Home >Industry >Infrastructure >Ahmedabad: The perfect metropolis

Neela Munshi shares the most extraordinary statistics in the most matter-of-fact manner. “Eighty nine percent of Ahmedabad’s 2002 Development Plan (DP) has already been implemented, with the rest under implementation. This includes zoning regulations, road networks, open spaces, and all infrastructure, including social infrastructure. Of the total budget of 2,434 crore, 1,845 crore has been spent," she states.

But the rest of metropolitan India can only dream of such an execution record, especially within the first decade of its statutory 20-year shelf-life. A Development Plan is an official planning document for an urban centre, mandated by law, usually prepared once every 20 years. It outlines a
local government’s plans for urban development, including land use regulations, transport networks, public amenities and infrastructure services—all the nuts and bolts that make our cities more or less tolerable on a daily basis.

Ineffective implementation of a Development Plan is directly correlated with poor governance and unchecked urbanization. Only 15% of Mumbai’s last Development Plan was implemented, says Pankaj Mishra, executive director of the Urban Design Research Institute, a not-for-profit working towards raising public awareness of Mumbai’s urban planning woes.

Munshi’s statistics also help to explain another compelling phenomenon: despite population expansion from 4.5 million people in 2001 to 6.4 million in 2011, Ahmedabad has not imploded either due to traffic congestion or illegal construction. Its physical contours have clearly been shaped and moulded, unlike other Indian cities, many of which have not been able to accommodate population growth.

Avenues of growth

Expansion of built-up area has been a “major factor" in enabling the city to cope with a rising population, says Guruprasad Mohapatra, Ahmedabad’s municipal commissioner. The city’s municipal area officially expanded from 186 sq. km to the current 466 sq. km, from 2006 onwards. When population growth and built-up area expansion are balanced, cities can avoid both city-centre congestion and low-density sprawl in their peripheries.

Munshi says the mantra is very simple. “We manage growth. Planning takes place before growth and development." Comprehensive, city-wide Development Plans are prepared every 20 years, and revised every 10 years—more frequently than other cities. The city’s planners envisage in which directions the city is growing, zone lands accordingly, and install major infrastructure such as roads and water supply services to allow the city to spread its wings in a systematic way. Urban planning in Ahmedabad is a time-tested function; the first town plans began being drawn up almost a century ago, in 1915, she adds.

Ahmedabad’s concentric road network is also a huge asset in preventing congestion and facilitating peripheral expansion. “There are five clear rings and 17 radials of reasonable size, starting from the city centres and going straight out to (the periphery). I don’t think that kind of network is there in any other city, and hence there is low congestion," says H.M. Shivanand Swamy, executive director of the Centre of Excellence in Urban Transport at Ahmedabad’s Cept university, one of the country’s most highly regarded architecture and urban planning schools.

Although traffic congestion has risen in recent times, it’s considerably lower than in other major metropolises, due to both the extensive road network and increased multi-modal public transport facilities.

“There are 27 lakh registered vehicles in Ahmedabad, with 500-600 being added every day, of which 40-45% are two-wheelers," says Mohapatra.


The statutory planning process is complemented by pragmatic urban planning principles, based on pooling private land for public infrastructure development.

“Ahmedabad and Gujarat have used the Town Planning (TP) Scheme, which is a very progressive land use act. It is technically present in many states, but not implemented. The scheme was amended in 1999, to enable the government to get land to build infrastructure and roads. By this scheme, 40% of private land is given away for public utilities," says Mohapatra, before emphasizing: “Every year, without any acquisition, we are getting land for development."

After the city’s Development Plan is prepared, town planners such as Munshi develop micro-level plans, or Town Planning Schemes for smaller areas, based on the Development Plan. A Town Planning Scheme could range from an area covering as little as 35 hectares to as much as 1,200 hectares, says Munshi. In each scheme, planners identify locations of public amenities and infrastructure, in consultation with citizens, who then give up 40% of their land to the local government in exchange for better roads, water supply and other amenities. 271 Town Planning Schemes have been prepared and implemented till date, says Munshi.

