India Must Reimagine Spatial Planning To Address the Growing and Emerging Governance Challenges of Urbanisation

  • Amitabh Kant, India’s G20 Sherpa, stressed at a recent Urban-20 City Sherpas’ meet that a master plan is crucial for any city to manage urbanisation. There have been similar calls in the past.
  • master plan is an instrument of governance for urban local bodies (ULBs).

Master plan

  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs has recommended that master plans in cities should be revisited for the improved governance of cities.
  • The National Mission for Clean Ganga has been advocating such a step to protect urban water bodies; yet, the idea has not advanced beyond exhortations.
  •  Much needs to be understood, for the scholarship on master plans is puzzlingly shallow.

Statutory and spatial

  • The renewed focus on the concept of a master plan is to be welcomed. But few acknowledge its distinct status as the sole statutory instrument of governance.
  • Many plans to improve sanitation, infrastructure and social inclusion are dependent on particular programmes, but these are at best ephemeral and incremental as they are centrally funded.
  • The discourse tends to blur this distinction and, as a result, obscures the significance of the master plan as the instrument of governance.

Concerns of the master plan

  • First, the master plan instrument is dated.
    • The concept, configuration and rationalities of this instrument as well as the institutional structures surrounding it are conceived by template legislations drafted in the 1950s.
    • These were then replicated by States as laws of town planning.
    • While this is a central legislation focused on industrial pollution, the legal and institutional frame of the master plan remained unchanged with its archaic conceptions of land development for urban service rationalities.
  • Second, a master plan is simply a spatial plan of land-use allocation supported by bye-laws and development control regulations.
    • Thus, it essentially embodies a spatial vision for cities.
  • Third, this spatial vision is at the core of institutional structures, cultures and practices of ULBs.
    • The edifice of urban governance is built around this spatial vision and provision of urban services.
    • The ULBs are cultivated and shaped by the agenda of regulating spatial growth and remain slaves to these ideas and conceptions.
    •  As a result, the demands imposed on them by the new visions (of programmatic plans) suffer.
  • Fourth, the statutory and spatial nature of the master plan can pose constraints on the programmatic plans, especially the spatially associated ones such as the plans for protection of water bodies.
    • Most water-body related projects negotiate the challenges of encroachment of floodplains as encroachments in ex-post.

Reimagine Urban planning

  •  First, we must acknowledge that the master plan instrument may be limited by its archaic conceptions and entrenched institutional cultures.
    • To assume that it would serve the expanded scope of urban governance is far-fetched and can be self-defeating.
  • Second, there is no need to go far for lessons to do this. Indian cities offer enough experiences to learn from.
    • For instance, many States have tried supplementing the inadequacies of the master plan with innovative bye-laws.
    • Much of this experimental and experiential understanding is, however, dispersed, and is restricted to the domain of praxis.
  • Third, the incapacities in urban planning and governance highlighted by the 2021 report of the NITI Aayog must receive priority.
    • And it should begin with an elevated attention to the spatial (town) planning profession and education.

Way forward

  • The era of planetary urbanisation brings spatial planning into sharp focus, and calls for reimaging the spatial planning framework in India.
  • Recent moves such as Gati Shakti and Model Rural Transformation Acts are a reflection of this growing demand.
    • But these are too feeble, remote and limited.
  • The Centre must work with the States to reconsider the spatial planning framework in India.

Prelims Specific


  • Established in 1999 against the backdrop of the global financial crisis that swept through East Asia and Southeast Asia in particular in the late 1990s.
  • Aim: To ensure the continued viability of the global financial system through the participation of countries with a middle-income.
  • Members: 
    • Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.
    • Spain is also invited as a permanent guest.


  • A is personal representative of leader of member country at international Summit meeting such as G8, G20 or Nuclear Security Summit.
  • Career diplomats or senior government officials appointed by leaders of their countries.
  • The term has been derived from Nepalese Sherpa people, who serve as guides for mountaineers in Himalayas.
  • Engaged in planning, implementation and negotiation tasks through Summit.
  • Coordinate agenda, seek consensus at highest political levels and participate in series of pre-Summit consultations to help negotiate their leaders’ positions.