Calcutta, 316 years old, is set to get its “first comprehensive integrated town plan”, expected to trigger urban renewal and control growth and development over the next 25 years.
Under pressure from international funding agencies, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has decided to reassess the existing urban fabric of the city and land-use pattern in various zones — from roads and sewerage to parks, buildings and street furniture .
The civic body has approached the town planning department of Bengal Engineering and Science University (Besu) to draw up the Plan for Development of CMC Area for a fee of Rs 18 lakh. The idea: to harmonise development initiatives. The motto: sustainable development for the present and the future.
“Our aim is to harmonise development initiatives in different parts of the city with a set of new rules for emerging urban growth areas and by encircling the existing disorder in core city areas with order,” said Sibabrata Halder, heading the eight-member Besu team of town planners.
The proposed development plan — the grant for which comes from the UK’s department for international development (DFID) — will suggest different sets of restrictions on the construction of buildings to shape future land-use pattern in city pockets.
“We don’t want uncontrolled and haphazard urban growth, like along Diamond Harbour Road or the EM Bypass,” stressed mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya. Say, if a mall comes up by demolishing a large old building in a densely-populated residential area, the effect would be disastrous, he pointed out.
“The main objective is to cut chaos and correct existing disorder as far as practicable, allowing development for the next 25 years in accordance with these guidelines,” said municipal commissioner Alapan Bandyopadhyay.
Experts, however, have questioned the town-planning concept and the Besu panel’s competence in delivering such a master plan. “Town planning as a subject is obsolete for an old city like Calcutta. It can only apply to new towns. What we need are urban design guidelines in sync with the urban character of specific zones,” observed architect Unmesh Kirtikar, member of think tank body Centre for Built Environment.
Architect and urban designer Partha Ranjan Das felt the panel drawing up a master plan should have a cross-section of architects and planners, traffic and transportation experts, landscape architects, historians, economists and statisticians.
“It’s absolutely critical to engage a group of professional stakeholders plus representatives from development and controlling authorities,” agreed senior architect Mukul Mitra, while lamenting how the “damage has already been done”.
An Inception Report, titled Report Series I, has been submitted by Team Besu, while the final report will be ready by January 2007, promised CMC officials.
But will it be another “closed-door decision thrust upon the tax-paying citizens'” wondered Das. Or will it have the kind of transparency the Urban Arts Commission in Delhi had ensured by inviting architecture guru Charles Correa as chairman to anchor the capital’s greening process through open exhibition'