By Altaf Hussain, Stawa 11-19
Town planning is a critical aspect of socio-economic development. It determines the progress and development of a village, district, and region. Agriculture, transport, recreation, residence, industries and commerce are primary attributes of town planning. Similarly, it also deals with issues such as sanitation, drinking water, toilets, sewerage system, solid waste management, health, and housing that are crucial for people and their environment.
J&K state had one of the worst models of town planning, which was characterised by growing urbanisation and regional development. In other parts of India, there is a regulated process of town planning at the village, district and state level. There are block development plans, village development plans, district development plans, city development plans, regional development plans, metropolitan development plans, master plans and so on.
The idea of town planning is critical for a place like Ladakh due to the vastness of space in the region. Ladakh is urbanising rapidly on account of tourism, transportation, and other urban services. Migration, notably rural-urban, has changed settlement patterns and the two urban centres in the region: Kargil and Leh.
The population of these urban centres has increased dramatically in terms of houses, guesthouses, hotels, offices and shops. Leh has achieved 27% urbanisation according to the 2011 Census, while Kargil has a relatively lower rate of urbanisation.
J&K state failed in terms of town planning not only in Ladakh but also in Srinagar and Jammu divisions. The armchair bureaucrats and policymakers failed to establish a robust urban and regional planning framework for the state. In a State Administrative Council (SAC) meeting in July 2019 under the chairmanship of the then Governor, Satya Pal Malik to distribute directorates in Ladakh division, a proposal was made to create 12 directorates. This included four Chief Engineers and four Joint Directors and several posts in different categories across departments. Strangely, the SAC members did not discuss the need to incorporate town planning in different categories of departments for Ladakh division. If directorates like Forest, Cooperatives, Horticulture, Wildlife, etc. can be established, I don't see why there cannot be a separate directorate or agency for town planning. If there were four categories of engineering departments with four Chief Engineers, then why can't there be a single town planning department in Ladakh? I don't see any viable alternative to tackle this important issue. In fact, some of the directorates have little or no relevance to Ladakh.
The state had two town planning organisations; one in Kashmir and the other in Jammu. Similarly, it had separate town planning branches in different development authorities in Kashmir and Jammu regions. Unfortunately, like the state government, the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils (LAHDCs) never realised the importance of creating a town planning department. The state neglected the need to make such plans and projects due to the inefficiency of its nodal agency, the Housing and Urban Development Department. Although the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts of 1992 emphasised the role of village panchayats and municipal corporations of urban local bodies, there was little cooperation and coordination between them for town planning and urban development.
We now need to empower urban local bodies to develop strong town planning and urban development mechanisms in the newly-formed Ladakh UT. We now need to develop a new model of governance mechanism for the LAHDC. This can be done by establishing a town planning department to control and address existing and emerging issues related to urbanisation. If Ladakh hopes to achieve development and prosperity, then it has to have an effective long-term vision to manage its fragile environment.