly “opportunistic” villagers as cumbersome roadblocks in the realisation of this potential.25 The villages are seen by planners primarily from a development control perspective and from the narrow perspective of providing very specific social amenities or transport infrastructure. Managing urbanisation pressures in rural areas through regulations is the limited focus of the regional plan.


The fragmentary planning that is underway in Panvel reinforces the fact that urban planning as a comprehensive planning effort in India is a myth, even within the cities where statutory plans exist. Given the existing institutional arrangements there exists no coordinated spatial planning and no coordinated planning is actually possible since there is no attempt at integration of sovereign planning with technical spatial plans. Further, Panvel’s example indicates that both strands of fragmentary planning, sovereign and technical, have severe limitations with respect to the rural. Sovereign planning is often conceived in the abstract realm of policy and has no interest in the material consequences of the policy on the ground. However, when the benefits it seeks and the actors who benefit are taken together, its politics is revealed. The same is the case when projects are conceived through sovereign planning, since the focus is then on actualising the project and acquiring the agrarian lands for the project. The impacts of the projects on the rural are not something that enter its consideration. In the case of technical planning, though it is better placed to pay attention to the physical impacts of the spatial interventions, its urban bias and the narrow disciplinary conception of urban planning sets in motion processes that may result in the dismantling of the rural.

What are the possibilities then given that land conflicts are only going to increase with increasing urbanisation? Perhaps there are some answers in the Draft National Land Utilisation Policy 2012 drafted by the Ministry of Rural Affairs,26 wherein a broad land utilisation survey is envisaged across all states, with a view to demarcate all the “no-go” zones and to protect productive lands and other areas precious to local communities. This then may enable technical planning to perform better its spatial task. Perhaps, answers lie in pursuing a more bottom-up planning exercises such as Kerala’s participatory planning or the local area planning in Delhi and Kolkata. Sadly, the political will required for such change is not visible: the Land Utilisation Bill, for instance has awaited discussion since 2013, and the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Act empowering local bodies is yet to be implemented on the ground.


1 The rental scheme has been abandoned in rural areas since 2014 due to the unintended consequences of extremely high densities which were not considered viable by the MMRDA, Planning Division, that was in charge of the project.

2 Except Navi Mumbai and Matheran.

3 Palaspe Phata just outside Panvel city along the old Mumbai–Pune highway has become a rental housing hotspot with large rental housing schemes by major developers (like Marathon and Indiabulls).

4 Information on rental housing schemes sourced from planner at rental housing division through personal communication, September 2014.

5 Connecting Panvel with other centres in MMR like Diva, Karjat and Uran.


7 Additionally, as of October 2016, Panvel Municipal Council has been declared a municipal corporation and its limits have been extended to include 29 villages from Navi Mumbai new town and the council area. This new area within the corporation has a population of a little over 5,00,000 (Census 2011) as against the population of the older council area—1,80,000. The inclusion of villages into municipal limits means the promise of access to better services and better physical and social infrastructure which in turn would spur land speculation.

8 Backward castes list for Maharashtra listed at, accessed on 28 October 2017.

9 National Particularly Vulnerable Tribes listed at, accessed on 28 October 2017.

10 Interview, senior manager, Shantivan, Nere village, 24 May 2014, upper caste social worker in his 60s, who has spent his lifetime working with the organisation on leprosy relief.

11 Activist, anti-SEZ movement in Raigad, Navi Mumbai, 10 May 2014.

12 Sukapur, Adai, Akurli, Nere, for instance.

13 Villagers from Adai village extort from migrant hawkers, according to migrant from Beed district.

14 Senior manager, Shantivan, 24 May 2014.

15 Local corporator, Muslim, in his early 30s, Panvel, 24 May 2014, Panvel.

16 Hill slope lands in forest peripheries.

17 FGD with tribal community in Shiroliwadi, Khalapur, 2 July 2014.

18 Developer, Nere, 6 September 2014, Agri, in early 30s.

19 This is based on my experience as a consultant during the preparation of the Mumbai DP 2014 and MMR Regional Plan 2016.

20 Interviews with chief planner, MMRDA, Mumbai, September 2015.

21 Of course, “technically sound planning” also has its own serious disciplinary shortcomings in relation to its promise (Jacobs 1961; Alexander 1965; Taylor 1998).

22 Interview with senior planner, CIDCO, 2 May 2016, Belapur.

23 In 2008, the state government announced the location of Mumbai’s second international airport near Kopra–Panvel area in Navi Mumbai. With this, the period post-2008 has seen accelerated growth in and around Panvel city, with larger developers and developments flocking to the region to capitalise on the windfall profits to be made given the throwaway land prices in rural Panvel at the time. In January 2013, the Government of Maharashtra delineated an area of 561.72 sqkm that falls within a 25 km radius of the proposed airport as the Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area (NAINA), where City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) would operate as the Special Planning Authority (SPA). NAINA covered 256 villages in Raigad and 14 villages in Thane districts. With this demarcation and the promise of better infrastructure, more fuel was added to the speculative fire.

24 At a talk held at Institute of Town Planners India, Mumbai Chapter, Navi Mumbai, in Feb 2015, for planners, by CIDCO senior planner, in charge of the project, on the NAINA model, at the discussion that followed.

25 Interview with ex-senior planner, CIDCO, Mumbai, 25 September 2015.

26 %20National%20Land%20Utilisation%20Policy%20(July%202013), pdf.


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Updated On : 27th Mar, 2018


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