Do we have enough planners?

Planning must include uncertainty and conflict in the process and make understanding of all factors that will affect/impact the future.
Do we have enough planners?
Representational Pic

There is a full-fledged department of Planning & Development with government of J & K.  An officer/official from this department is deputed in each of the other sector departments. Similarly at district level, there is a Chief Planning Officer and Block Planning Officer. One can understand that for a statistical job, one requires to have education/qualification in Statistics but what about a planning job? Is there any planning course/education or development programme/education in any university or college which specifically teach planning or development and then officers/officials are recruited in the department of planning & development. I have not come across any such academic course/programme conducted by a university/college in India. But when, planning & development being most important sector departments/agencies/organization in the state or the country, then why academic educational ambiguity for recruitment/employment? The present job profile of any planning officer in any department is to compile the requisition of various proposals along with estimates and also to foresee any future proposal needed so that finances could be either arranged or diverted towards that new emergent proposal or at the most, the planning jobs/tasks are created to manage the sanctioned budget of a particular department or a district. These new proposals are either required by the agency for its overall functioning or for their sustenance or to stay relevant. 

Coming back to planning profession, if there is no specific qualification/academic education for a planning job, then how do we expect that a state, a region, a village/block, a zone, a ward and a town or a city to having planning at all and that too in consonance with the developmental needs of present as well as future. If planning means to make statistical figures work out in one's favor/choice and utilization of financial position means to distribute as per what someone  somewhere dictates, then only God can save us environmentally, ecologically and economically. Technically, legally and politically speaking, there are no planners available with the state government except statistical data planners or fund managers, rather fund allocation planners everywhere.  

Planning as of now is uni-dimensional which means, it is not truly public-oriented because projects/schemes are mostly contractor-influenced/wage-oriented. However, let us understand that planning is multi-dimensional comprising of socio-cultural aspects apart from economical, environmental, ecological and spatial issues/concerns. Planning means to establish future need based on the problem study in a systematic manner so that best solution can be strategically provided taking care of priorities of people (amenities& economies) and places (environment & ecology), through operational framework to enable greater results without compromising the requisites of present as well as future in a sustainable way. The plan may or may not succeed depending on identification of diverse perspectives, means, impacts/outcomes, stated goals/objectives and the effective tactics to achieve those goals. Someone (unknown) has rightly said," A vision without a plan is just a dream. A plan without a vision is just drudgery. But a vision with a plan can change the world". The most ambiguous and uncertain thing for any person/professional is, to plan for the future. That is why, planning can be frustrating at times because of failure, insufficient resources, inadequate official or public support or no-support at all, unresolved disputes/conflicts and most importantly, inaccurate predictions, unintended consequences and fallible recommendations. It also depends on resistance of stakeholders/users what they think and consider normal to be good due to the fact that they look on the past experience rather than on future potential. That is why, planning is to provide best choices/alternatives or optimal solutions for systematic wisdom-oriented decision-making by coordinating data, information, knowledge, and understanding so that fruitful results/outcomes are obtained in the best possible manner.  Planning must include uncertainty and conflict in the process and make understanding of all factors that will affect/impact the future. Better planning has to be comprehensive, integrative, strategic and insightful after striving to understand people's problems/ place (un)making and not through single manifestation. However, correct understanding or defining of the problem on inclusive basis (wisdom) through active involvement (not mere participation in customary sense) and asking/seeking critical but thoughtful/logical questions in a transparent manner is helpful for framing meaningful plans or master plans. 

