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Draft Master Plan of Delhi 2041, and the stagnant approach towards public health

Amidst the pandemic, the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) has released the draft Master Plan 2041 for the capital city. A master plan is essentially a document that defines the development of the city in terms of land use and building/construction activity. The draft master plan 2041 is now available for public access and the DDA is accepting objections and suggestions till the 23rd of August. 

This is the 4th master plan for the city of Delhi, and historically master plans have been criticized on multiple grounds, for being ignorant of ground realities and being technocratic in nature. The master planning process has also been questioned for its utter ignorance of the people engaged in the informal sector, as they often lack proper space allocation in these plans. Much criticism can not take away the importance of it, as it is effectively the single most important document which lays out the long-term development of a city. Therefore, there is a definite need to break down the master plan sectorally, to understand the state’s imagination of development and how it is going to manifest in the future. 

The new Draft Master Plan has brought in some welcoming changes. Health for the first time is being viewed from multiple lenses with more emphasis on preventive health care than curative health care. It also lays out some strategies to reduce the vulnerability in the cases of the pandemic, with emphasis on mixed-use development and vertical mixing of compatible uses within plots to bring offices and homes in close vicinity (for example now DDA has officially paved the path of shops and residential houses being in the same building). 

In all fairness, the magnitude of the pandemic was so huge that it led to the collapse of public health systems of the countries which were often lauded for their robust investment in the health sector, and in that sense, India is no anomaly. Yet, even in the blueprint for development which is going to lay out the path for the future, health remains an area that is thought of with the least cognizance of the ground realities, and the draft master plan of Delhi is the perfect example of this case. 

In the case of India, the pandemic has also brought to the daylight structural flaws in the public health systems. At the peak of the pandemic, our capital ran out of oxygen, with many people dying not due to the virus but due to the state’s failure in providing them with basic medical facilities. One would naturally expect with the scenes of people running to arrange hospital beds and oxygen, the state would go to any extent to rectify the health infrastructure for the future, but the master plan draft in no way makes any attempt to do so. 

The draft master plan for the year 2041 takes up the case of public health infrastructure, under the title heading of social infrastructure. It lays down the criteria for ascertaining what kind of health facility would be available at what level, the master plan uses the population criteria as a unit to make that decision. The following table from the draft Master Plan 2041 lays out the plan for the public health infrastructure. 

Source: Health facilities classification in the draft master plan 2041

Juxtaposing the provisions of the draft master plan 2041 with the master plan of 2021 reveals the lack of changes in the new plan. 

Source: Public Health Care Infrastructure as per Master Plan 2021

Juxtaposing the health provisions of the draft Master Plan 2041 and the Master Plan 2021 of Delhi it reveals that there have been no attempts to revamp the public health infrastructure, neither the number of units of the health facilities has been increased nor the allocated area has seen any changes. However, there is a significant change in the terminology to refer to these health facilities. For instance, at the community level, all the small health facilities have been clubbed under one head, whereas in the previous master plan all the categories of such small health centers and their number of units were pre-defined. The clubbing of the predefined health facilities under one head means now there is no fixed mandated provision for the construction of these specialized health facilities and any of those falling under the small health facility can be constructed. Similarly, the Master Plan 2021 laid out different land for the tertiary health care center but the draft Master Plan 2041 has put it under the category of the hospital at the community level, with no pre-defined provision for a separate tertiary health care center. 

The contentions are not only about this reluctance to revamp the public health infrastructure. The draft Master Plan 2041 also does not take into cognizance the ground realities which haunt public health in Delhi. To begin with, the population criteria which is used by the draft Master Plan for the creation of any Public health infrastructure seems to be bereft of the ground realities. For instance, the population criteria do not take into account the geographical inequality which exists in the city and in no way defines where the health facility should be located. Second, the basic neighborhood level at 10,000 population does not take into account the health needs of informal settlements with a lesser population. The special focus which the vulnerable groups like migrants, women, and homeless people require is also not taken into consideration by using the population criteria. 

The Master Plan is a monumental document as it determines the overall development of the city for years to come, and its disconnect from the ground realities is worrisome. The highly undemocratic nature of the plan is reflected in its non-inclusive approach. In the case of Public Health, this is even more troubling because affordable health worries the urban poor and the vulnerable groups the most. Campaigns like ‘Main Bhi Dilli’ are trying to make the planning process more inclusive by constant engagements at the community level about their demands, and advocating it in public forums and with authorities to make those voices heard. Initially, when the draft was rolled out the window to raise objections and offer suggestions was of minimal 45 days. Now, with the pressure from various civic groups the DDA has increased the window by 30 days which offers a great opportunity for campaigns like ‘Main Bhi Dilli’, such campaigns would be detrimental as they have the network on the ground to ensure community participation to advocate for the rightful changes. 

Rajat Chaudhary is a recent Urban Fellowship graduate from Indian Institute for Human Settlements.

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