We all know and agree that land is limited in supply and this shortage is felt more severely in urban areas than anywhere else. Shortage of land has given rise to abnormal increase in its price and also several other malpractices like land grabbing and emergence of land mafia.
Shortage of land has put an additional responsibility on the government and others to ensure its optimum utilisation. The local governments guide and regulate development of land through planning regulations and building bye-laws. These include sub-division regulations, zoning regulations, floor area ratios (FAR), height limitations, set-backs, parking requirements, plot sizes, and so on. Apart from ensuring planned growth of the cities these regulations are also supposed to ensure the safety and health of the people.
However, these regulations often give rise to many unintended impacts on citizens and weaken the functionality, efficiency and inclusivity of cities. Also, that they tend to work towards urban sprawl instead of ensuring a compact development pattern. Further, it’s the weaker sections of the society who are the most affected by its misuse.
It’s also proved time and again that these regulations impact the cost of construction, return on investments, housing affordability, and so on. Though they are meant to ensure optimum utilisation of urban land often they lead to underutilisation of valuable urban land. Larger proportion of land gets consumed in the fragmented and poorly utilised private open spaces than in the public realm – which in turn creates scarcity of land for provision of infrastructure like roads, water supply, playgrounds and so on.
Moreover, they create distortions in the land market that pushes development to the peri-urban areas, reduces availability of serviced land, particularly for low-income groups in the cities, increases commuting distances and their environmental costs. Such malfunctioning of the system usually happens due to collusion between officials and land mafia. These distortions need to be empirically assessed on city-to-city basis and corrected through informed revisions in the development control regulations.
In may cases, development control regulations were formulated several decades ago under varied circumstances. Many a times these regulations undergo changes arbitrarily and that too due to by interested parties thus impacting in terms of infrastructural and social costs. Recently, most of the States/UTs have revised their respective bye laws based on Model Building Bye Laws, 2016. It is imperative that the city governments develop or adapt the planning regulations and building bye laws as per their context and economic growth drivers; and shift from blanket regulations to the area-specific regulations to ensure the optimum use of urban land.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for an empirical assessment of the prevailing development control regulations and building bye-laws and their impact on the health and safety of the citizens, local economy, urban land efficiency, built and unbuilt environment, etc.