Ahmedabad: Town Planning Schemes for Equitable Development — Glass Half Full or Half Empty?

This case study in the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” examines transformative urban change in Ahmedabad, India, by analyzing the land pooling and readjustment mechanism called Town Planning Scheme (TPS). This paper reviews the evidence on whether the TPS mechanism has enabled transformative change with equitable outcomes in Ahmedabad City—and if so, how.

Ahmedabad, a UNESCO World Heritage city in the state of Gujarat in India, uses a structured process known as a Town Planning Scheme to secure urban land for public services and ensure a more equitable distribution. With the TPS, the city has been able to obtain land for public purposes such as low-income housing, open spaces, roads, utilities, and social amenities, avoiding much of the haphazard, unserviced expansion that characterizes many other Indian cities.

The TPS mechanism in Ahmedabad is considered a relatively successful model because it produces more equitable outcomes. This mechanism has enabled transformative outcomes in the city such as construction of thousands of well distributed social housing units, and expansion of well-planned road network that allowed to connect the city through India’s largest Bus Rapid Transit. The TPS also increased street density in the city, which has helped improve accessibility, reduce average trip lengths, and reduce road congestion; enabled negotiated and non-coercive land appropriation by the planning authority for public purposes; and accommodated informal settlements in the planning process.

Case studies in the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” examine transformative urban change defined as that which affects multiple sectors and institutional practices, continues across more than one political administration, and is sustained for more than 10 years, resulting in more equitable access to core services. The goal of “Towards a More Equal City” is to inform urban change agents – government officials, policymakers, civil society organizations, citizens, and the private sector – about how transformative change happens, the various forms it takes, and how they can support transformation towards more equal cities.

Key Findings

Executive Summary

Significant rural to urban migration in Indian cities is exacerbating existing challenges of unplanned urbanization, informal housing, and the provision of basic services, particularly to low-income populations. Addressing these challenges requires the availability of public land, which is difficult in India’s privately owned land regime. Gujarat’s town planning scheme (TPS), implemented in Ahmedabad City, has been transformative in that it has contributed to the generation of land for public purposes. This mechanism was put in place through the Bombay Town Planning Act of 1915, when Ahmedabad was under British rule, but was more widely and effectively used after the 1999 amendment to the present legislation, the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development (GTPUD) Act of 1976.

The TPS is a land pooling and readjustment mechanism that allows the city to appropriate land from private landowners for public purposes, such as roads, open spaces, low-income housing, underlying utility infrastructure, and other health, education, and community services. Private landowners benefit in two ways: via compensation payment for land acquired (after deducting the costs of infrastructure, referred to as betterment charges); and the rise in land prices after the planning authority invests in trunk infrastructure. Landowners receive a reduced area of their original land after the appropriations, and the appropriated lands are then reserved for various public purposes. This is a quicker way to appropriate land than the process currently stipulated through the 2013 Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act, a national act that is applicable to both rural and urban areas. The RFCTLARR Act is considered time consuming to implement, yet it provides for a more fair and transparent process developed with farmers’ participation, a framework that did not previously exist.

This paper reviews the evidence on whether the TPS mechanism has enabled transformative change with equitable outcomes in Ahmedabad City—and if so, how. It is based on a review of existing research, analysis of government-produced data, in-depth, semi-structured interviews with key informants from government, civil society, academia, and the private sector, and field visits to three TPS sites. It also draws heavily from the lead author’s longstanding experience conducting critical research on a wide range of planning issues in Ahmedabad. The paper identifies important triggers of transformative change in the city, examines the roles of key enabling and inhibiting factors in terms of urban governance, finance, and planning, and discusses challenges that remain.

The TPS process enlists the participation of landowners through local-level negotiations. Furthermore, it is flexible in terms of accommodating existing informal settlements. Through the 1999 amendment to the GTPUD Act, the TPS process empowered the city planning authority to immediately appropriate lands for roads, thus paving the way for better managed urban development. It has also made lands available for social housing within the city, and for other public amenities such as health and educational infrastructure. Finally, it introduced the ability to leverage the increased land value to finance infrastructure and services through the sale of the part of lands appropriated. The notion of equity is embedded in this process, but is also limited by the state’s ability to appropriate and allocate lands for public purposes (thereby prioritizing public needs over private land rights), undertake such appropriations by negotiating with the original landowners, and be flexible about accommodating the existing informal sector. It does not include the participation of all stakeholders, namely tenants and informal occupants, in the negotiation process.

While the TPS mechanism has been successful in generating urban land for core trunk infrastructure, roads, and social housing in Ahmedabad City, it has faced some limitations. The TPS has encountered manageable challenges, which include time delays due to lack of coordination among the concerned local agencies and the centralization of approval processes at the state level. It has also faced unassailable challenges, which include a lack of financing with which to construct public amenities on reserved land (which stems from city governments’ lack of taxation powers), and opposition to the TPS by farmers in greenfield sites, whose lands do not appreciate in value because there is not much potential for urbanization in the near future.

We conclude that despite these challenges, the TPS has played a crucial role in the more equitable distribution of urban land in multiple ways. It has enabled planned urban extensions in the city’s peripheral areas; enabled the construction of numerous social housing units when national funds were available for this purpose; increased street density in the city, which has helped improve accessibility, reduce average trip lengths, and reduce road congestion; enabled negotiated and non-coercive land appropriation by the planning authority for public purposes; and accommodated informal settlements in the planning process. The TPS’s transformative potential in Indian cities is limited by the challenges of balancing public-purpose land use with private land ownership and the need to accommodate large segments of the population that cannot afford formal lands.

About This Paper

This case study is part of the larger World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” which considers sustainability to be composed of three interrelated issues: equity, the economy and the environment. The series uses equitable access to urban services as an entry point for examining whether meeting the needs of the under-served can improve economic productivity and environmental sustainability for the entire city. 

A series of sector-specific working papers – on housing, energy, the informal economy, urban expansion, water access, sanitation solutions and transportation – explore how cities can provide growing numbers of residents with secure and affordable access to core services.

The case studies ask the question: Is it possible to learn from these cases and use this knowledge to help other cities usher in their own transformation? They examine transformative urban change defined as that which affects multiple sectors and institutional practices, continues across more than one political administration, and is sustained for more than 10 years, resulting in more equitable access to core services.

The goal of “Towards a More Equal City” is to inform urban change agents – government officials, policymakers, civil society organizations and citizens, and the private sector – about how transformative change happens, the various forms it takes, and how they can support transformation towards more equal cities.