Efficiency and Usefulness of Master Plan Approach in India

In India, the nomenclature master plan and development plan is being used without much distinction. It is however, the Third Five Year Plan that defined the term ‘Master Plan’ as a statutory instrument for controlling, directing and promoting sound and rational development and redevelopment of an urban area with a view to achieving maximum economic, social and aesthetic benefits. It is defined as the official statement of a municipal legislative body which sets forth its major policies concerning desirable future physical development and thus master plan approach came into being.

Master Plan Approach

Before independence, India followed the town planning system practiced in England with the British town planning act 1909. After independence, rapid industrialization and urbanization in India it was felt necessary to regulate the growth of urban problems. States like Delhi grew very rapidly between 1947-1955 due to migration of refugees and others after the partition of India. In 1957 Delhi Development Authority was created under the Delhi Development Act, and necessary legislation was available to prepare Master Plan, which could be enforced legally.

Concept of master plan land use plan

The Ford Foundation team and Delhi Development Authority (DDA) which prepared the Master Plan followed the then existing  American system of land use planning with zoning regulations. It was aimed at housing for future population,industries and other activities in the National Capital. The Third Five Year Plan defined the term ‘Master Plan’ as a statutory instrument for controlling, directing and promoting sound and rational development and redevelopment of an urban area with a view to achieving maximum economic, social and aesthetic benefits.  It is defined the long-term perspective plan for guiding the sustainable planned development of the city. This document lays down the planning guidelines, policies, development code and space requirements for various socio-economic activities supporting the city population during the plan period. It is also the basis for all infrastructure requirements.

RelatedDelhi Master Plan 2021

Conceptually, the Master Plan or the comprehensive plan may be described as- Guide for orderly city development to promote the health, safety, welfare and convenience of the people of a community; It organizes or coordinates the complex relationship between urban land uses and many civic activities; It charts a course for growth and change; It expresses the aim and objectives of a community delineating the form and character it seeks to achieve; It reflects the policies by which goals may be achieved; It is responsive to appropriate change, and to maintain its essential utility; It directs the physical development of a community and its environs in relation to its social and economic well-being based on careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of present conditions and prospects of future growth.

Important acts leading to the master plan approach

The main components of the Master Plan are Proposed land use plan; Development control mechanism; Implementation strategy; Zoning

Inadequacies of the Master Plan Approach

Difficulties in projecting population, economic growth, social changes etc. for a horizon of 20-25 years as it generally fails to see the dynamic nature of human settlements and becomes rigid. Unlinked  from economic and environmental issues due to inadequate data base. The Five Year Plans allocate resources for sectors and master plan often fail to take sectoral outlays into consideration within urban plan region. Ineffective public participation in the process of planning. Lack of monitoring mechanism no informational or institutional system mechanism generally exists for plan monitoring. Physical domain of plan is often restricted to the urban boundary, this leaves out the edges or the urban fringe, often the most dynamic areas of the urban growth and the urban rural linkages. Plans are often idealistic and beyond the resources of the local authority. they suffer from a lack of financial programming and budgeting.

Related: Smart Master Planning Process

Need for the Future

Should be flexible enough to respond not only to present requirements but also to the changing conditions of the futures. Should incorporate smaller time horizon say 10-15 years. Planning sustainable development, rural and urban that takes care to protect and conserve the natural and man-made environment Should ensure public participation including NGOs , chambers of commerce Trade unions etc. should integrate with the economic and regional plans and instead of focusing on sharply defined urban boundaries. Must pay adequate attention to both the urban hinterland and the urban fringe. Should give adequate thought to the urban poor and migrants especially with respect to employment generation and increased productivity in the informal sector economic activities and equity considerations

Usefulness of Master Plan

Over the years, the concept of statutory master plan is in vogue and has, no doubt, made a discernible impact in regulating and the development and growth of cities and towns. Without master plan the situation would have been worst in our towns and cities. However, lately professional planners and city managers are increasingly advancing their arguments against relevance of the master plan approach in the context of fast changing urban situation and appalling urban conditions. Although there has not been a detailed critical evaluation of Master Plan approach, nevertheless the issue has been debated from time to time in various forums as to the effectiveness of the Master Plan approach in the present context. Effectiveness of the master plan approach is required to be seen from various angles such as methodology followed for plan preparation, operational jurisdiction of plan, detailing of plan, enforcement and implementation, revision cycle of plan, etc. Although Master plans are generally prepared for the planning areas identified under the respective Acts, they mainly confine to the precincts of city limits and seldom take into consideration the development taking place on the urban fringes and adjoining peripheral areas due to the statutory requirements. The Master Plan are supposed to take note of the regional and national goals of development but in the absence of well-conceived urban development policies at national and state level, these are not reflected in the Master Plan of an individual town/city. The Master Plan determines the city-wide circulation pattern and the use of all the lands covered within the specific urban areas. Besides guiding the actions of Government and public agencies, the Master plans were also meant to control the use of privately owned property. The effectiveness of Master Plan can be discussed bringing out the specific areas which could be implemented in the Indian cities.


The list of the areas where the Master plans could be implemented are as follows: By-pass roads or ring roads were constructed; Some commercial complexes were built according to planned locations; In the proposed residential zones, a few large housing colonies and land development schemes were implemented by public agencies as well as private developer;  Some of the old wholesale markets situated in the core areas could be shifted to the outskirts;  There are cases where public agencies implemented pilot housing schemes that triggered growth towards the desired geographical directions as contemplated in the Master Plan; Bridges and fly-overs were built to ease the traffic bottlenecks; A few large public parks were developed by civic bodies or Development authorities.

