Spatial Planning in India- Necessity, Steps Taken & Challenges

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In January, the Science and Technology Ministry notified the 2022 National Geospatial Policy. Recently, urban planning experts sent suggestions, to improve spatial planning in India, in a letter to the Prime Minister.

This topic of “Spatial Planning in India- Necessity, Steps Taken & Challenges” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.

What is spatial planning?

  • According to the European Commission, spatial planning is the methods, mainly used by the public sector, to influence the distribution of various activities in a specific space.
  • Spatial planning has both- regulatory and development functions.
    • It is used as a regulatory mechanism by the state to approve certain activities.
    • It is also used as a development mechanism to:
      • Provide for essential infrastructure and services
      • Establish directions for urbanization
      • Preserve national resources
      • Incentivize investments, etc.

Why is it necessary?

  • It is necessary to enable a rational territorial organization of different land uses and the linkages among them.
  • It is needed to ensure an even distribution of economic development.
  • It goes beyond mere land-use regulations to address contradictions among the different sectoral policies. Eg: balance the need to fulfil objectives of economic development, environmental conservation and social cohesion.
  • It creates the stability in the economy that is necessary for attracting investments.
  • Proper spatial planning enables sustainable development as well as improved quality of life.

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What has India done in this area?

  • Immediately after Independence, erstwhile-Planning Commission was responsible for planning the developmental activities. The commission’s approach has been criticized for its lack of emphasis on spatial planning. This oversight has been blamed for the regional imbalances in growth and development.
  • The 10th Five Year Plan (2002-07) attempted to address this using the ‘differential development strategy’. This approach was concerned with focusing on development according to the spatial requirement.
  • With regards to spatial planning, the central government has a limited role, while the state governments play a critical role.
    • The central government is mainly concerned with urban development policies and programs.
    • The state governments are responsible for framing master plans for land use planning.
    • Note that urban planning and land use planning are 2 distinct functions according to item 18 of the XII Schedule of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1992.
  • In 2005, to leverage the availability of diverse spatial databases in spatial planning, the National Map Policy was introduced. The Survey of India was vested with key responsibilities like producing, maintaining and disseminating topographic data of the country.
  • More recently, the geospatial sector was deregulated by the Department of Science and Technology. The production, acquisition and access to geospatial data was liberalized.
  • The recently notified National Geospatial Policy 2022 replaced this 2005 Policy. The policy seeks to use geospatial technology to achieve SDGs.

What are the challenges?

  • Urban planning is a complicated undertaking in India and there isn’t a recognized identity for spatial planning.
  • Over the years, India has viewed development as addressing infrastructure gaps based only on population projections. All the while, land-use planning has received scant attention.
  • This has resulted in issues like:
    • Urban sprawl
    • Overcrowding
    • Pollution
    • Traffic congestions
    • Urban floods- especially in cities like Chennai, Mumbai and Bengaluru
  • City planning is often disregardful of scientific strategy. The recent land subsidence-related damages in Joshimath is a case in point.

What is the way ahead?

  • Countries around the world are giving increasing weightage to UN-mandated SDGs in their spatial planning, in pursuit of sustainable land use.
  • In India, the people’s cultural connection to land is striking. Yet, uncoordinated and unclear land use planning is gradually degrading the land.
  • The recently notified National Geospatial Policy is expected to enable better spatial planning by facilitating the availability of high quality geospatial data.
  • Apart from this, the legislature could consider establishing a Spatial Administrative Service at the national and state levels for micro- and macro-level integrated spatial planning.
  • Experts have also suggested expanding Indian Administrative Service to include other services like Indian Engineering Service, Indian Statistical Service and the proposed Spatial Administrative Service to holistically address the issues arising from uncoordinated planning over the years.
  • For spatial planning collaboration and coordination, platforms can be established at the national and international levels too.
  • Other suggested initiatives:
    • National Spatial Act and Policy
    • Declaration of spatial planning as one of the SDGs
    • Spatial index for settlements across India
    • Spatial entity
    • Spatial planning courses
    • Revamping the master plan approach


India has long suffered the consequences of uncoordinated urban and rural development planning. The recently notified geospatial policy will enable the planners’ access to high quality data, but this is only a part of the puzzle. To ensure the development of sustainable urban and rural spaces, spatial planning must be an integrated and coordinated exercise.

Practice Question for Mains:

What is spatial planning and why is it necessary? Discuss the challenges faced by Indian planners? (250 words)

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