“The TP scheme mechanism distributes costs across lots of people. It’s not that a few people lose and a few people win. Planning has been more fair-minded, not old socialist planning, and that’s why it has worked," explains Bimal Patel, an experienced urban planner and president of Cept University

Patel advocates substituting “Soviet-style planning, where we tell industry where to locate" with a more “liberal planning policy, where we let the market do more work". For example, the location of commercial construction needs to be regulated, so that infrastructure can be effectively provided to manage traffic. But instead of “telling industry where to go, and giving a limited choice of three-four places, let’s tell them: ‘You are allowed to build a building anywhere where there is 60ft wide road’. That’s the liberal planning policy and it has worked for Ahmedabad," he elaborates.

Handing over nearly half of one’s land to government authorities for the promise of improved amenities might sound like a grim prospect to most urban citizens, but not in Ahmedabad, attests Munshi. She attributes the scheme’s success to public participation.

“Their needs and opinions are taken into consideration thrice during the TP scheme process," she says, adding that the process is transparent, and all plot holders benefit. “When the Sardar Patel ring road was planned in the 2002 Development Plan, before TP schemes were prepared, people came forward and gave their land because they could visualize the benefit," she recalls.

Nehal Shah, managing director of Foliage Real Estate Developers Pvt. Ltd, an Ahmedabad-based real estate developer, confirms that the local authorities do a good job. “When they announce a TP scheme in the area, I know that even though I will have to give up 40% of my area, the value of my remaining 60% land will go up. This has been happening since 10 years."

Other developers are more sceptical. “Land values don’t go up to the extent of the land lost," states Pavan Bakeri, director of the Bakeri Group, a prominent local real estate developer.

“Fundamentally, I think TP schemes are a good idea, but there are serious problems with implementation and inequality in execution, " adds Shaan Zaveri, a managing partner at Amaya Properties, another local developer.

However there are yet others who argue that this is a model to be emulated. “Gujarat has taken hundreds of TP schemes across the state in the last 10-15 years. Had Maharashtra laid emphasis on evolving TP schemes out of the DP, then urban development would have been very different. The DP (in Maharashtra) is relegated to a land-use plan, rather than outlining plans for a vibrant economic development," observes a senior town planner with a large municipality in Maharashtra, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Roads, trains and buses

Planning processes and principles are further supplemented by public transport systems, without which “neither can the city grow nor its peripheral areas can be developed", stresses Mohapatra, adding that “the current thinking is not to congest Ahmedabad, but to develop small townships, expand at the periphery, and provide good-quality transport combination of metro, Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and city bus service. Roads and transport networks are key".

Ahmedabad’s BRTS service, in particular, has attracted much attention for its design and implementation. Mohapatra says the “service is still small. It started with 9km, now it is 61km. We hope to reach 89km".

Cept’s Swamy confirms that BRTS comprises only 1.5% of all trips made in Ahmedabad, although he expects that “when we connect to the city centre and other places, by the year end, it should be about 4%".

The transit system’s larger benefits include “improved overall mobility because of BRTS, through widened roads and added flyovers", Swamy highlights. Some critics argue that road-widening has occurred at the expense of heritage buildings, along certain parts of the BRTS corridor, and Mohapatra concedes that “sometimes it caused resentment".

Equally, developers such as Shah realize that “transportation makes a difference, and BRTS does change the value of an area".

Of course, the city still faces many challenges. Howard Spodek, a historian and author of Ahmedabad: Shock City of Twentieth-Century India, notices that “its physical planning is good, although socially it still remains segregated. Many of those who fled the centre of the city, because they were frightened, are now living in areas of the city where town planning hasn’t happened". In a phone interview, he perceives that “society, as a whole, in Ahmedabad, hasn’t yet made a decision that integration is a good idea".

The experience of Ahmedabad suggests that successful cities need the coming together of several elements. They need a relevant statutory framework, pragmatic policymaking and constructive public participation, all of which must be underpinned by professional urban planning mechanisms and expertise. These building blocks are a precondition to developing sustainable, livable cities.

This is the third in an eight-part series.

Next: Is there a market in self-construction?

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