The list of the areas where Master Plans could not be implemented is as follows: The secondary road network as proposed in the Master Plans and Zonal Development Plans could not be implemented, partly because there was no agency to do that job nor funding could be explored; Outer and intermediate Ring roads could not be implemented, while the urban spread fast engulfed the Inner Ring roads that were completed; to a degree that they almost lost their purpose; Almost without any exceptions, very few land reservations for parks, schools, health centres, playgrounds and other public amenities could be acquired; Vast green belts remained on paper and there are instances where even Government lands in Green belts converted for residential colonies or Industrial estates; Heavy and polluting industries situated in the central areas could not be shifted out; Land use planning in India could not encourage public transportation and little attention was paid to the needs of cyclist and pedestrians who form the largest chunk of the population; Civic bodies are often allowed layouts and sub-division making, without satisfactory roads and amenities and in some cases also in Green belt areas.

Efficiency of Master Plan:

The Master plans prepared in India are treated as departmental exercise of one government department/agency rather than a collective vision of entire city. Given the administrative structure of local governments and their respective fiscal and functional autonomy, it is often beyond the means of the local governments to finance the proposed developments. The state level agencies, entrusted with the task of provision of water, sanitation, electricity, transport and other social facilities have their own sets of priorities and constraints, which are never taken into account at the plan formulation stage.

Related: What is Urban Growth

recommendations accordingly in order to improve the Planning framework. The report identified a number of relevant issues in this context with respect to the Master Plan approach, its implementation and management; and finally alternatives to the approach.The salient features of the practices of Master Plan approach in various parts of the country and abroad at that time are summarized below.

The Master Plan approach based on British system underwent drastic change in the mid-sixties and after the evolution of planning approach in theoretical concept, quantitative approach, models, simulation exercises and forecasting methods and computer applications were gradually adopted by planners. Majority of the Indian cities depicted the picture of unplanned urban outrages. It was generally observed that such state of affairs in cities were not because the planners were unaware of the advances in planning techniques abroad, but rather the difficulties lay in the necessity for overhauling the institutional framework so that new methods could be introduced and implemented. It was realised that the sequence of development was as crucial as the plan itself. There was no necessity to change the basic Master Plan system but a separate wing for plan implementation and enforcement would prove to be a better institutional arrangement. The requirement for accurate mapping for plan preparation at various levels was stressed. Suggestions were that the base maps of the towns should be unlinked from the cumbersome security procedure and should be easily available so as to quicken the plan preparation process. Each State could establish urban and regional information system cells which would take care of mapping requirements of the planning exercises.

The plan making exercise was seen as a long drawn process that did not take the implications of the land market into account. The public participation in plan preparation exercise was ineffective and there was general lack of monitoring mechanism. The planning process was required to be decentralized.  The planning process was required to be decentralized. Conflicts in the role of different acts and agencies at local level were to be resolved in time with the ground realities. Land use and zoning regulation were considered to be too rigid causing hindrances in development. For planning of town the parameters like traffic and transportation, threshold limits of resources like drinking water, management of services like drainage, refuse collection, sanitation, land holding capacity, financial capability of the organization, environmental issues were required to be considered comprehensively and critically. The subject of town planning received a very low priority in the entire political and administrative set up, despite the urban sector contributing nearly 60% of GDP. The existing approach of the Master Plan had an overemphasis on the land use contents of the plan. The need was to have closer integration between infrastructures particularly telecom system, sanitation and other regional network. Since Master Plan is not prepared within the framework of Five Year plan of the State it remains non-plan which has low priority. Duration of plan should be curtailed from 20-25 years to 5-10 years as being practiced in other countries.

The present approach of Master Plan was considered highly conceptual and lacking operational mechanism. It was conceived as a pre-emptive document based on the material and information which is subject to verification on long intervals. The theoretical approach should be used to devise a pragmatic framework. Theory is an instrument by which plan can be made practical. It was observed that the Laws and Acts needed to be updated to allow to incorporate the fundamental institutional changes, the political ethos, liberalisation and de licensing.

Related: Review of ITPI code of conduct

The Urban Development Plans Formulation and Implementation Guidelines (UDPFI Guidelines) prepared by team of experts at ITPI in 1996 have also discussed the various drawbacks of the Master Plan, which are as follows:

  • It provides a long-term perspective of development, neglecting short-term actions and objectives; consequently losing its effectiveness in a fast-changing scenario.
  • It is rigid and static because it is treated as an end product and not as a continuous process.
  • It takes a very long time in its preparation and approval, making it an out-of-date document even before its implementation. As a consequence, there are frequent changes in land use.
  • It lacks symbiosis of socio-economic dynamism and physical determination of a city.
  • It lacks integration of physical and fiscal planning efforts.
  • The norms and standards for land use and provision of facilities are generally high and very difficult to be achieved at the time of implementation.
  • The public participation in the planning process is not effective.
  • Monitoring and review mechanisms are neither regular nor effective.
  • It emphasises control rather than promotion of development.
  • Town planning and other related laws such as acquisition of land, are not suitably amended to adjust to changing socio-economic, techno-economic changes and development needs.
  • Development management is generally not efficient.
  • It hardly caters to the demands of informal sector.
  • In some cases political interference is observed which results in some irrational proposals and implementation decisions.

Note: This article forms a part of report prepared by Class of 2012-16 from School of Planning & Architecture, New Delhi