Now, who are planners ? Professional Planners are those who study planning in planning schools/colleges and universities. Earlier civil engineers would be treated as planners but as the profession of architecture grew, they became the basic planners in the field and were more professional than civil engineers. However, later on planning as a separate profession evolved which catered to multi-sector development needs.  In planning studies, potential & prospective planners are made to understand the established theories of planning/techniques, development management, environmental sustainability, needs of the society/community based on population growth over a period for various activities of shelter (housing), mobility (transport), recreation (leisure & travel) & sports, commerce (shopping/trade), services, industrial & manufacturing, defense (security & safety for peaceful living), religious/cultural and funeral/cremation services, educational/healthcare needs, which are people/public oriented including marginal and vulnerable sections of the society. More so, planners are taught place-making and community development on sustainability parameters as natural resources are scarce and limited as against human greed which seems infinite. The cultural and socio-economic factors of a particular community/society/group based on religion, race, and ethnicity could find reflections in the plan as each individual, family, group, village/mohalla, region or an urban entity present a diverse and large manifestation to be factored in order to meet the objectives. There are schools of planning in India and abroad with diverse courses/programmes offering different varieties of qualifications in Planning, having nomenclature:

a) Bachelor of Planning 

b) Master of Planning like Regional Planning, Urban Planning, Urban & Regional Planning, City & Regional Planning, City Planning, etc.

All these planning programmes include courses on rural/village or country planning, town planning, regional development, infrastructural development, Land use planning, environmental development, zonal development, Tourism planning, urban economic and spatial pattern, community development, policy development, global restructuring, international development etc. There are specialized programmes in planning also which include Transport planning, Environmental Planning, Infrastructural Planning and Community Planning etc.

Most of these planning programmes (except Bachelor of Planning where entry level is after class 12) require eligibility criteria as Bachelors of Architecture/Civil Engineering and Masters in Geography. Therefore, Planning has been a higher learning and practiced profession till recently, when Bachelors in Planning was introduced few years ago at some institutions.  The formal degree in planning schools is to be recognized by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) or University Grants Commission (UGC). The UGC does not recognize Open and Distance Learning mode (ODL) in architecture, town planning and engineering (all three technical/professional fields) and it has been specified in their orders/notifications/circulars. 

But planners as of now are only meant for urban areas and their services sought for the same. There is a dearth of qualified planners in India despite establishment of many planning schools. J & K State has only few genuinely qualified planners. Planning as a profession is hardly a career choice among potential students because the policy has been to promote employment/recruitment of Peons at a large scale than Planners. And therefore, how can one expect planning of Srinagar or master planning of Kashmir…….a big question, indeed? which means should we do away with planning and planners? Although every state/region needs planners at village/ panchayat level, block level, tehsil/district level or regional/provincial level or urban/town/city level for spatial and comprehensive planning but where are the planners?

Planners all put together in the whole state can be counted on fingers. None of the municipal corporations/ councils/committees in J & K has planners on its board. None of the tourism development authorities has any planner on their board. Till date, SMC Srinagar has not had its own qualified municipal planner despite claiming establishment from 1886 AD. Granting building permission on the basis of building bye-laws is not planning at all. Even if govt. provides only one planner in each council/committee or tourism development authority, the number of planners required may exceed 100 leave aside, absorption/employment of spatial planners in Planning & Development Department & Rural Development Department. Because of dearth of qualified planners, draftsmen are adjusted as town planners and this policy reduces the credibility of planning profession to the lowest possible level despite being a profession of higher learning. Then how do you expect, the city, the town, the district/region, the block or the village taking shape of………….livable, smart, safe & sustainable entity?. We also need planners at district level to formulate District Spatial Plan, Block Spatial Plan, Village Spatial Plan, Special area development plan, Hill Town/village development Plan, Model village development plan etc. So in nutshell, we are technically a state without any spatial PLANS and PLANNERS. We need to embed spatial planners with proper education/qualification as stated above in the Planning & Development Department of J & K, Town Planning Organization, Corporations, municipalities/ULBs, tourism/development authorities, ERA or create separate spatial planning section/cell in P & D Deptt. at block/district level to deal with designated non-urban entities for optimum spatial services both for people's prosperity/progress and place making/community development taking care of economics, ecology and environment.   

PS: Employ planners from planning schools in a big way. Establish Planning Course (B. Plan) in Govt. College of Architecture in the state at an earliest.

The writer is a city planner & public policy analyst with background education in architecture, sustainable development, disaster management and human rights. 

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