Even though the three elected representatives of the planning committee are yet to be nominated, the state government has already selected three members of the panel.The Shiv Sena’s delaying tactics in appointing three members from the standing committee for the Development Plan Planning Committee may cost the citizens their chance of being heard by their elected representatives before the final draft of the Development Plan is sent to the State Government. Even though the three elected representatives of the planning committee are yet to be nominated, the state government has already selected three members of the panel and senior civic officials stated that all the suggestions and objections as well as the draft of the DP will be forwarded to them by next week.
The MRTP Act states that after the submission of the objections and suggestions, the planning committee shall ‘give a reasonable opportunity of being heard to any person’ who has filed any objections or made any suggestions after which ‘the Planning Committee shall submit its report to the Planning Authority…not later than two months from the date of its appointment’. While the final draft of the DP was published on May 28, the last date for the submission of suggestions and objections was on July 29.
The state government appointed the three members including N R Shende, state’s Director of Town Planning, former additional chief secretary Gautam Chatterjee, former chief engineer (DP) Sudhir Ghate and former deputy director town planning Suresh Surve on August 12 which gives the committee another 35 more days to conduct hearings for over 12000 suggestions and objections. The panel will then have to prepare a consolidated report and submit it to the general body which will get another two months to approve the final report after making changes if deemed necessary. As per the act, the draft DP and the final report will then be submitted to the state government for a final approval to be given within ‘ twenty four months in the aggregate’.On August 23, during a general body meeting, Shiv Sena corporators demanded that all the group leaders should be made a part of the planning committee and with the support of all other political parties barring the Congress, the proposal of appointment of three members has been deferred indefinitely. Civic officials stated that the MRTP Act outlines a clear time frame and the process of the implementation of the DP has to be done within two years after the final draft is published. “The corporation deferred the policy and their demands of including all the group leaders of political parties can only be enforced if the state government introduces an amendment in the MRTP Act during the assembly session in December which will delay the process. We, however, have to adhere to the current act and if the planning committee does not conduct the hearings, at the end of 60 days from the appointment of the three members, we will submit the draft of the DP as well as the suggestions and objections to the general body,” said a senior official.
He added that an amendment is unlikely since there are around 10 other DPs under process in other parts of the state and any change would affect them as well. In case the corporation fails to give its approval in another 60 days, then the draft DP and the suggestions and objections will be submitted to the state government.
Civic officials pointed out that in the political rivalry between the Shiv Sena and the BJP, it is possible that the citizens may not get a chance to be heard before the draft of the DP is sent to the state government. “There is a fixed time period and the implementation of the DP cannot be delayed indefinitely. Without the elected representatives, the citizens may not be called for the hearings. However, the act doesn’t say that all the members of the committee have to convene for the hearings to be conducted and we will forward the suggestions and objections to the three members nominated by the state government by Monday,” said the official.
Crying foul over Sena’s delaying tactics, Godfrey Pimenta of Watchdog Foundation stated that the Sena as well as the BJP are deliberately trying to leave the citizens out of the entire process. “Citizens have not been given a fair platform to voice their concerns about the DP and the political parties realized at the last possible minute that the rules of the MRTP Act need to be amended. These are simply ways to delay the process to not give hearings to citizens since they don’t want opposition to provisions like development on NDZ lands and Aarey Colony among others,” said Pimenta.
Shyama Kulkarni of Apna Mumbai Abhiyaan stated that this was just a part of the parties’ political strategy of delaying the DP till after the civic elections. “The DP is being made for the citizens and such delaying tactics of politicians and bureaucrats are depriving the citizens their right of participation in the DP. The planning committee should be formed at the earliest and the hearings should start at the earliest,” she said.
Apart from activists who voiced their concern over the delay being a deliberate attempt to not allow the participation of the citizens, others like Pankaj Joshi, executive officer of the Urban Design Research Institute felt confident that the citizens won’t be left out. “The DP cannot be brought in without allowing the citizens to put forth their stand. If necessary, the state government can give extensions for all the hearings to be conducted in case there isn’t enough time,” he said.
Justifying the party’s stand of deferring the proposal, Shiv Sena leader and standing committee chairperson Yashodhar Phanse stated that all the parties should be represented in the planning committee and the corporation should be given more powers to make amendments to the DP. “As the corporation, we can only make suggestions on the DP whereas the right to amend it rests with the state government alone. People are not aware of what the act says and when they don’t like something about the final DP, they will only blame us and not the state government. If we are going to take the blame then we should also have the right to make the amendments as well,” he said.