Delhi Master Plan 2021

1 Introduction

The performance of city planning systems in developing and emerging countries varies within a wide range. Some planning approaches are based on sophisticated theories, some are plagiarizing dated western ideas. Some planning systems are remarkably efficient, some are not. While Chinese planners, for example, realized the economically and socially detrimental impacts of the Los Angeles model this is apparently not the case with many Indian planners.

2 India's Planning System

The country's urban planning system features a remarkable continuity. Its guiding principles date back to The Handbook of Town Planning, published by the colonial Public Works Department in 1876. Until India's independence the British amended it eight times in order to reflect advances in planning practice. Since 1947 the Indian successor re-published it twice, but altered its contents only marginally. In consequence, India's planning approach reflects British concepts which were state of the art prior to World War II. To put it in other words: planning is based on outdated western ideas, on obsolete principles of zoning, car-dependency and social segregation.

Moreover, there mostly is no systematic and coherent regional land use planning. This fact partly stems from a fragmented system of local government within metropolitan areas. It, too, results from policies aiming at a relief of crowded centers by limiting floor-area ratios, site occupancy, and density of development. In addition, local authorities in suburban jurisdictions apply less stringent land use regulations, and are bluntly alluring economic activities by promoting their more permissive policies, thus supporting decentralization of both enterprises and population.

3 Case Study: Delhi Master Plans

3.1 Basic Criticism

Development plans tend to be superficial, inconsistent, useless. Master plans prepared by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) are prime examples. In some respects they reduce themselves to absurdity. Given the fact that about three quarters of the city's commercial transactions are taking place within the walled town, it appears grotesque that the DDA envisaged Old Delhi to be developed a homogeneous residential area.

The National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA), having been mandated to review the Master Plan Delhi 2021, concluded that this document

The NIUA states that DDA's concept of segregated land use planning

Furthermore, the NIUA indirectly notes that the DDA is violating the original purpose of a master plan in not establishing

Next to devastating is the finding that the plan

Less politely said: the planners have lost any sense of reality.

The plan is not only riddled with contradictions, it, moreover, reflects a peculiar understanding of what a city is. As the master plan draft states, the document aims at transforming Delhi into a global metropolis and a world-class city. This objective, however, is reduced to absurdity given the fact that with respect to the virulent problem of continuing in-migration the planners state that

This clearly contradicts the essential characteristic of a fully developed city and a world city in particular. By definition cities are nodes characterized by centrality – that is a surplus of facilities and functions serving the needs of people residing outside the city limits. Axiomatically, a global metropolis is defined as a hub which offers services of global reach and relevance.

A closer look reveals a second paradox. Today's cities are competing for classy economic activities and enterprises. Some have become globally important centers because they have been and are successful in this respect. Thus, rejecting such activities means to strengthen competing locations.

3.2 Practical Relevance

Delhi's planning is to be deemed an outright disaster as measured by what has been achieved since the 1962 master plan came into effect. The planning document was based on an car-oriented polynodal ideal. The ambition was to create an urban landscape comprising a downtown, at least 75 district centers for large-scale commercial activities, and 4,250 local and convenience centers, respectively. Until today less than 15 % of the proposed projects have been implemented. At this pace it would take nearly 400 years to realize what was regarded a reasonable hierarchy of centers for a then much smaller population base and, moreover, a population characterized by a much lower level of quantitative and qualitative demand.

Development plans are simply ignored by the people for planners persistently ignore essential problems of the population. Moreover, development plans are overridden by private activities due to insufficient public budgets. As Amitab Kundu bluntly puts it

The NIUA points out that the

In Delhi an estimated 60 – 70% of the residential units and buildings have been erected in violation of designated land use and admissible building density. Over 55 % of the inhabitants are living in areas other than regularized colonies. (3)

The continuing proliferation of land uses and construction not conforming with official plans is to a large extent a result of and evidence for the complete failure of planning and / or the sluggish implementation of planning schemes. (4)


(1) National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA): Foreword to the Perspective Plan of Delhi.

(2) Amitab Kundu: Urban Development, Infrastructure Financing and Emerging System of Governance in India: A Perspective, MOST, Discussion Paper No. 18, 2001.

(3) Snigdha Dewal: Master Plan for Delhi 2021. A Critical Analysis. CSS Working Paper No 160, 2006.

(4) With respect to the implementation of planning schemes it has to be said that the common comparison with China is critical. China's past as a dictatorial system has, at least at the subliminal level, lead to a higher degree of acceptance of officially prescribed measures of city development. Moreover, China is still a camouflaged command economy, and certainly not a democratic country like India.