HomeSpotlightA digital revolution in the making

A digital revolution in the making

Several local bodies in various states have started online portal for architects and civil engineers to submit building plans to get sanction from the authorities. The new system launched under Central government’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ initiative intends to curb underhand dealings resulting in corruption, bring transparency in the system and speed up the process of building plan sanctioning process.

“With the introduction of Online Building Permission System (OBPS) the applicant is required to apply for all NoCs through Common Application Form (CAF) only. Therefore, now no separate application is required for NoCs and applicant has to indicate at the time of applying for building permit, which NoCs are applicable. The request for DPCC, Fire and Director of Factories NoC is forwarded through OBPS and NoC are received through the system. Applicants are not required to approach each department individually. System generated “Deemed Sanction” of building permits at all stages and “Deemed Approval” by NOC agencies has been adopted by MCD. Deemed sanction is granted when approval is not given within the stipulated time. Moreover, in accordance with the risk framework adopted ‘low risk buildings are exempted from availing NOC from DPCC,” says DIPP notification for Delhi region.

The Doing Business Report, 2018 released by the World Bank ranks India at 100 among 190 countries assessed by its Doing Business Team. India’s rank has moved up from 130 earlier to 100 now showing considerable improvement in the business environment. However, there is  lot of scope for further improvement in Doing Business environment in the country, especially in some major indicators where she still fares poorly. Dealing with construction permits, for example, in India is still cumbersome and its rank has improved from 185 to just 181 which is not at all noteworthy. India’s DTF (Distance to Frontier) score indicating  its distance from best practices though improved from 32.83 to 38.80 but still far away from comfort level. Procedure to obtain construction permit has come down from 35.1 to 30.1 indicating there is lot of room for further improvement and we still have a long way to go before reaching somewhere internationally accepted comfort level. The study has showed that time required for obtaining construction permit has come down from more than six months to less than five months but still far away from satisfactory level.

So, by going digital (in building plan approval process) the government aimed to kill many birds with single stone. Online Building Plan Approval System was introduced to ensure that all the required clearances by the external and internal agencies are accorded in a seamless, integrated manner, without any physical interface. Several individual states have introduced many other systems/processes to streamline the approval system and also to remove bottlenecks in the system. For example, Government of Andhra Pradesh has introduced Development Permission Management Sysfem (DPMS) to integrated all the urban local bodies of the State to a common portal to give building plan approvals online in an expeditious manner and getting all inspections after approval. Several other State Governments have also taken similar initiatives. These initiatives are aimed at improving the Ease of Doing Business and helping the citizens obtain construction permits in a hassle free manner.

Going digital was perhaps the only way to get away with the problem of time consuming and corrupt building permission process. For example, in Mumbai following  major NOCs are required before obtaining commencement certificate:

  1. a) Non-Agriculture (NA) permission
  2. b) Tree Authority
  3. c) Storm Water and Drain Department
  4. d) Sewerage Department
  5. e) Hydraulic Department
  6. f) Environmental Department (concerned with debris management)
  7. g) Consent to Establish & Operate
  8. h) Ancient Monument Approval
  9. i) Airports Authority of India
  10. j) Traffic and Coordination Department
  11. k) CFO (fire clearance)
  12. l) Structural Plan Approval

There are about 40 IOD (intimation of disapproval) conditions to be met by the builder to be eligible for applying for commencement certificate in Maharashtra. However, timelines were never observed by the authorities in these departments. Further, some provisions have become redundant but have never been amended. For example, in Maharashtra non-agriculture permission is a mandatory requirement in the state even for areas that fall within the municipal limits. Also, documentation required at each stage of approval was not clearly laid down and adhered to, thus, often resulting in subjective decisions by the authorities. In many cases, it was observed that the capacity of the Development Authority / Municipal Corporation was inadequate to handle the number of applications.

Online Building Plan Approval System has several objectives.  It shall automate the lengthy and cumbersome manual process of checking the development regulations, thus reducing paper work, valuable time and effort of approving authority. Since the entire process is automated, there will be no human intervention which in turn will result in corruptionlessapproval system. Since the system allows the applicant and the stake holder/approving officials to view the progress of the application at various stages involved in the approval process, it will make the entire system transparent.

Though started on experimental basis in Delhi and Mumbai, now several Municipal Corporations have adopted online approval system. Some states are in the process of adopting the online system. For example, Housing and Urban Planning Department in Uttar Pradesh last week issued a tender inviting software firms to develop online building plan approval system for the State. Thus, dvelopment on this front is not even on an all India basis with various States at the various stages of implemntation of the project.

However, the system adopted at several places are not foolproof and there are some glitches which make the task of obtaining approval that much tougher. In some cases there are no provisions for securing no objection certificates online. In case of Nagpur Municipal Corporation NOC from Fire department is not synchronised with the approval system as a result of which applicants have to make separate efforts to secure them which will add to the time and efforts of the applicants.

Also success of the system depends upon the real time updation of voluminous DCR guidelines which may not happen and the applicants may have to face problems during the time lag between notification and its updation on the software. Also, in such cases manual intervention may have to be done which is not in the interest of whole system.

Though the project has the noble objective (which will be achieved sooner or later), there are some problems which are being faced on many fronts. One of the greatest hurdle in seamless implementation of the program is the lack of awareness and knowledge about the system both on the applicant’s and on the sanctioning authority’s side.  Poor quality of telecommunication network may delay the introduction of the program on an all India basis for a prolonged period. Further, availability and adoption of modern techniques of drawing is not yet widespread in the country which may further delay the adoption of the system on an all India basis.

However, all these problems will be overcome over a period of time but matured handling of the situation during the intervening period is of utmost importance.

 

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