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Vadodara lacks professionals, facilities to run town planning department


By Rohit Prajapati*
A city or an urban area is a dynamic entity comprising of many systems working together. All progressive cities across the world, who boasts of high quality of life for its citizens, have effective planning or other similar departments comprising of a team of diverse, multidisciplinary qualified experts from the field built environments who help shape and translate the city’s visions into successful implementable projects. In Vadodara, while there are many officials who talk about visions and lofty goals for the city to compete with other world class cities, the city lacks both, necessary facilities for effectively running a good planning department as well as qualified professionals to take these visions to fruition.
Various government authorities are undertaking many initiatives, like the so-called Smart City Project , Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project, Mission Million Trees, beautification of urban water bodies (lakes), City Square, Ring Roads, Slum Rehabilitation, etc. But there is neither sync nor rhyme (a common guiding vision) among them. They seem like ego trips conceived by individuals, running in different directions, creating chaos in the city, and leaving the city in a state of disrepair.
The execution of these projects is done by unqualified or under qualified staff who have little or no expertise related to the complex subjects they are asked to deal with. The current status of the case against Vishwamitri River Front Development Project and the many interim orders, including stay orders, are a testimony to and offer a prominent example of the unplanned and sorry state of affairs.
Vadodara has not had a Town Planner since 2005 and the defunct Town Planning Department has little or no connection with the other Departments like Futuristic Planning Cell, Special Project Vehicles for the Vishwamitri River, Smart City, etc. Shockingly and surprisingly all the projects are outsourced to private consultants who impose their own values and philosophies on the city and the citizens of Vadodara are expected to lap it up due to the inability and inefficiency of their own city to set visions and plans of their own, provide proper directives for the consultants, or even evaluate the merits of what these consultants propose.
If Vadodara is to see successful coordination and implementation of any crucial projects for exemplary and comprehensive development of the city, it needs to have a smart and qualified City Planning Department staffed with dedicated, qualified planners as well as experts from related professions.
A dominant issue on the front burner has been how we treat our natural and human made water systems (such as rivers and ponds). Whenever we talk about a river we should keep in mind a crucial point that she should not be considered merely as a water channel flowing between its two banks but consider her in totality, as a watershed level layered system. We should stop using the term ‘water body’ in the context of rivers and associated tributaries, wetlands, and ponds. Since we have termed her as a ‘body’, it is meant to be over-exploited and abused.
Our rivers have sadly become default receptacles of all kinds of industrial effluent, solid waste, and sewage. The present development model and its policies have done two things to the rivers, either we have dried out some rivers systematically or, those rivers we cannot dry up, we have been polluting them very severely.
Most of the River Front Projects by design deliberately ignore the importance and uniqueness of the river, her wetlands, ravines, inter-connectivity with other water bodies, floodplains, flora and fauna, biodiversity, etc. Many times fancy jargons, images, and concepts are used in the project report and its propaganda, but if one closely examines these reports, it becomes abundantly clear that those words and ideas are intentionally misleading and many of these cannot be and are often not manifested at all in actual projects.
The problems resulting from such grave conditions and malpractice are exacerbated by other critical inadequacies as well. The major ones include, making plans without proper contour and site surveys, lack of any understanding of ecology or landscape values, and absence of genuine and continuous public participation. Making a quasi-governmental authority of local experts, NGOs, voluntary organisations and other project-relevant individuals to anticipate and guide future development projects and to review and sanction proposed projects is the need of the day.
It is high time we call a spade a spade. It is time to change our definitions of development, engage ourselves with our city’s future, and re-learn to design and live with nature.

*Well-known environmental activist, Gujarat

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